zen habits : breathe

How to Develop a Mind That Clings to Nothing

By Leo Babauta

It’s said that one of the great patriarchs of the Zen tradition, Hui Neng, was enlightened upon hearing a single verse of the Diamond Sutra (one of the key teachings in Buddhism).

That verse can be translate in various ways, but the key line in it goes something like, “Develop a mind that clings to nothing.”

Imagine having a mind like that — it doesn’t get attached, it doesn’t need things to be a certain way, it doesn’t need people to behave in particular ways. It’s a mind at home everywhere, because it doesn’t need to be anywhere in particular.

All of our difficulties would be eased:

Every difficulty is caused by this clinging: stress when you’re overwhelmed, procrastination when you don’t want to work on something difficult or do uncomfortable exercise, loneliness, shutting your heart down in an argument, overeating, bad financial habits, and much more.

Let’s look at how we’d react in one situation, if we could have a mind of no clinging. Then let’s look at how we might start to develop that no-clinging mind.

Example: Dealing with a Difficult Situation with No-Clinging Mind

Let’s say you have a loved one who is addicted to drugs, and you really want to help them. But you’re stressed about how to help them, about them going down this path, and about whether you’re even able to help.

The stress is caused by clinging — how you want them to behave, wanting things to turn out the way you want them to turn out. You have a loving intention, but at the same time your clinging is causing you some suffering.

Their drug addiction is also caused by clinging. They ran to drugs to get away from their difficulties, which were caused by clinging. They enjoyed the high and found it to be a comfort from their difficulties, and clung to that feeling. Over time, that clinging hardened to addiction, and their clinging causes them to stay addicted. They are suffering, and we can see that and have a genuine wish for it to end (without clinging to needing that outcome to happen).

So seeing all of this, you start to let go. You don’t need them to be a certain way, you just love them. You just show up for them, with acceptance and compassion. You open your heart to them, without needing things to change.

And you offer help, of course. You share ideas for seeking counseling, for meditation, for drug addiction strategies and treatment centers. But you are not attached to them actually doing those things — they are offered lovingly, as a gift.

This is one way a non-clinging mind might deal with a difficult situation. There are many others, but you can see that this non-clinging can be tremendously helpful in any situation.

How to Develop a Mind That Clings to Nothing

I’m not going to pretend that I never cling, nor that it’s easy to develop a mind that clings to nothing. This is something I’m still working on, and I’m not attached to having it develop overnight (or ever getting there, really).

To the extent that we practice, it is helpful.

So here’s how I would practice:

This won’t get you all the way, but it gets you a lot closer.

The real way to develop a mind that clings to nothing is to first, continue to let go. Moment after moment, notice the clinging and then let go. Over and over again.

And then to expand yourself beyond your narrow perspective, to see the interconnectedness of all things, to appreciate the beauty in all around us, to not see yourself as separate from everything else but a part of it all, in it together, and fall deeply in love with that fact.

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