Attachment to Feeling Joyful

By Desmond Yeoh SC

We shift between different emotions in our day to day lives but our feelings are mostly neutral. This means that we neither feel unhappy or happy. The problem is, because of our attachment to feeling joyful and uplifted, we see this neutral feeling as a problem. We are averse to it. We may have read about enlightened masters being happy and joyful all time, and we develop the desire to achieve this. Our struggle to feel joyful all the time actually create problems in our lives because we end up seeking exciting things to do and this can be a drain on our energy and financial resources.

Some may see this neutral feeling as boredom but that is not so. If we stay with the feeling and let go of the need to replace it with excitement, we will find that it is actually very peaceful. When we are in a neutral state, meditation is enjoyable because the mind slips into a calm and peaceful state easily. Our problems seem further away and it becomes easier for us to see the world as it truly is. Therefore, it can be very useful to learn to stay in this neutral state instead of wasting our effort on trying to uplift our emotions.

Staying in a neutral state is much better to our inner-peace and health compared to a state where one’s emotions fluctuates enormously between positive and negative emotions.

Learning to enjoy the neutral state can help us to better observe and understand our emotions. Some of the Buddha’s disciples attained enlightenment merely by observing their emotions.

Our emotions can be a useful warning indicator that we are being affected by some negative mental defilement that we have yet to understand and overcome. The late Ajahn Chah, an enlightened master, used to ask his disciples, “What are you attached to?” whenever he saw his monks upset about something.

Usually, an external event can only disturb us if we are attached to some expectations of how things or other people should be. We are not able to accept things or other people as they are, and as a result, we suffer. To remain in a neutral state, we need to develop equanimity. The story below from “Stillness Flowing” by Ajahn Jayasaro is a good example of this.


When a monk is singled out to receive a particular teaching by Ajahn Chah, it left an especially deep impression. This happened to Ajahn Nyanadhammo during his first Rains Retreat at Wat Pah Pong. At that time, a more senior monk would often seek to engage him in conversation during their return to the monastery after the daily alms-round. As they walked along, this monk would expound on the faults of various monks and spout what seemed an endless stream of complaints. Ajahn Nyanadhammo found the monk conceited and hypocritical, but being junior to him, felt unable to rebuff him politely.

By the end of one of these walks, he would arrive back at the monastery feeling annoyed and out of sorts. But one day, as he passed Ajahn Chah’s kuti reviewing all the faults of this fault-finding monk, his sour mood dissolved in an instant. A broadly smiling Ajahn Chah, practising his English, looked out and wished him a hearty, ‘Good Morning!’

Ajahn Chah's KutiThat evening, Ajahn Nyanadhammo went to Ajahn Chah’s kuti to offer him a foot massage. When the bell sounded for evening chanting and monks started to leave the kuti, Ajahn Chah told him to continue the massage and asked someone else to extinguish the candles.

“The moon was just coming up and I was listening to the monks chanting. As I massaged his feet, Ajahn Chah sat there silently in the darkness meditating – it was really inspiring – and then suddenly, he lifted up his foot and kicked me in the chest. I fell back on the floor. He pointed at me and said, “There! One person says something that you don’t like and you get upset. Somebody else just says, ‘Good morning’, and you’re happy all day. Don’t follow your moods. Don’t be attached to other people’s words!”.

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