Tibetan Buddhist Teaching – Detachment

Buddha taught many ways to alleviate suffering.  One way is through detachment.

One of my favourite Tibetan Buddhist Monks, Tipten, was sharing some of Buddha’s sutras (i.e. teachings) with a packed audience of Westerners.  A gentleman in a suit put up his hand and asked the following question:  “What do you do about people who harm you?  For example, how do you deal with the people who have abused, tortured or killed thousands of Tibetan Buddhist Monks in Tibet?”  With a big smile on his face, Tipten answered happily, “You thank them!”  There was an initial gasp and then the confused audience fell into silence.   The gentleman who had asked the question put up his hand again and asked for clarification saying, “What do you mean?  Your people have been violated, they’ve experienced gross atrocities and genocide.  How could you possibly thank them?”  Tipten maintained his calm demeanor and glowing smile saying, “You thank them!  You thank your enemies!   You thank the people who harm you, the people who hate you the most, the people who want to kill you, because they are your greatest teachers!  The people who love you can never challenge you to the same extent as your enemies.  When you rise above the challenges presented by the people who wish you harm by succeeding in coming from a place of love, it is then that you have learned the greatest lessons that life has to offer.  In this way, those who challenge you are your greatest teachers, and for that you thank them!  This is a form of detachment.”

Driving home that night, I reflected on Tipten’s enormous grin as he delivered that teaching.  As I was trying to get my head around the concept of detachment, a car on the highway passed me and cut me off.  Startled and then furious, I put my foot on the gas pedal and started tailing him.  At that moment, I caught myself and laughed out loud!  I was ‘attached’ to that car’s bumper!  I thought to myself, “I don’t know the person in that car.  I don’t know why they cut me off.  Perhaps they are in a rush, in an emergency situation, or perhaps not.  It doesn’t matter.  Anger is suffering, and I am the cause of my own suffering because I am attached to a stranger’s car!”  As soon as I detached from the car (i.e. detached from the emotion), all was well again.  As the car in front of me disappeared, I transmitted a silent, “Thank you!”   When I said the words, “Thank you!” immediately, a big grin appeared on my face.  When I get angry now, the memory of this experience tends to surface and make me chuckle, so I detach.

“The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go.” Atisha