People who keep saying “I am not attached to things” are probably the ones who are most emotionally attached to things. It is not easy to get rid of our habitual tendencies, which are actually expressions of our egoistic self. As our habits are deeply rooted in us, we often display them without realising it (for example, when we habitually react to external conditions in certain ways). This is the reason why it is not easy for us to change our habits.
Some people may have very high ideals and are very talented and dedicated, but they have the habit of instructing others (to do things their way). Hence, they are unable to lead others by their hearts as the latter often find it hard to work together with them. Such people would often say to others: “I want to do things this way; you have to accept my views…” There are many "I’s" in their speech; everything is about "me". This is what it means by being attached to the egoistic self.
As these people can’t let go of their egoistic self, they are not able to get along and work with others. If we do not develop a sense of self-awareness that is greater than our habitual tendencies to correct and reform ourselves, then over time, we will lose motivation and retreat due to the many setbacks we encounter.
Therefore, I often say that it is not easy to eliminate our egoistic self. It is not hard to find talented people, but it will be very difficult to find a person who does not have afflictions in his heart and mind.
The goal of spiritual cultivation is to eliminate our mental afflictions and not let our minds be swayed by external conditions. People’s mental afflictions usually stem from their attachment to their egoistic self. When a person is very self-centred, he will tend to magnify himself and often get into dispute with others to defend his own opinions. The endless pursuit of fame and fortune due to overwhelming greed originates from an attachment to the egoistic self, too.
People in the world experience pain and suffering because of their egoistic self. Hence, the Buddha taught us to get rid of our egoistic self. We will only be able to face everything with equanimity after we have stopped differentiating ourselves from others. Only then will we have inner peace and ease.
Source: Tzu Chi Taiwan website
Translated by the Tzu Chi Singapore translation team