Sunday, September 11, 2011
Attachment vs Enlightenment
Cym over at Effortless Flow wrote a post just recently about how it seems wrong to her, all this Eastern religion and its insistence on detachment from the world, on being dispassionate and finding the non-dual. I don't have an answer, just some musings.
My whole family is fanatical about college football. My dad, mom, my sister, her husband, and most of my uncles are all crazy about University of Michigan. My dad and sister especially, I'm pretty sure, would bleed maize and blue if cut. They are totally into it, watching interviews of the coaches and players as the week goes on, reading all the articles and hype, finally Saturday comes and there's the pregame show, and at last, kickoff! Afterwards there are replays, analysis, and the beginning of hype for the next game. Somehow, I missed the boat; I'm at best a very tepid fan, but am more generally ambivalent about it, and rarely watch the games.
It's interesting to think about, though. On the one hand, I can sit back and watch the madness, and note how silly it all is. None of my family even went to the damn school; my parents knew some people who did; my mom went to high school with a former quarterback (Johnny Wangler), and my dad knew some other players from back then as well. So there's that. But in a way it's just arbitrary, a line drawn that lets them say "we won" and somehow include themselves in it. I really don't get it.
Yet they do seem to have a lot of fun. There's a lot of excitement and energy and pleasure in the game and the trappings of being a fan: the stats, the strategies and plays, the new draft picks, the t-shirts, the team flag out on the porch, the fight song, the little rituals every fan has... Of course, there's also the anxiety of the uncertain outcome, the anger over the missed tackle, the dropped pass, the bad call by a dumbfuck ref; and of course, the agony of the losses. Anyone who knows my family knows not to call after Michigan loses a game. Seriously. The let-down, the depression is very real and fills the house; we lose when the team loses. That arbitrary line works both ways.
So there seems to be a choice involved. Either you are involved deeply in the world, in its ups and downs, wins and losses, or else you aren't. You are either a fan of Michigan, or of Ohio State, but to say you are a fan of both is to say you are no fan at all-- you aren't involved in the game. To be above such dualities is to not care ("he who stands for everything stands for nothing"), and to not care means not to have compassion. Compassion meaning "to suffer with."
But I wonder if there really is a choice. The Buddha says that to end suffering, we must end desire, no longer be attached to outcomes, because attachment to outcomes creates karma, and good or bad, karma glues us to the wheel of joy and sorrow, life and death. I'm speaking near the edge of my understanding, because I don't know what it would mean to be free of such attachment. I'm not convinced it means compassion must cease. If, after all, the axiom thou art that is true, then even to be enlightened and serene in mind and spirit, pain anywhere is pain to you, and thus, you'd naturally care and suffer with those who suffer, love with those who love, in a word, be at one with the passions of the world, yet somehow not owned by them.
But I have to say I do agree with Cym in one respect at least. If what I said in the above paragraph is false, that to be enlightened or one with the Tao is to not have compassion, then fuck being enlightened. I wouldn't wish my family to not have the fun of fandom, I know their lives would be in some way diminished without that. Sure, it's just football, we all know that, but it's fun. If the enlightened life is a flatline of emotion somehow, it's not anything we want. But I really doubt that is the truth of the matter, it doesn't feel right. If anything, such a state might be the mystic's ecstacy, but is not a truly enlightened state, it's not all the way there.