Attachment, Hatred, and the Darkness of Unknowing

Attachment, Hatred, and the Darkness of Unknowing December 13, 2023

“In my native land waves of attachment to friends and kin surge, hatred for enemies rages like fire, the darkness of stupidity, not caring what to adopt or avoid, thickens – To abandon my native land is the practice of a bodhisattva.” – Togme Sangpo, the Thirty-Seven Verses on the Practice of a Bodhisattva


The quote above is the second of the 37 Verses, a guide to how we can awaken unbound compassion in our lives. We could easily interpret this as advice to move away and leave everything we know behind. Certainly some people do that. But we can also take this as a metaphor. Taking it as a metaphor is much more appealing to me because I’m a householder and not a monk or hermit. My ‘native land’ is where my mind dwells. It’s the darkness of ignorance, attachment, and aversion that’s holding me back from my potential.

The Varjayana Master Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche said,

“The meaining of leaving behind your native land is to leave behind the emotions of attachment, hatred, and the obscuring ignorance that permeates both. These three poisons, generally speaking, are most active in the relationships you establish with family and friends in your own homeland.”

In her commentary “The Heroic Heart,” the Buddhist nun Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo says,

“This does not just refer to our outer native land. It doesn’t just mean that we all have to go across the world in order to practice, because we take our mind with us and it is our mind that has all this attachment and hatred and the darkness of unknowing.”

So, maybe my native land isn’t the place I live or my family and friends. My native land is my old bullshit that I’m having trouble putting down. We all have bad habits and inclinations that permeate our lives. We can make our home in negativity or in positivity. Our home can be self obsession or compassion, wisdom, and love.

And I’ll take a moment to mention the difference between love and attachment because I think we get these confused often.

Love is: I want you to be happy.

Attachment is: I want you to make me happy.

It’s super easy to get those confused because we’re so emotional when we’re attached.

Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo goes on to say: “We have to start thinking in a different way about our loved ones – a way that genuinely cherishes them and wishes them well but allows them to be who they are without trying to manipulate them or make them say and do what we want them to do because that would make us happy. It’s about allowing them to be who they are and giving them the freedom to have their life, whether or not that includes us.” 

I’d like to add that I’m trying to cultivate a feeling where I can love people without stopping to inquire if they are worthy. Because they are.

We can learn to see things in a new, more clear, way and that includes how we see ourselves. Life experience has told you who you are. But you are free to become something else. Our practice is to transform ourselves and our job is to grow. We live our lives on autopilot a lot of the time and that doesn’t lead us to growth. The three poisons that cause our suffering are inside us. That shouldn’t discourage us. Because the struggles are within, that empowers us to work on them. The killer is inside the house, but we are empowered by being aware of that.

Let’s see if we can transform our lives and make the world a better place. I believe we can.


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