Try talking to someone who has lost a child, recently become divorced, been fired from their job or had a tree fall on their car about detachment and in nine of ten cases they will roll their eyes thinking you have lost the plot and probably live on a different planet. The most common rebuttals to detachment that I have repeatedly heard are:
“It’s impossible to practice it in the real world.”
“If I practice detachment I will become selfish.”
“It’s a great concept but I am not Buddha.”
“If I detach I will fail in life and become a looser. I will loose all motivation”
“How will I earn money, run my business and support my family if I become detached?”
“I enjoy being attached to my loved ones and to life’s luxuries, so why bother?”
I appreciate each rebuttal because for a beginner on the path, it is not easy to fathom such a lofty concept. After all the web of Maya is no ordinary web. It can be sticky sweet and pleasurable to the core but also harsh and ruthless like life itself. A complex web it is, and one almost impossible to crawl out from. Most flies that get trapped in a spiders web are unable to ever leave it. I too have tried and failed in detaching from my love of Movenpick ice cream and bollywood movies! It is hard to think about what life would be like without the melodrama of a love affair, without tea and toast—not to mention other, subtler addictions, like fear, hatred, and judgment. So is there hope for us mortals in applying and benefitting from this seemingly impossible philosophy?
If the answer was Not a resounding Yes, I would not have bothered writing this article. So, if you are someone who is keen on improving the quality and wellness of their existing life, lives to come and also aspire to attain mukti, it might be worth your while in spending a few minutes with me.
While each of the above rebuttals shared by people against applying the philosophy of detachment are true for them, it is also equally true that attachment leads to suffering and detachment leads to freedom. The primeval explanation of detachment was given by Lord Krishna in the Bhagwatgita wherein he told Arjun that acting with detachment means doing the right thing for its own sake, because it needs to be done, without worrying about success or failure. T.S. Eliot paraphrased Krishna’s advice when he wrote, “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” When a young Prince Gautam walked out from his kingdom thereby abandoning his wife, new-born son and responsibilities to meditate in the jungle for seven long years, he not just enacted ‘detachment’ but also spoke about the perfect correlation between attachment and suffering. It was only after he renounced his worldly life and attained enlightenment did he come to be called Buddha!
But great as these examples maybe, it is difficult to draw inspiration from them because of the life and time into which you are born. Luckily for you there are prescribed methods to enrich yourself with its practise without having to run away to a jungle and live under a rock. Let me also clarify that contrary to popular belief detachment will not make you selfish, nor de-motivated and neither will it curtail your ability to be an effective parent, or child or spouse nor inhibit your ability to acquire wealth. Rather it will make you increasingly effective and empathetic towards others around you and transgress you with an uncanny ability to positively deal with tumultuous situations and relationships. The practise of detachment is a step-by-step, day-by-day process of accepting the external as it presents itself, doing your best to align your thoughts and actions with what you think is right, and surrendering to the outcome. The three steps to walk the path of detachment are:
Step 1. To rid yourself from ignorance or avidya. This means understanding the play of Maya in the world around you and being mindful of the role that your five senses play in controlling and manipulating your mind into believing the untrue to be true, and the true to be untrue. When you become aware that your spirit or Aatma is the truest form of you, or perhaps the ‘real’ you and your physical body made of blood, water, tissue and bones is simply a transient vessel which your aatma is using to enact its destiny and fructify its karma from past lives – You will start to give greater importance to what your spirit desires rather than what your body does. This will bring about a tectonic shift in mindset because you will learn that it is your physical body and mind that is attracted to external objects around you but not necessarily your spirit. It is not your spirit which loves your mother, enjoys chocolate or feels happy to hear that melodious Lata Mangeshkar song. So should one stop loving these so called ‘good things’ of life and take refuge under a Bodhi Tree? Of course not. But it would help to appreciate and recognize these facets for what they are – external objects, immaterial and inconsequential to your spirit body – while the soul is timeless. Simply being cognisant of this fact have two key benefits: a) You will stop sweating the small stuff in your life and (b) You will realise that it’s all small stuff for the stuff that really-really matters is far removed from physical objects around you. This will give you inner power, peace and control like never before.
Remember, the spirit is attracted to one thing and one thing alone, and that is its evolution which will occur simply by your understanding and applying of this concept. More about this in Aatma Sutra, a book I recently wrote.
Step 2. Understanding the concept of ‘Attached-Detachment’, whereby you learn to be attached to things and people that you love ONLY to the extent of your fulfilling your responsibilities towards that relationship and cutting out the emotional fanfare. This means, you understand that being born in a society you have responsibilities, and you must fulfil those responsibilities to the best of your capabilities. Remember, detachment cannot be used as the reason for not dealing with everyday criticalities like your job, self-esteem, and relationships with others for it is the very opposite of indifference, carelessness and passivity. So if you are married, you must try and provide for your spouse for better or worse, for richer and for poorer – and do this to be the best possible partner you can be. Take her for as many holidays and shopping sprees as your means permit and do whatever you can to make her happy. But side by side be crucially aware that you are simply doing a roleplay of being the ‘good husband’ – the role you have been destined for. As far as your spirit is concerned, your relationship with her will cease to matter upon your death. But what will matter much more will be your relationship with your inner self. Compared with all the effort you make to please those around you and provide for them, how much effort do you put into nurturing your own spirit? This question haunts me every single day. Even if you start taking baby steps to nurture and invest into this critical relationship, the results will astound you. If you can meditate on the fact that it is only a matter of time before you become a photograph on a wall, and your spirit will wander around till it is lucky enough to get a physical avatar once again, your perspectives on this life are bound to change. You will have a much greater sense of understanding what is meaningful and what isn’t.
Step 3: Surrender. You will have to rid yourselves of any fear that being detached will make you into a commercial looser, a poor lover or a bad family man. Once you have understood the true nature of things around you and surrendered to your destiny, your expectations from others will automatically start to reduce. This in turn will lead to a lessening of frustrations, fears and disappointments. You will become much more tolerant and empathetic towards those around you as you realise that like you they too are physical bodies on their very own paths of evolution. And how they react, behave and treat you is entirely dependent on their own samskaras and karmas – its actually got nothing to do with you!
Offering your senses, desires and mental afflictions to a higher power (I like to call it destiny) will make them loose their control and power over you. And rather than being the one who is pulled in one direction, then another and then another (like a kid in a candy store) – it is you who will hold the grips to your existence. Now tell me what could be better than that?