Destroy Attachment to Self and Attachment to Dharmas

Ven. Master Hsuan Hua

What is the attachment to self? It’s the attachment to an “I”. We say: “This is my body; those things are mine.” In general, everything pertains to “I”; we put the “I” out in front. Because there is a self but no others, the three minds aren’t ended and the four appearances aren’t empty.

The three minds are minds of the past, present, and future; the four appearances are those of self, others, living beings, and a life span.

How do we know when the attachment to self is destroyed? We can tell from our daily activities, whether we are moving or still, awake or sleeping. In all our actions, are we thinking of ourselves or others? Are we concerned about the Way-place?  If we think of only ourselves, which is the philosophy of the Small Vehicle—to benefit oneself without benefiting others.

The Buddha compared such people to withered sprouts and spoiled seeds. Why? Because people who think like this are very small-minded and egocentric. They are concerned only with being good themselves, and don’t care whether other people are good or bad. That’s called:

  Mahasattvas don’t care about others.

  Amitabha, every man for himself.”

That’s the objective of the Small Vehicle. Therefore, they perceive the Three Realms as a burning house, and birth and death as an enemy. They end their own birth and death, but don’t care about living beings’ birth and death.

When you are concerned about others, you think of benefiting them. Not only do you want to liberate yourself, you want all living beings to be liberated. That’s the way a Bodhisattva thinks. Benefiting others and forgetting about yourself is what the Bodhisattva Way is all about. As it’s said, “the Buddha’s light shines everywhere; the Dharma rain sprinkles on everyone.” The practice of the Bodhisattva Way is based upon the motto: “Show great kindness to those with whom you have no affinities. Embody great compassion by regarding all beings as the same substance.”

If we truly care about the monastery, we should support and protect it in every respect, without any ulterior motives or any wish for fame or profit. That is truly protecting the monastery.

Every day, we should reflect and see whether we spend more time thinking about ourselves, about other people, or about the monastery. Through this kind of reflection, we will know whether we’ve broken the attachment to self. This is a very simple explanation.

On a deeper level, we should daily observe to see whether we are afraid of taking a loss, or afraid of not gaining any advantages. If we have such thoughts, we should change them; if we don’t, we should avoid them. We should further ask ourselves whether we are able to endure insults. If people scold me and beat me for no reason at all, can I take it?  Will I lose my temper or have thoughts of revenge?  If so, then the attachment to self has not been broken. If not, then the self-attachment has been destroyed. Think seriously for a moment: Where do all problems and afflictions come from? They arise from the attachment to self acting up. If the attachment to self is not destroyed, the attachment to dharmas won’t be destroyed either. Small Vehicle cultivators have broken the attachment to self, but not the attachment to dharmas. Only Bodhisattvas can extinguish both attachment to self and attachment to dharmas.

After breaking the attachment to self, we must work on breaking the attachment to dharmas. What is meant by “attachment to dharmas”?  It means not understanding that the dharmas of the five skandhas (form, feeling, thinking, formations, and consciousness) are brought into being by causes and conditions, and getting attached to the idea that they are real.  If we can end all attachment to dharmas, we will experience perfect interpenetration without obstruction, and arrive at the state of being at ease in all situations. When we have emptied both self and dharmas, we can be considered true cultivators. True cultivators never calculate on their own behalf, no matter what the situation. They are ever ready to give themselves up for others, and would never hesitate to do what is right. Their actions are public-spirited and unselfish, proper and unbiased.

The Buddha spoke the Three Treasuries and Twelve Divisions all for the sake of teaching people to break their attachments. However, we just don’t want to follow the Buddha’s instructions. Instead, we want to be rebels in Buddhism, always attaching to our ego. The marks of self, others, living beings, and a life span are not empty for us. We cling to these four marks and can’t bear to part with them. We can’t understand that the three minds are unattainable.  

Actually, the mind of the past cannot be attained, nor can the mind of the present or the mind of the future. Why not? Well, the past has already gone by, so where are you going to find it? The “present” never stops changing. When you say, “This is the present,” it has already become the past. So the present doesn’t exist, and the mind of the present cannot be attained. The mind of the future is unattainable as well, because future hasn’t arrived yet. Since it isn’t here yet, why talk about it?

The Vajra Sutra says, “There is no mark of self, no mark of others, no mark of living beings, and no mark of a life span.” It also says, “The mind of the past cannot be attained, the mind of the present cannot be attained, and the mind of the future cannot be attained.” Everyone can read these lines of the Sutra, but no one remembers them. I hope all of you will apply some effort on these lines. When you have emptied the Four Marks and ended the Three Minds, you’ll be true cultivators.

A talk given on February 15, 1984

Excerpt from “Venerable Master Hua’s Talks on Dharma” Volume 10


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