Detachment is Necessary
“He who cares nothing for the good things of the world has dominion over them all.”
“But if she (the nun) is fond of the visitors, if their troubles are a great distress to her and if she delights in listening to the stories which they tell her about the world, she may be sure that she will do herself harm and do them no good”. Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection
Freedom is the opposite of or liberation from attachment – freedom to be who we really are. The human condition is one of becoming ensnared in worldly objects. This happens when as children we unwittingly trade our natural selves for enchantment with worldly objects. In Hindu writings this is referred to as becoming identified with the object. We lose sight of who we are in relation to the objects. We lose contact with our true nature and this is the root cause of our unhappiness. The spiritual path is about find our way back.
The word object is being used here as an umbrella word, to refer to the many things which lead to attachment.
“Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.” The Dalai Lama
My intention in this article is to name as many of these classes of objects as I can with a view to alerting the reader to the common attachments. We cannot detach ourselves from our attachments until we have first noticed them. While taking on attachments is an unconscious process, detaching from them takes conscious effort.
“Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be obtained only by someone who is detached. ” Simone Weil
List of categories of common “objects” of attachment:
Relationships, family, tribe, friends, colleagues, teams.
Is it important to you to belong in a particular setting? Are you proud of your family? Do you feel a sense of security from being part of a gang or group? Or are you ashamed of your family or team?
In what ways do you deny yourself in order to belong? Do you conform to what is expected of you in order to belong?
Places, countries, cities, our neighbourhood, houses, furniture, land.
Do you get a sense of power and belonging from being from a particular nationality or community?
Do you feel you superior or inferior because you live in a particular neighbourhood or house?
Do you judge yourself in relation to your conditions? Are you your conditions? What is the relationship between you and your conditions?
The body, health, appearance, comfort, food.
Are you your body? If you say “my body” who or what do you think “owns” it? Knowing that it is inevitable that the body will one day die, does that mean that you will die?
How willing are you to tolerate discomfort? Do you eat to live or do you live to eat? – to quote Ghandi. How attached are you to looking good? Hoe much time and money on your appearances?
Wealth, assets. Ownership of things.
Do you judge yourself and others on the basis of what is owned? Do you try to create an impression of what you are by the objects you buy and display? Do you dismiss others on the basis of what they own or not? Is it important to you to belong to a certain social strata? Are you impressed by wealth? Or are you impressed by others who are seemingly immune to the trappings of wealth?
Do you chase luxury?
Knowledge, books, learning, education, reading, self-improvement.
Are you greedy for learning? Is education important to you and if so why? Is it a means to better employment or status or self-knowledge? Do you feel that books will give you the answers you seek? Are you addicted to reading? Is reading a hobby to entertain you or are you seeking something deeper?
Do you think that more knowledge will improve you? Are you your mind? Are you more attached to your mind than your body?
Entertainment, music, films, fun, adventure, travel, computers, internet.
Are you attached to your entertainments? Do you feel that life would not be worth living without all the entertainments? Do you avoid boredom? Are you aware that avoidance is just the negative face of attachment? It the you who experiences boredom the same you as the one who experiences excitement? And if so, why are you more attached to one experience than the other? Does the attachment define who you are or hide it?
Image, how we want others to see us.
Are you attached to how others perceive you? Do you care if people underrate you? Are you attached to coming across as smart, sophisticated, well-read, well-travelled, kind, honest, family orientated or whatever? Why do you care how others see you? Is this how you see yourself? What do you hide from others?
Beliefs, opinions, ideals.
Are you attached to belonging to a particular religious, political, or ethnic group? Are you comfortable with people who hold different opinions from you? Are you able to discuss contentious issues with others without feeling threatened? Do you define yourself by what you believe? Are your beliefs open to re-consideration and if not, why? Do you control what you believe or do the beliefs control you? Are you aware of your beliefs or do you operate out of them under the cover of assumptions?
Are you attached to feeling good? Do you do everything you can to make yourself feel good?
Is feeling good the main aim of your life? What makes you feel bad? Are your emotions generated by external events or internal thoughts? What do you do to avoid unpleasant feelings? Have you ever tried to detach from feelings without suppressing them? Can you tolerate unpleasant emotions without acting on them or suppressing them or are you attached to trying to control them?
Practices, meditation, prayer, good works.
Are you attached to various practices? How do you feel if you miss your meditation practice? Are you proud of your good works and the image it creates of you? Is your prayer practice a private matter or do you do it in public? Do you tell others about your practices and if so why?
Objects we attribute meaning to: sacred, valuable, sentimental, special buildings.
Are you attached to objects because you have attributed various values to them? Are you the one who attributed the meaning or did you pick it up? Is the meaning in the object or in you?
What purpose does attributing meaning to objects serve for you? Does it make you feel better or give you purpose? Are you attached to having meaning and purpose? Is having purpose the same as having a goal?
Traditions are another version of beliefs or ideologies. What traditions are you attached to? Or do you denigrate traditional approaches?
“From the dear comes grief;
From the dear comes fear.
If you’re freed from the dear
You’ll have no grief, let alone fear.”
The Dhammapada – Buddhist text.
One of the great teachings of The Buddha is the teaching of non-attachment.
To reclaim ownership of our true selves means detaching ourselves from the habits of getting lost in the world. It is the way to inner freedom. The path of detachment from our mental mis-identifications means detaching from opinions, emotions, likes and dislikes, beliefs, ideologies, entertainments and so on. Being detached does not mean having to give everything up, to reject the circumstances of our lives, but to become able to recognise them as secondary to who we really are.
All “objects” are but guests to who we really are. Rediscovering our true nature is freedom from the world, while we still live in it.
Jesus said: “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.Bible, John 8.23
To be from below is to be attached to “objects” of the world and to be detached is to be free to be yourself.