Ryan Chamberlain: Thoughts on Attachment & Suffering

Source: Buzzfeed

The three day manhunt for Ryan Chamberlain, social media manager wanted by the FBI for housing explosive materials in his house, has ended.

I had not really been following the story these past few days since the alert went out for the 6’3″, San Francisco man – though if I had been in SF at the time I would have kept a sharp lookout.

So it was a relief to read today that he has been captured, before he could do great harm to himself and others.  Another tragedy is not what this country needs right now.

But after reading Chamberlain’s ‘goodbye note’  I began thinking about the age old problem of attachment and how unfulfilled desires can lead to the greatest suffering.

Now first off, Chamberlain admits to having dealt with issues of depression for years,  a terrible illness many in this country face – whether he sought treatment for this, he does not say.  As well, he writes that, “Dad left a long time ago, no brothers & sisters” and that his mother became obsessive in building ‘ an Apocalypse bunker’, “that the Rapture is coming any day now”.  Following that, he says he was betrayed by ‘the One’,  a woman he loved and lost, and by his best friend in the city who ended up cutting him out of a business venture they were pursuing together.

Clearly, these ‘betrayals’ coupled with his depression only further intensified feelings of isolation, anger, pain that must have been building up within him for years.  Again and again, he writes about working for one job, one employer and everything  blowing up in his face (again), these final betrayals sending him spiraling down,

Any of these are things are just life though. A person should be able deal with this. People deal with cancer, or they go to war. This should be do-able. Stop whining. But all of this at once, for the umpteenth time in my life — really, this is happening AGAIN?!? — at the hands of the people who mattered to me the most…this betrayal, abandonment, isolation and lonliness. I couldn’t take it this time. I already had a tendency to slip into depression; this one hit me hard.

Once someone feels like they have nothing, when that depression sets in, it’s hard to stand up and fight against it.  I don’t know what conclusions made him jump to the drastic extreme of hoarding explosives, or what exactly he intended to do with them, but I think we can all agree that this is not a healthy response.

This time, however, was different for Chamberlain – he’d hit the bottom so many times, pulled himself up so many times, he just felt he couldn’t do it anymore:

It’s happening again?!? Again?!? What did I do to deserve this!?!…..I’d hit the bottom again. And every time it was darker than the time before. This time, it was really bad.

Chamberlain’s next section however set my mind in motion, thinking about attachment and how this man’s unfulfilled desires led him down such a terrible path:

The catalyst this time was the loss of about everything that mattered to me.

I’ve isolated two things I need: a person and a purpose. All I’ve ever wanted was someone to be madly in love with, to go through life with in that great, dedicated relationship. Then, all i needed was a great reason to get up everyday. Some great work to do. That’s pretty easy. Everyone wants that. Lots of people get it.

Love and purposeful work – doesn’t sound like too much to ask.  Yet even the simplest desires can cause terrible suffering.

The Buddha talks plainly about how our attachments to this world and its object causes suffering, and that to negate these desires and practice non attachment will lead to bliss, nirvana, peace.

Is it too much to want what Chamberlain wants?  Ultimately yes.  A person’s true purpose comes from within, no other person or outside source can ultimately resolve the issue of ‘who are you’.  We use our relationship statuses, our job titles to help define who we are, but all those things can be stripped and taken away.

Who are you as a human being when the identities you have surrounded yourself with are lost?

Chamberlain faced this often – all the various jobs he held eventually didn’t work out for one reason or another; the loves in his life, ‘the One’ that could have completed him ended up leaving.   He wanted the permanence of these things to satisfy him, but ultimately they are impermanent.  And what is impermanent will cause you pain.

Sri Ramakrishna, the Bengali-Hindu avatar, uses the parable of the maid working in her master’s home to explain the importance of non-attachment,

The maid-servant says with reference to the master’s house, ‘This is our house’. All the while she knows that the house is not her own, for hers is far away in some distant village of Burdwan or Nadia. Her own thoughts are all sent forth to her village home.
Again referring to her master’s child in her arms she will say ‘My Hari (that being the name of the child) has grown very naughty’ or, ‘My Hari likes to eat this or that’ and so on. But all the while she knows certainly that this Hari is not her own. I tell those, that come to me, to lead a life unattached like this maid-servant. I tell them to live unattached to this world – to be in the world, but not of it- and at the same time to keep their minds directed to God – the heavenly Home from where all come. I tell them thus to pray for Bhakti, and found their lives on it

Bhakti is spiritual or devotional love.  By keeping your mind on God, despite everything you do, natural joy will spring up within, for the nature of God is infinite love, joy, and bliss.

Combining this then with Karma yoga, which through mind and action transforms everyday work into a sacrament, one’s work becoming worship itself.   It is not in the failure or success of the deed that the individual doer makes his devotion, but in the act itself.  The action frees the individual from attachment to the deed as ultimately the act is not the goal – worshiping God is, which the act becomes: Worship.

But for those that this devotional thought is incompatible, remove the Godhead from the equation, and say neti, neti or ‘not this, not this’.   Using the path of discrimination (jnana yoga) we determine what is real and unreal.  By remembering the impermanence of the work, of the person we love, we are ultimately freed from attaching.  By trying to uncover within ourselves what is real, what is permanent and true, we are released from the transitory and uncover who we truly are.

Ryan Chamberlain is  a man like any other.  He wanted what most desires: a good job, a loving partner, personal success and self-worth.  Many seek these things and some attain them.  Some attain them and find it lacking.  But life is transitory and constantly in flux – what is constant and true releases us from despair and grief.   We look outside to find peace when true peace comes from within.

A complicated topic no doubt.  Please let me know what you think in the comments below about ideas of attachment and desire, (especially in this modern world), and if you have any insight into Ryan Chamberlain’s case or would like to comment on anything else related to these topics, please share your thoughts and opinions!



6 thoughts on “Ryan Chamberlain: Thoughts on Attachment & Suffering

  1. You did a very good job providing insights into that aspect of our nature that can result in the most painful of life’s memories. Our attachment to people and things, later lost or taken, is a primary source for the greatest melancholy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. very powerful post.

    (we had some one take their own life after a long siege. his family insisted he was a gentle giant. i’m not sure the people held hostage would thing so though).


  3. very powerful post.

    (we had some one take their own life after a long siege. his family insisted he was a gentle giant. i’m not sure the people held hostage would think so though).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s