Zen Buddhism Explains Why Attachments Lead to Suffering (and What You Can Do About it)

person meditating on Buddhism and suffering

Attachment, clinging, desiring…I’m sure you’ve heard these words spoken about negatively by Zen masters before when discussing Buddhism and suffering.

If you grew up in the west, most of us were brought up to believe that these desires and attachments would actually make us happy. We believed that if we earned enough money, or got that new iPhone, that we would eventually solve all our problems.

However, when we get them, we’re usually afraid to let go of them as well. And as you might have realized, the joy of these material objects generally don’t last very long and you’re back in the process of desiring again.

So the question is, what does it truly mean to let go of attachment and desiring?

It’s a big topic but according to the different types of Buddhism, living with non-attachment basically means that you don’t grasp onto things around you in an attempt to find comfort or happiness from them, and realize that true peace and happiness comes from letting go of those things.

This does NOT lead to people become detached robots

True non-attachment and true letting go involves living amidst everything in life such as your emotions, your relationships and your material possessions where you realize the fundamental truths of those things, such as impermanence and interbeing. Therefore you’re able to exist in this world without grasping onto things with a sense of dependency.

So, what are some examples of unhealthy attachment?

1. A relationship where two people’s image of one another is more important the person themselves.

2. The idea that you need a material item to be happy.

3. Desiring a result, such as the idea that getting a promotion at work will solve all your problems.

Why do these attachments lead to suffering?

The reason desiring causes suffering is because attachments are transient and loss is inevitable.

Consider Buddhism and suffering. Buddhism says that the only constant in the universe is change, and by desiring you are trying to control and make something fixed. Suffering will follow because you are going against the forces of the universe, which is what causes anxiety, depression and negative emotions.

And the truth is, instead of being an emotionless robot, you can actually embrace life fully and openly.


Because you understand that change is the only constant in the universe and that any joyful or happy moments are fleeting and need to cherished. You can also realize that any difficult times won’t last forever.

When you’re in a relationship, you can let that person be free and at peace because you don’t need them to be in a fixed state that you depend on. You simply love them for all that they are and all that they become.

You can enjoy riding your car without your happiness being dependent on it. If it breaks down tomorrow, you won’t be affected by it (besides the fact that you’ll need to find another way to get to work!).

You can work towards goals without your happiness dependent on the outcome.

The true source of happiness

The true source of peace and happiness exists outside all this, beyond any attachments and desires. The only person that can realize this is yourself.

Making this your mindset takes work and effort, and yet most of us will put countless hours of effort into earning more money and to holding onto a relationship in the hope that we’ll be “happy one day”. It will never happen.

Take action and priortize your peace and happiness now. It’s the only way.

I highly recommend you also check out the video below by Alan Watts in which he describes what living without attachment really means. It opened my eyes and I hope it does the same for you.


Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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