Link to retreat Link to transcripts)

The Way of Non-Clinging

Healthy Clinging - non-clinging

  • Difference between craving and clinging is important, but is not the main thing Rob wants to address

    • Craving is the momentary impulse towards or away from something
    • Clinging is a consolidation of that, more fixed in the mind, more obsessive. We start thinking about it a lot.
  • Clinging fabricates and letting go of clinging helps us fabricate less and less

    • Even Mindfulness is still fabricating in some subtle ways (idea of what reality is)
  • The teaching “just let go of everything”, if properly understood points to the Emptiness of all things

    • If we don’t understand the teaching properly

Can We Let Go Of Clinging?

  • There’s space for clinging

    • We don’t have to try to live without clinging, we can’t do that
  • If we really let go of clinging, the world does not appear, self does not appear

    • Clinging is necessary for perception
  • Buddhist Tantra practice is “faking” (in a good sense) a Buddha Mind

    • We allow emptiness to pervade our way of looking, but not as much as letting the objects fade
    • Walking a tightrope

Artful Clinging

  • Approaching things as “ways of looking” opens us to freedom and understanding

    • Frees us up to the possibility of artful, intentional fabrication
  • The point of the dharma is not to be in the world without craving

  • What if we approach the Dharma through emptiness?

    • then we can shape perception
    • we can fabricate in different ways
  • Any self view is a fabrication

    • we don’t always have to look a certain way (calm, serious), there’s a lot more room to play and try different garments
  • People who come out of strong addiction don’t do that just by letting go

    • they may have to cling tightly to something else (and identification, a sangha or something else)
  • In Anatta (no-self) practice we continuously cling to that way of looking

  • Over our practice we gradually cling to higher and subtler things (to climb a ladder you have to cling to higher steps, and then, let them go)

    • The process of non-clinging develops through clinging

Would We Want to Let Go of Clinging?

  • What would happen to our engagement in the world?
  • Would art be possible if we didn’t clung to it, or desired to create it?
  • What about our romantic love, or relationships with family?

The Inevitability of Fantasy

  • Fantasy in our lives is inevitable

    • The problem is when fantasy is unconscious or not accepted
  • Fantasies in Dharma

    • One fantasy is that all love, including romantic love, should be like Metta (a way to justify love in Dharma)
      • Is that all of it? Can we open to the fantasy that romantic love becomes part of the path?

3 Levels of Desire/Investigation of Desire

  1. Sense pleasure craving
  2. Clinging to certain ways of looking at reality (Avija)
  3. The movement of Eros (our soul passions)
    • Falling in love, creating art, engagement in the world
    • We want more than ease and peace
  • Investigating each level is useful, but each will open a different set of doors and freedom

  • Investigating sense pleasures won’t tell open us up to radical emptiness or my passions

  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction calls cravings “discrepancy based processing” and says that hen you’re mindful you don’t crave

    • Image of humans as machines
    • Where is the space for poetry?
    • Do we want a psychology without poetry?

Dilemmas and Delineations

  • Eros as a subset of desire

    • It includes sexuality and sexual energy, but much more than that
    • It’s connected with divinity and soulmaking
    • There can be an erotic connection with the earth, the self, the trees, ideas, the path, imaginal figures and much more
  • The Buddha’s life is a great example of desire, passion and striving, but it’s often not seen like that

    • Desire is one of the 4 Bases of Success, the Buddha talked about it a lot, and of striving
    • The Buddha did not say “just let go of your desires”
    • He talked about the “pain of the contemplative” as being also part of the path (and coming from desire)

Why Bother with Eros?

  • It is in our life already, but has been left uninvestigated by the Dharma, we can investigate it and see where it leads (somewhere different than craving does)

    • Eros is already involved in our relationship with the path and awakening
  • Opening a new area of investigation

  • Open a sense of sacredness (making eros sacred and part of the path)

    • How does viewing it as sacred change my perception of it?
    • Beyond Universal sacredness, particular sacredness (theophanies)
    • Creating a link between sexuality and sacredness (beyond metta)
  • Traditional Dharma ways of looking help us simplify, fabricate less (less papanja), but doing so, they leave something out that our soul needs

    • Rather than just simplifying

Many Possible Ways of Defining Eros

  • Different people have been defining it for millennia

  • Not about a right or wrong definition

    • About “what does this definition lead to?”
    • What definition will better suit my purpose?
  • Eros is a divinity. As such in unfathomable, not possible to completely describe/define in words/concepts

    • In other traditions he is a demi-god
    • He’s usually accompanied by Pothos, who always wants more

Our Definition

  • Eros is a type of desire that wants more:

    • More contact, more connection to its object/beloved
    • It wants to touch its object more
    • It wants to know its object more
    • It wants to experience its object more (intimacy)
    • It wants to open to its object more
    • It wants to penetrate its object more
  • The erotic object can be anything, internal or external

  • Sexuality is just one part of Eros

    • Sexual images are not just expressing love, or desire for pleasant sensations
    • There’s much more involved
  • Elements involved

    • Attraction
    • Tension (due to the longing for more)
    • Juiciness / Libido
    • Imaginal
    • Dynamism (movement towards the object & stimulation of soulmaking)
    • Arousal (energy and interest)
    • Delight

Glossary (from transcripts)

  1. Phenomenological Approach ‘Phenomena’ in Greek (phainómena) means ‘appearance,’ ‘that which appears.’

Only consider appearances, without assumptions that appearances come from the brain’s neurochemistry or God etc…

anything that arose in experience was worthy of a phenomenological approach. That includes images. That includes things that appear to be psychic phenomena, etc. But basically, whatever appears to me, I can relate to as a phenomenon and investigate it, and investigate what kinds of relationships, and how it works, how relationships function around that thing, whether it’s an image or a worldly perception or whatever, of the different senses, etc., or an idea. All that is appearance – an idea, even, is appearance – and it’s worthy of investigation.

  1. ways of looking

But really it refers to what is the perspective that’s being employed now, and included in that is the relationship with the object that I’m perceiving, whatever that is (internal, external, etc.). Am I, for example, grasping at it? Am I pushing it away? Am I seeing it as self or not-self, etc.? All these are different ways of looking. Wrapped up in that, always in the way of looking is the conceptual framework

  1. Fabrication

So there’s a spectrum of fabrication, and different ways of looking fabricate more or less, all the way to extremely gross and solid and oppressive, to much, much less fabricated, less fabricated, less fabricated, etc., down into not fabricating at all. What’s fabricated there, as I said, is dukkha, is dis-ease and suffering, but also the sense of self, the sense of object, the sense of world, the sense of time – all of it

  1. Emptiness

  2. Imaginal SoulMaking Dharma

  • not just imaginary/fictitious
  • not just visual
    • it can involve any senses and unusual ways of knowing and perceiving things
  • sense of beauty/sacredness
  • seeing the image as an image, knowing it’s an image (not taking it literally)

it has a kind of unfathomability to it, a depth to it, just, for example, in the way that a person does

There’s something kind of beyond the reach of my grasp, that I can keep uncovering meanings and truths and dimensions to them, but I can’t reduce them – or rather I’m not reducing, for them to be imaginal.

So in the meaning of the word ‘image,’ it’s not just an object. It includes the way of looking at that object, and (we’ll come back to this) we’re kind of granting it a certain autonomy

images are in our life. And I would say where there’s love, where we love deeply, where something is really alive for us, where something is really important to us, where something is really meaningful to us, there image and fantasy are operating in our life, in relation to and around that thing, whatever that thing is – if it’s Dharma, or practice, or a lover; it can be absolutely anything. Where there is love, meaningfulness, importance, aliveness, there there is image and fantasy.

  1. Soulmaking

any activity or way of looking or way of being, that gives rise to a sense of soulfulness.

There is love involved, and often very different kinds of love, a large range in the kind of expressions of love that are involved in soulfulness. Meaningfulness, resonances. So soulmaking is recognized through its resonances in the heart, in the emotionality, its resonances in terms of image


  • Eros is like fire, we need to be very careful when playing with it
    • Still it’s worth to do so - Handling fire was tremendously helpful for humans

“All things have two handles; beware of the wrong one.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • That’s why it’s so important to develop sensitivity in this practice

Eros Unfettered

  • Why does eros arise in imaginal practice?
    • We love eros, its juiciness
    • The practice, teachers, conceptions allow it, normalize it
      • Not locked in the images of equanimity, castity etc…
    • Imaginal and psyche both involve beauty (beauty leads to attraction, eros)
    • Images tend to involve some kind of love (different kinds: stern, caring etc…)
    • Images have an unfathomability → There’s always more for eros to know

Eros-Psyche-Logos Dynamic (Soulmaking Dynamic)

  • Mutually expanding dynamic

    • As eros expands, it fills the psyche and logos, and gets filled by them
  • Eros is a kind of desire that always involves the imaginal (Eros wants Psyche)

    • A desire to experience, know, touch, connect with the image more subtly, fully and completely
  • Eros fertilizes the images, and is fertilized by them

    • Images become richer, more complex
  • Through erotic images, the idea (logos) of the beloved expands to include particular divinities (theophonies)

    • We discover more of the beloved
    • Through that, the logos of all human beings gets expanded as well
      • We start seeing them tied in to divinity, each in its particular way
    • Seeing more divinity around us, contributes to expand the eros
  • This dynamic is a gradual process in time

    • Not smooth, it expands in stages

Expansion of Self and World (E. U.part 2)

  • Not just the object get expanded, widened, made sacred

    • The same happens to the self, and the world (subject and object are mutually dependent)
    • Self, other, world, eros constellation
  • Divinity of images spills out in your conception of the world

    • Eros seen as cosmogonic (generating the cosmos) in myths
  • Constellation of eros - self, world and other (mutually dependent and constellate each other)

    • We begin to perceive our self imaginally
    • We find more dimensions of others and our self
    • Increased dimensionality moves us and other toward divinity (even to the point of becoming multiple theophonies, and thus, infinite)
  • The self and the image of the self also becomes an object of eros

    • Craving arises from the narrow, solidified sense of self that seeks pleasure or to aggrandize itself
      • Self is one-dimensional and sensed as unitary and reified
      • When desire comes from this unitary, limited self we’re talking about craving not eros
  • Imaginal sense of self, sees image as mage, is not reified

  • We tend to assume that sensual erotic desire is a defilement coming from the Self, that we shouldn’t have it

  • What happens if I change my way of looking to give desire another possibility?

Imbalances & Wanting

  • Working with images and seeing them as divine it is possible for uncomfortable feelings to arise

    • We could see ourselves as less than the divinity of the image
    • We could feel a wanting of connecting, penetrating the image, while she it is not yet opening to us
  • It is ok to allow and work with these uncomfortable feelings and wanting

Erotic Images

  • Rob gives some examples of images that came up to him
  • We should be careful of our immediate responses to images
    • We might be tempted to think it is disrespectful, or an objectification of the other
    • But actually we can question these responses.
      • Is this image really lacking in love?
      • Is it really disrespectful?
    • Often there’s love, sacredness, holiness in ways that make profound differences in our lives
  • The way of looking at images is important
    • The right way of looking will help us continuously expand the psyche and logos, to facilitate Eros’ open ended process

Ways of Looking (E. U.part 3)

  1. Realist - Modernist
    • Seeing images as random neural firings or references to childhood
    • Kills soulmaking
    • The more that Eros wants is constrained to the physical level (sex, consumerism)
      • In relationship, you can’t go deeper (explore different dimensions) into one person, so you want more partners
      • Alternatively, if the fire of Eros is extinguished, it can also die
  2. Reduce Fabrication (e.g. Mindfulness)
  3. Soulmaking perspective
    • Not reducing images to biological or psychological explanations or dissolving them by fabricating less (into oneness)
    • Open-endedness - The unknown, unexplored is much greater than the known

Re-enchanting Dukkha

  • A Soulmaking way of looking (logos) to see difficult situations is to see them as forging the soul, as the difficulty coming from divine roots and that it is necessary for soul
    • Makes the difficulty imaginal and even divine, it gives it more dimensions
    • Instead of practicing metta towards the difficulty (as often done in Dharma), we can have eros towards it

Eros and Hermeneutics (E. U.part 4)

  • Plato: Eros as an Hermeneutic Daimon (has to do with interpretation)

    • Eros brings fertility and opening up of infinite interpretation
  • Reification and identification can be problems playing with this, not the expansion of Eros

William Jamesquote on the “fantastic and unnecessary character of wants.”

Even when [the want’s gratification, even when the gratification of the want] seems farthest off, the uneasiness they occasion is still the best guide of his life, and will lead him to issues entirely beyond his present powers of reckoning. Prune down his extravagance, sober him, and you undo him.

Containment of Eros

  • Eros as flame, psyche and logos as fuel
  • Containment of Eros can allow the increase, expansion of the psyche
  • Not acting (in the immediate way) on the Eros can stimulate the soulmaking process
    • Creating a sacred space (“teminos”) free of manifest action, it transforms the space in a sort of alchemical vessel
    • Allows to preserve and even spark the flame, of eros
  • We refuse to get our erotic “more” on the horizontal, material level
    • ”More” is funneled to find, create more in other (imaginal) dimensions

What it is not

  • Not about letting go of sexual desires or cravings
    • This sacred space is for the sake of soulmaking
  • Not about sexual yogas’ (or Taoist) ideas of preservation of sexual energy
    • The imaginal is involved here, and the purpose is sparking soulmaking

Oneness and Twoness (E. U.part 5)

  • Eros not a movement to oneness but rather a creation or discovery of twoness (Self and Other)

    • There’s an increase in Otherness (in dimensionality etc…)
  • What about the (important) desire for Oneness?

  • Both of these desires are important

Desire for Oneness

  • Desire for oneness is a desire to know oneness, not a desire to become one, or to dissolve permanently into a union
    • Knowing oneness creates duality, the knower and the known
  • Religious traditions often frames the goal as a permanent dissolution into oneness
    • Experience of oneness is temporary
    • It’s unclear whether that was a real desire or a conditioned one, or if it comes from an aversion to existence

Eros and Twoness

  • Eros is not the “Art of Disappearing” talked about in some traditions

  • Eros engenders twoness, but can do so while knowing and sensing oneness

    • Oneness can become an object of Eros
  • As Eros is allowed to fertilize the logos and psyche we get a sense of other dimensions of our being and the sense that we are creatively participating in these dimensions

    • ”My mind is participating in the soul of the divine”
    • Through Eros, a third other can be born (a third soul - “We”, a child, a project)

Endless Dharma

  • Just like with anything it comes in contact with, Eros will expand, deepen the psyche and logos of Dharma

  • What does and endless Dharma look like?

    • Secular Modernist Dharma seeing awakening as putting an end to my neuroses is not endless
  • 4 Possibilities

    • Deeper understanding of Emptiness (not endless itself but opens up endless possibilities)
      • Seeing that fabrication is empty opens up an endless exploration of “magic” ways of looking
    • Bodhisattva aspirations create an endless possibility to ease suffering
    • Eros Psyche Logos Dynamic is driven infinitely by Pothos wanting more

Wisdom - Art - Balance

Mastering fire and shaping the vessel

  • If we’re going to open the territory of Eros and soulmaking with integrity and intelligence, we need to bring a certain amount of wisdom and art to the process

    • Fire demands care, yet it is necessary for us to thrive
  • every path has its dangers, even seemingly innocent ones like mindfulness

    • Papers about mental destabilization coming from mindfulness practice
    • Feeling of being “neutered” practicing it
  • Vajrayana requires some preliminaries to be practiced before approaching Buddhist Tantra

    • Ethics, understanding of emptiness, devotion etc…

”Preliminaries” Practicing with Eros

  1. A heartfelt, rooted commitment to ethics, questioning and going beyond traditional Buddhist ethics
    • Not ethics because an authority told us, or out of fear of consequences
    • Buddhist ethics, envisioned before globalization and climate change, may need to be questioned today
  2. Skill and confidence in emotional awareness (and energetics)
    • Emotional and energy body practices to develop the ability to notice subtle sensations
  3. Trust or Faith, while keeping an experimental, playful attitude
    • Knowing that the conceptual framework we hold shapes the experiences we have
      • Desire is a treasure, may be holy (despite its obvious connections to dukkha)
        • Like searching for gold or gems, we have to clean up the nuggets from its dirt
  4. Equanimity implies balance, steadiness, spaciousness
    • Prevents the fire of eros from burning out
    • In itself, equanimity cannot be a soul-making, erotic object

These can be considered as a “skillset” that we can develop

Refractions: of Body, Sensuality and Sexuality

Opening the Dharma of Desire

  • Rob came across a practice to work with desire

    • Just let go” is certainly an option, but it comes at a cost. What are we losing if we do so?
  • Is it possible that the contraction of craving is a result of not allowing the energy of the deeper desires to unfold and be felt?

    • Craving involves contraction and moving away from present moment (we get lost in daydreaming)
  • Opening to the Deeper Current of Desire - Practice (Rob Burbea)

Inquiry Into Desire

  • Soulmaking always involves some inquiry

    • Questioning assumptions, expanding the Logos
  • Assumptions we can question

    • Desire comes from the ego or build the ego
    • Desire leads to suffering
  • How we conceive of desire will make a big difference in our sense of self, world, cosmos and desire

    • Desire is inextrinsically interwoven with all of that
  • Is there a difference between:

    • desire acted on
    • desire as divine influx
    • desire originated in lack (lack of a sense of self)