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From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Raga (Sanskrit, also Rāga; Pali Lobha; Tibetan: 'dod chags) - is translated as "attachment", "passion", or "desire". It is defined as hankering after things within the three realms of existence; it produces frustration. Raga (Lobha) is identified in the following contexts within the Buddhist teachings:



The Visuddhimagga (XIV, 162) gives the following definition of Lobha:

...greed has the characteristic of grasping an object like “monkey lime”. Its function is sticking, like meat put in a hot pan. It is manifested as not giving up, like the dye of lamp-black. Its proximate cause is seeing enjoyment in things that lead to bondage. Swelling with the current of craving, it should be regarded as taking (beings) with it to states of loss, as a swift-flowing river does to the great ocean.

Nina van Gorkom explains:

Greed has the characteristic of grasping like monkey lime. Monkey lime was used by hunters in order to catch monkeys. We read in the Kindred Sayings (V, Mahā-vagga, Book III, Chapter I, par7, The monkey) that a hunter sets a trap of lime for monkeys. Monkeys who are free from “folly and greed” do not get trapped. We read:
...But a greedy, foolish monkey comes up to the pitch and handles it with one paw, and his paw sticks fast in it. Then, thinking: I'll free my paw, he seizes it with the other paw, but that too sticks fast. To free both paws he seizes them with one foot, and that too sticks fast. To free both paws and the one foot, he lays hold of them with the other foot, but that too sticks fast. To free both paws and both feet he lays hold of them with his muzzle: but that too sticks fast. So that monkey thus trapped in five ways lies down and howls, thus fallen on misfortune...


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The Abhidharma-samuccaya states:

What is attachment? It is the hankering after things ranging over the three levels of existence, and its function is to produce frustrations.

Je Tsongkhapa states:

Attachment is a hankering after any pleasurable external or internal object by taking it as pleasing to oneself. For example, just as it is difficult to remove oil stain from a cotton cloth, in the same way, this hankering after and getting more and more involved with the thing makes it very difficult to get rid of.

Contemporary explanations

Raga is said to arise from the identification of the self as being separate from everything else. This mis-perception or misunderstanding is referred to as Avidya (ignorance).

Contemporary Buddhist teachers such as Mingyur Rinpoche, Daniel Goleman, and Ron Leifer have noted that there is a level of "attachment" to the self that is necessary for biological survival, but that when this "attachment" extends to non-essential needs, it becomes unhealthy. Mingyur Rinpoche explains:

The perception of “self” as separate from “others” is [...] an essentially biological mechanism–an established pattern of neuronal gossip that consistently signals other parts of the nervous system that each of us is a distinct, independently existing creature that needs certain things in order to perpetuate its existence. Because we live in physical bodies, some of these things we need, such as oxygen, food, and water, are truly indispensable. In addition, studies of infant survival that people have discussed with me have shown that survival requires a certain amount of physical nurturing. We need to be touched; we need to be spoken to; we need the simple fact of our existence to be acknowledged. Problems begin, however, when we generalize biologically essential things into areas that have nothing to do with basic survival. In Buddhist terms, this generalization is known as “attachment” or “desire” —which, like ignorance, can be seen as having a purely neurological basis.

Mingyur Rinpoche uses the example of becoming attached to chocolate; he explains:

When we experience something like chocolate, for example, as pleasant, we a establish a neuronal connection that equates chocolate with the physical sensation of enjoyment. This is not to say that chocolate in itself is a good or bad thing. There are lots of chemicals in chocolate that create a physical sensation of pleasure. It’s our neuronal attachment to chocolate that creates problems.

Mingyur Rinpoche also emphasizes that whatever the conditions we have that make us happy for a period of time are bound to change. "Change is the only constant of relative reality."