Longing gives rise to grief;
Longing gives rise to fear.
For someone released from longing
There is neither grief nor fear.
Dhammapada v.213, translated by Gil Fronsdal
This verse is from a section called “The Dear” which is about attachment and liberation from attachment. I hesitate to include much of it because it is so stark about the choice between our attachments and letting go. So I’ll just select a few verses from this section to give you a taste of its contents.
The Pali word for “dear” is piya, and as in many of the Buddhist texts, the word is used and re-used to reveal its dimensions through slightly different contexts. One English word cannot cover the multiplicity of meanings.
What is longing? From the dictionary: “a strong, persistent desire or craving, especially for something unattainable or distant.” I think we can conclude from this that longing is desiring something we do not presently have. Let’s also note that there is a romantic aspect to longing – it’s painful, but there can also be a sweetness in the suffering. Sometimes longing for something or someone or somewhere else is simply a result of dissatisfaction with what we are currently experiencing.
What do we long for? What do we want that we don’t or can’t have? Youth for the oldies, beauty for the most of us, riches for the not-so-rich, recognition for almost everyone, praise, glory…
Without longing, without wishing for something that is not, we are free from grief and fear. This is not the same as abandoning our wholesome goals. We work towards goals, but when we’re longing, we’re just wishing for things. The opposite of longing is roughly equivalent to fully accepting whatever is true right now.
After a lot of training with the Buddha’s teachings, we tend to recognize longing as an unproductive mindstate and just move on from it to whatever is actually present. Some people, even without much training, have the innate wisdom to know that being with what is is just a better way to live than pining after what might be.