Sunday, December 25, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 284: A Response on Hobbies in Buddhism

 “No Wood Chopping,” via Wikimedia Commons 
A Response on Hobbies in Buddhism

In a Buddhism discussion forum, one of the questioners addressed the subject of desire. Specifically, the concern expressed was about hobbies. They could be seen as distractions from mindfulness or as attachments to the substance of samsara. 

Some Buddhist monks disdain hobbies because they are vehicles for attachment. Other monks allow themselves helpful pastimes despite how this seems spiritually dangerous.

The central question about attachment seems to be: can you detach yourself immediately and easily? It is important to practice this sort of detachment. It's not only central to Buddhism but to Stoicism and other vital philosophies. Everyone needs to walk away from their hobbies from time to time. It's a practical measure. It tests your spirit and therefore gives you better awareness of yourself. If you participate with intent in the world, you need to keep your spiritual muscles in good shape. To do otherwise, especially with regard to attachments, is to fail in one of the core tenets of Buddhism. 

The questioner had another issue of concern, one of mindfulness. This isn't as serious as the problem of non-attachment, as many pastimes are practiced to promote mindfulness. The current emphasis on mindfulness is unfortunate in a practical sense anyway. Currently, more people need to practice non-attachment.

My Attachments

The problem of my hobbies is one to which I devote fairly constant attention. 

When I deliberately re-attached to aspects of life many years ago, I knew there would be consequences. I didn't foresee everything but I knew the initial danger was - and still is - my friendships. They are my greatest lure into samsara. I took the hook of them willingly. I was and still am caught by love. Nearly everyone is.

Yet all activities are part of engagement with the world, including acts of kindness. Conscious of my attachment to friends, I have been willing to let go of them when appropriate. I do my best to remain mindful of their many needs but also of the need everyone has to let go and move on.

Denis Wallez commented: If you get 'lost' in your hobby, then it's unwholesome. If you get irritated whenever someone interrupts you during your hobby, then it's unwholesome. If it can create envy, anger, habituate the mind to violence, then it's unwholesome.

It's easier with hobbies. However, in some cases hobbies are intertwined with friendships. The key for all of us is our intentions in taking up these activities. Personally, I write as a hobby to help people laugh, smile, cry, or have insights. I sing for the same reasons. These small deeds and others like them are aimed at having beneficial effects for people around me - the world, large and small.  

I've trained myself to be interrupted during these activities. Mostly, that goes well.

Attachment to everything is a constant issue. It always will be. But I don’t think the purpose of Stoicism or Buddhism is to completely remove oneself from society. That would be selfish. Monks and nuns who don't risk engagement for the sake of helping others are committing this over-selfishness. If an interpretation of Buddhism doesn’t result in kind actions, I would say something is generally wrong that interpretation.

As others pointed out, though, people can get lost in their hobbies, their books, and their games. Even momentary attachment can be a slippery slope. I'm willing to stand on the slope. In fact, I don't think there's any other way. You are on the slope now. 

Note: the central question above was posted by Khristopher Morgan. I responded not only to the original question but to some points raised by Denis Wallez in the discussion forum. 

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