Attachment, Relationships, and Misconceived Buddhism

HomeForumsRelationshipsAttachment, Relationships, and Misconceived Buddhism

New Reply
Viewing 5 posts - 1 through 5 (of 5 total)
  • Author
  • #40241
    Anil Tiwari

    A common misconception about Buddhism is that it teaches its adherents to rid themselves of all attachments—including relationships. Attachments, according to Buddhism, ultimately cause suffering. This is something that, despite my interest in Buddhism, has kept me from really appreciating it until recently. Even psychologist Jonathan Haidt made this mistake in his book, The Happiness Hypothesis: “Yes, attachments bring pain, but they also bring our greatest joys…” Haidt proposes that the Buddhist teaching of non-attachment may be extreme.

    The misconception occurs in how one defines attachment. Buddhism does not denounce possessions, hobbies, interests, food, or most importantly, relationships. It teaches that clinging to these things causes suffering. Clinging to a partner in a relationship would better be defined in the Western view as insecure attachment, not attachment. People with an insecure attachment (either avoidant or ambivalent/anxious) resort to the behaviors that Buddhism warns against in the face of loss: a craving or thirst for something. Craving occurs when one’s desire is excessive. Buddhism teaches that suffering ends when craving disappears.

    Attachment theory posits that the more securely attached we are in our relationships, the more separate and independent we can be. Attachment to key others is a universal need that we never outgrow. Buddhism teaches against insecureattachment. Another point of confluence is that if we are insecure in our attachment style, we need important others in order to become secure. Sometimes we need professional help as well. We can’t do it alone, just like in Buddhism. We need others.

    There is nothing wrong with desires and relationships as long as one does not cling. I can truly enjoy a movie or a restaurant as long as I do not cling to them. I can have a meaningful and happy relationship with my wife as long as I work with her to mediate the tendency to either pursue (i.e. criticizing, complaining, endless questioning, etc.) or withdraw (getting defensive, checking out, shutting down, avoiding, etc.) during conflict. Both pursuing and withdrawing are clinging. Both are suffering.

    to know more articles about Buddhism visit us:



    I too was uncomfortable with this notion of non attachment. In a way, I felt like it was a cop out. It is easy to be peaceful, compassionate and kind when no one is around. lol. I really like the way you framed this notion in a Western point of view. Some people non attach in an equally unhealthy way as those who insecurely attach. For example, someone who is afraid of being hurt or who has a hard time trusting, etc. Then they are non attaching out of fear, which defeats the purpose. Attaching without clinging is the key, thus one can attach without pain. If a relationship were to end, yeah one would feel sad and even hurt but one wouldn’t be addicted to that heartbreak feeling, causing themselves unnecessary pain. It wouldn’t be a tragic ending. It’s all about finding the balance.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Mary Cait

    Thank you so much for this wonderful analogy! Western psychology and Buddhism have so much in common. To me, it seems that meditation is simply a method for the study of the mind. It is always lovely to see the alignment with more modern research and theory. And, on a more personal note, I agree wholeheartedly. I had some initial anxiety, when starting to meditate more seriously, that I would let go of people I love. That has not been the case.

    Thanks again!


    This is a very good reminder and delineation of the differences between healthy attachment and clinging. I think that it needs to be remembered that many of these misunderstandings come about from hasty or unskillful translations. All of these teachings being translated from Pali – something is certainly going to get lost. What about an attachment to a regular meditation practice? Certainly saying that letting go of an “attachment” such as this would not be in our best interest. What I suspect is that the word “attachment” gets used interchangeably in some translations with the word “clinging” and us English speakers naturally get confused about which meaning is implied. Although your description of the differences between healthy attachment and unhealthy attachment are elucidating – I wonder if someone could volunteer some more suggestions on where to draw the line? The Buddha said to not take his word for it – to regard experience as the best teacher – and so if you find that a particular attachment of yours is causing suffering to let go of it! But if a particular attachment of yours brings joy and the cultivation of healthy mind states then to keep that “attachment” in your life if possible. Thanks for sharing!



    I kind agree with you in the sense that this should be the understanding in lay life. However, it is no accident that Buddhism is still at its core a religion of monastic renunciates. This actually supports your connection to attachment theory. In some cases people’s ability to attach has been so damaged (from trauma) that monasticsm seems the only way of finding some degree of stability, wholeness and meaning, especially when one feels unfit to be in a relationship or have a baby (which would only perpetuate those painful attachment issues to the next generation). This is why Buddhists say they take “refuge” in the three treasures. It may literally be the only place for such poor souls to go.

Viewing 5 posts - 1 through 5 (of 5 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic. Please log in OR register.