A newly ordained Hindu Monk, in orange clothes, was traveling in a bus in Mumbai. He came across an old high school friend. They started chatting, the high school friend was anxious to know what the monk was doing. So he asked him “What exactly do you do?” The young monk gave him a brief summary of his life as a monk from beginning to the present time. The friend suddenly got interested and confided in the monk.
“ Well, after high school, I joined my father’s business. We are doing well, but my life is a total mess. I am not happy at all and I could certainly use some of your teachings. However, I do not have time to listen to a whole lecture, because I have to get down at the next bus stop. So, as an old friend, can you do me a huge favour? Can you tell me, in brief, how I can use these teachings to improve my life?”
The monk started to think as to how he could convey this whole gamut of knowledge, learned by him over several years, in a few words. So, while the friend was getting off the bus, the Swami, shouted to him in a loud voice “Detachment – Attachment!”
This anecdote, though amusing, brings out one of the most important aspect of spiritual literature i.e. Detachment from the mundane and the ordinary and Attachment to the higher, sublime and supreme power whatever that might be. Or detachment from the weak and attachment to the strong.
In most of the scriptures of different religions, Detachment from worldly desires is considered as the key to one’s happiness.
So let us examine what is really meant by detachment and how we can use it to improve our lives.
Attachment word came from the French word “attachement” meaning fasten. Attachment is a mental state with an object, a living being, an environment, or a thought, value, opinion, belief. Attachment is strictly a feeling. Thankfully, this attachment is not physical. Can you imagine what the world would be like, if those who were attached to their cars, houses, electronic devices etc. were actually physically attached to these objects. Similarly, can you imagine, if one was physically attached to ones parents, siblings or children?
Attachment is ego driven. It can also be defined as a combination of “I” and “I want”. The “I” refers to the “Ego” and the “I Want” refers to a selfish desire to obtain something.
Attachment by itself is not a problem. The problem arises when that attachment does not result in one acquiring the object, the being, and the environment or in experiencing that feeling. Attachment starts a chain of events that eventually has the potential of causing frustration, sorrow or suffering. In other words, attachment brings desire, which in turn leads to fear, and ultimately anger. All those emotions ultimately cause sorrow in human beings. Attachment creates a desire to obtain that object. If one obtains that object, it creates a fear of losing it. If we are unsuccessful in obtaining that object, it causes anger. This is exactly the reason why, in all scriptural literature, we are advised not to have attachment.
So it all boils down to not having any desires. Practically speaking, it is impossible not to have any desire. That is the motivating force in all of us. If we do not have desires, we might as well being placed in a box and have people placing it six feet down in the ground.
So how can we continue to live and still not have any desires?
Let us now analyze the spectrum of desires.
Desires are of two kinds, ones that are inherent in us (coming from inside) and those that are borrowed from envy that is from others.
For example, a person is born with a desire to spend his life in pursuing music, literature or science. Similarly a person can have a desire to help mankind in various ways.
On the other hand, one might have a desire to have a fancier car, a bigger house or an expensive wardrobe because he has observed his friends or neighbors to have similar objects. These are “borrowed desires” and pursuing these desires is bound to lead to sorrow. It so happens that a large proportion of our desires are borrowed desires and therefore the cause of frustration, envy and grief.
If we were to stick to our inherent desires there would not be any grief. These inherent desires do not need to be a great leader or a great scientist. It could simply be a desire to have education or learn a skill and use that education or skill to have a family and enjoy the comforts and beauty of this world.
Examined from a different perspective, human beings are born with three (3) pieces of equipment**
All our actions are simply the interactions of these three components with our outer world. These actions are manifestations of your selfish attachments. They create sort of tracks in our mind like tracks on a muddy road. Soon our mind will become trapped in these grooves forcing us to repeat these actions again and again.
By repeating our ego-centered actions over and over, these tracks get deeper and deeper and getting out of them becomes impossible. This is a perfect catch 22 scenario where our actions are repeated endlessly. However, if these actions are done unselfishly with an objective of helping or serving others, there are no grooves created in your mind and you become free from the bondage of those attachments.
That is detachment in which there are no disappointments, no fear, no anger and no sorrow.
The secret is having equanimity that is serenity under all circumstances.
It is much easier said than accomplished but anyone can definitely work towards it.
Our practice of meditation in taming the mind is one step towards this goal.
Obviously in the above, the word being detached does not mean being indifferent, distant, aloof, nor “having a don’t care” attitude.
Original text by Harish Verma, member of Oakville Zen Meditation.
** Zen Buddhism defines 5 components or aggregates: