Are these misconceptions about Detachment keeping you from using it to your advantage?
Around the world, Buddha is acclaimed as the one who introduced the idea of detachment. He taught us that desire is the cause of suffering and through detachment from these desires, one can achieve liberation (Moksha).
Though we’re all familiar with this, the mainstream notion about it is so misinformed, we’ve practically lost its value.
In spiritual circles desire is seen as evil; something to be controlled, overcome or subdued. In ashrams, Buddhist monasteries, and other spiritual avenues strict rules are enforced among monks, sanyasis, and other spiritual aspirants to stay away from all worldly matters. They give up their homes, families, and properties and shun away all sexual thoughts and desires, and live a minimalist life. In Sabarimala temple where the deity is a Brahmachari (seeker of Brahmam), women are prohibited because it’s not conducive to his Sadhana (spiritual practice).
Consequently, the mainstream idea of detachment is molded on the lines that it is suitable only for sadhus, bikshus, and spiritually awakened beings. I’m not implying that the life of renunciation is problematic. But it brings out two misconceptions about the idea of detachment.
- The misidentification of renunciation with detachment has rendered it useless to anyone who is suffering in life, though all Dharmic traditions assure that detachment can liberate humans from suffering.
- People who are emotionally broken and dissociated think that detachment is their escape route from life and its responsibilities. They adopt detachment and minimal life because of that, causing more suffering to themselves and their loved ones.
As a spiritually aware person, I’ve seen plenty of people on both sides, ones who laugh in the face of renunciation, minimalism, and spiritually-clad sadhakas. Also, the ones who use detachment, spirituality, and minimal life as a way of defeat and escapism. Both of them are in deep throes of pain, as the world usually is. But for the lack of better knowledge, they embrace suffering as a part of life.
The philosophy of detachment
It’s a lesser-known fact that detachment is one of the core principles of Hinduism and its affiliated traditions; Buddhism and Jainism being just two of them.
Detachment, or Viaragya in Sanskrit, is the identification of and involution from those worldly attachments that cause suffering. We identify these attachments using Viveka Buddhi (discriminatory intelligence) and escape from their bonds through controlling our body, senses, mind, and ego.
This is how Bagwad Gita describes a muni of steady wisdom,
“duḥkheṣhv-anudvigna-manāḥ sukheṣhu vigata-spṛihaḥ vīta-rāga-bhaya-krodhaḥ sthita-dhīr munir uchyate” -Bagwad Gita chapter 2 verse 56
Translation: “That monk is called a man of steady wisdom when his mind is unperturbed in sorrow, he is free from longing for delights, and has gone beyond attachment, fear, and anger.”
So, a detached wise person is someone free from attachment (raga), fear (bhaya), and anger (krodha), and is not perturbed by adversity or longs for happiness. Adversities and happiness will still happen around him/her, they may participate in it too but they are not wavered by them.
Why should we detach from raga, bhaya and krodha?
“dhyāyato viṣhayān puṁsaḥ saṅgas teṣhūpajāyate saṅgāt sañjāyate kāmaḥ kāmāt krodho ’bhijāyate”
“krodhād bhavati sammohaḥ sammohāt smṛiti-vibhramaḥ smṛiti-bhranśhād buddhi-nāśho buddhi-nāśhāt praṇaśhyati”
Bagwad Gita chapter 2 verse 62–63
Translation: “In the case of a person who dwells on objects, there arises attachment for them. From attachment grows hankering, from hankering springs anger.
From anger follows delusion; from delusion, failure of memory; from the failure of memory, the loss of understanding; from the loss of understanding, he perishes.”
aagadveshaviyuktaistu vishayaanindrayaishcharan |
aatmavashyairvidheyaatmaa prasaadamadhigachati || 64 ||
prasaade sarvaduhkhaanaam haanirasyopajaayate |
prasannachetaso hyaashu buddhih paryavatishthate || 65 ||
Translation: But, the one whose mind and senses are under control, is devoid of attraction or revulsion. He moves around objects and gains a state of tranquility.
Having gained tranquility, all of his sorrows are destroyed. His mind is joyful and his intellect soon becomes steady.
Clarity on Raga, Bhaya and Krodha
So, it’s not just a matter of desires or abstinence as many think, but of total balance and steadiness of our minds.
Raga: Attachment theory in psychology explains how our childhood social and emotional attachments shape who we are when we grow up. This definition of the term, ie, association, relationships, emotional contacts, has been misappropriated as Raga (attachment) by some.
Raga and socialization have no direct correlation. Instead, it stands for greed, sensuality, desire, sensory excitement, lust, and passion.
It’s the longing for pleasure and the pre-occupation with it. It could be food, money, sex, material things, success, etc.
Krodha, or anger and hostility is a consequence of Raga. When the thing you desire is lost, krodha takes over your mind. This also brings sadness and desolation. We try to hold onto things so badly, it’ll hurt all the more!
Bhaya or fear is what inhibits us from doing something. Though it has instinctual purposes, attachment to it makes life a hell hole! Believe me, as a survivor of sexual trauma and mental health issues, I know how debilitating fear can be!
Who all can detachment help?
So, the three-fold miseries (raga, bhaya, krodha) of worldly existence can corrupt our consciousness and lead us astray. And we live in a reality where these emotions run the world!
We are attached to money and success, to sex and pleasure, egoistic pursuits, anger, and hatred. Many of us are dependent on sex, food, drugs, people, and material things. Through detachment, we can disengage from these to lead a peaceful and subtle life!
To illustrate this, let me give you an example: dating.
We seek a person whom we like, then go out with them, indulge in all kinds of frivolities, buy expensive ridiculous things, drink up, have sex, compromise on sleep, health, and hygiene.
Yet, other than the time and energy we wasted on seeking pleasure, there is no gain whatsoever. The feelings of love or trust are rarely formed between these individuals. These connections are not based on anything real, compassionate, or humane!
Dating pulls people away more than it brings them together, and it commodifies love, affection, and sex!
Once you’re back from these indulgences, you’re as lonely, empty, and aimless as you always have been. Most often than not, the dates add to the sadness, aimlessness, and need for more attachments!
One day, if this opportunity of pleasure-seeking is taken away from you, or if you feel deceived by it, you’d feel extremely angry and hateful! Worse yet, many go on to indulge in the hateful rants of the mind, which leads to an immense amount of suffering for all individuals concerned!
So, how can this be prevented through detachment?
Like I said before, we use Viveka Buddhi (discriminatory intelligence) to attain detachment, objectivity, and self-development. Intelligence merely is not enough, but wisdom. The wisdom to know what must be done and what must be discarded, so that balance is maintained.
The article is too long already, so I can’t explain it in detail here. I’ll dedicate more articles on this topic. But I’ll just share some basic points about it below.
What does this wisdom entail?
Karma: The realization that the doer, the instrument, and the actions are not separate.
How often do we think: I did this, I didn’t do this. I accomplished this, I didn’t accomplish this. I failed at this, I succeeded at this. I got this, I lost this. Viveka Buddhi tells you that You passed through each of these phases without any change or changes only in the external appearances. Your karma doesn’t define you, it’s just what must have happened in time. Therefore, stop identifying yourself with what you do. And do everything without attachment to its results (because what must be will come to pass, whether you like it or not).
All knowledge in Hindu traditions is dedicated to Gods rather than individuals because of this wisdom that ego is just a vessel or instrument. Knowledge is imperishable while ego dies!
Dharma: When we talk about karma, many say that it implies that life is meaningless, which is untrue. According to one’s impressions, memory, and abilities, every person has his/her dharma which they can’t escape. So, by understanding what you are, what your passions are, and what your responsibilities are, you can do your dharma correctly. Once you have a fair idea of who you are, there is no need to seek anything in the outside world (like dating) for pleasure, satisfaction, and peace.
Do your dharma without any attachment to its outcomes, or putting your ego into your actions. This will give you peace and steadiness even in the most difficult of times (this is Lord Krishna’s message to Arjuna in Bagwad Gita).
Brahma: Who are you if not your ego, success, achievements, abilities, or your body? Through detachment and rightful action, one can leave the worldly matters even while acting in it. And through self-study and observation(meditation and concentration), we can find out that one is much more than the worldly tags and desires! This leads one to the path of self-discovery.
These are the cornerstones of Dharmic traditions that constitute yoga. Without a clear understanding of these, detachment is of no value. It’s the communion of these three that detaches an individual from the world and puts him/her on the path of inner peace and liberation.
P.S: I’ve left out many information on this topic so that the article won’t be long. I’d write more on Detachment in the coming weeks, exploring all about it.
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