• JTF

Understanding Suffering: The Five Levels Of Attachment.


Who is it for: Philosophy lovers, theologists, meditators.

What makes it special: The connection between Toltec traditions and Buddhist philosophy is a welcome intersection that transcends time and geographical space.


Let's make some unnecessary labels: Personal development, theology, philosophy, psychology, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

In the Buddhist tradition, the root of all suffering is attachment to our ego, identity, belongings, pride, etc. Toltec teachings hold a similar outlook despite their apparent lack of connection geographically, ideologically, or chronologically. In such instances, my interest peaks as I believe humanity's essence is immutable; such phenomenon exemplifies the link within the human experience regardless of religion, period, race, or circumstance.

The five levels of attachment by Don Miguel Ruiz Jr. offers a colorful and structured recount of the way people develop identity along with the trappings and suffering that comes from attachment. As with most religious doctrines or philosophies, the idea of Nirvana or one of an alternate spiritual, harmonious state is a typical representation of a level of consciousness often associated with spiritual enlightenment.

In the conceptual structure of the book, enlightenment equals our authentic self. At that level, the individual does not hold attachment and experiences the world as is. Pain is understood as a sensation, but no suffering is derived from attachment. Level one of attachment is an aspirational state that escapes the majority of humanity's experience. It is reserved for those who achieve a spiritual clarity level referred to by other religious practices as transcendence.

For the majority, the experience comes momentarily to their conscious reality; the moment is short-lived and soon replaced with a sense of consciousness that manifests in the remaining four levels addressed by the author. These are preference, identity, internalization, and fanaticism; all four stages share a common thread of distinct identification with the ego. Depending on the stage, each creates distance between the individual and others, isolating them from their environment. Suffering is often correlated with the highest attachment levels as there is little flexibility or understanding of the authentic self while in such stages.

Such diagnosis likens to neurosis, which can derive into paranoia and even a complete mental breakdown as understood in psychology. According to the author, an individual can detach themselves from their ego while in the first three attachment levels. To various degrees, someone can both identify and separate from the identification they have selected. It allows them to operate and pursue sensations and experiences without compromising their level of contentment and peace.

However, when someone reaches the level of internalization or fanaticism, suffering becomes the direct emotional experience. An exacerbated sense of exuberance arrives when the views and values they adhere to align with the reality in which they develop. The main difference between internalization and fanaticism is that the individual looks inward on the fourth level and tries to protect its attachment by isolation or separation. However, in the fifth level, it is no longer enough to separate from others; the mere presence of those with different beliefs and experiences is enough to create distress and incite action to eliminate them from their reality.

From a religious study and psychological perspective, the individual's conceptual implications are transcendental enough to pay notice. However, it is even more important to do so from a collective understanding as the ego requires separation and detachment to exist. The current breakdown in the collective psyche could be possibly explained by the level of identification a segment of society experiences in the face of adversity.