Life means suffering.
The origin of suffering is attachment.
The cessation of suffering is attainable.
There is a path to the cessation of suffering via the Eightfold Path.
What’s important to my essay here isn’t the Eightfold Path, but the notion of attachment. I’ve become keenly aware of the concept in the last couple of weeks in the wake of the death of the cat. I know there are probably people out there who are like, “Jesus Christ, it’s a cat. Get over it.” I suppose those people have never had a deep and meaningful relationship with a pet. And I admit that society’s “get over it” voice is trying to creep into my head, and I keep pushing it right back out. That cat came into the world two feet away from me and left the world in my lap. I think I’m entitled to some sadness.
And I’m perfectly aware that that sadness is the result of attachment. If I were not attached to the cat, I would not be sad that he is gone. I’m also perfectly aware that even the most devout Buddhist monk w0uld likely be at least a little diminished in demeanor if someone or something they were used to were suddenly gone. Perfect detachment is for the Bodhisattva, not us mere mortals. Nevertheless, to contemplate our attachment to things is a worthy endeavour.
Just exactly why was I attached to that cat so much? I’ve never loved a cat in my entire life like I loved that cat, with the possible exception of my cat Sam who moved to Texas with me from Michigan. Actually, I had two Sams growing up, and I adored them both. Still, I had never had a cat as long as I had Yin-Yang, and I had certainly never had a cat since birth. There was something special about being privileged enough to be a a part of his and his siblings’ birth, since his mother wouldn’t leave my side. Watching him slowly open his eyes after a couple of weeks was just wonderful.
I learned a lot about cats that I didn’t know before by being a part of that process and by raising the kittens. It made me feel like I was truly a part of their lives in a way that I had never felt with other cats. Sure, with the others, we were a part of each others’ lives, but there’s an intimacy that goes along with birth and upraising that adds a completely different element to a relationship with a pet.
Then I had to pick who I was going to keep out of the five kittens. Oh dear. That was so hard. In the end, I kept the biggest and the smallest. When MamaCat was pregnant, I wished that she would have a big boy cat that I could cuddle with, and that’s exactly what I got. I felt like he was the answer to a prayer. His existence became inextricably intertwined with my own.
And that’s why it was so painful when he was gone. It was like rending fabric apart. We were truly attached. And there really was great suffering when that attachment was separated.
I have no problem with the first two Noble Truths. Life is suffering, and suffering is caused by attachment. Got it. The next two Noble Truths, I struggle with greatly. I can accept that there is a path that can ease suffering by easing attachment and that the Eightfold Path is the way to easing that suffering and attachment, but I have extreme difficulty understanding how it is that I can have meaningful relationships with people (and animals) without being attached to them. If I’m not attached to them, then where is the meaning? How can I incorporate the last two Noble Truths and still live a fulfilling life?
This is where my greatest philosophical crisis occurs with Buddhism, and I imagine I am not the only Buddhist who feels this way (in fact, if I knew more Buddhists, I would probably discover that this is the main stumbling block for all Buddhists). Envisioning myself interacting with the world without attachment feels so distant, though I know that’s not what it’s supposed to feel like. I know that the lack of attachment is directly related to the goal of Buddhism and meditation to “be here now”. To truly appreciate each moment, each thing, each person for what it is right there and then without consideration for the past or future, for it is those temporal considerations that cause attachment. If we have no notion of the future, then there’s no reason to be attached to anything. And “be here now” is supposed to be a greater experience than anything we run across in daily life, so I shouldn’t feel that a lack of attachment should diminish my experience of life.
Still, my brain has a lot of trouble with the concept of banishing attachment. It wants to stay attached to things for some reason. I’m sure there’s a Buddhist concept and term for that desire and a way to deal with it, and I’m sure I’ll run across it at some point. For now, though, I’ll have to deal on my own with my philosophical crisis regarding attachment.
And for reference, the Eightfold Path: