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Monday, January 3, 2011


One of the ideals in Hinduism is detachment. Detachment from the fruits of one's actions, detachment from life because it is not ultimate reality.

It's a really tricky thing to come to terms with.

On the one hand, lack of attachment saves one from pain. If we were enlightened (supposedly) we would enjoy people and objects while we had them, love them thoroughly, and also be fine when they were not with us. Things come and go, but really, as our universal Selves, everything is with us and everything is in us.

The trouble is that the idea of being detached from one's family and friends, from one's spouse and children, sounds horribly inhuman. It sounds cold and cruel.

This is a topic of frequent discussion at my study group. What does it really mean to be detached? Does it mean that we don't care? Does it mean that we don't stop bad things from happening because we should not care about the result of our action?

This is a subject that I think could take lifetimes to come to grips with.

However, I had a moment of insight the other day because I was reading a book a friend lent me about codependency. This is a psychological term that is often applied to the spouses of addicts. There is a tendency in those who love alcoholics or drug addicts to become overly involved in the addict's life, to try to fix him or her and ease their pain by taking away the addict's responsibility. There is a chapter in the book about detachment.

I was moved by a quote from a member of Al-anon, which is a sister group to AA (alcoholics anonymous) specifically for those whose lives are affected by alcoholics or other addicts. This person said, "Detachment is not detaching from the person whom we care about, but from the agony of involvement."

I think that is pretty profound and gave me a different perspective on what attachment and detachment are.

It's a concept I will still struggle with and keep refining my understanding of. I look forward to reading the rest of this book for more insight. It is called Codependent No More, it's a classic in this field.


  1. This is such a great post. I have a very hard time with detachment - not that I don't think that it's important, but it's so hard to implement, even when I realize that if I'm doing it right, my life is so much less stressful! Not worrying about what my friends are doing. Not worrying about the things I don't have. Not worrying, period.

    On the other hand, I'm wrestling with the progress and creativity that comes from discontent, which is in direct conflict to detachment (or maybe it isn't, but I'm just not seeing it).

    This post is full of great advice/thinking. Thanks!

  2. You are right, this is a difficult concept. The Himalayan academy teaches that this is affectionate or loving attachment, which is very different to not caring. I blogged about this a while ago. The detachment is not about how much you love or care, it is about expectations of what you get in return.

    Our preceptor also teaches that some attachments are positive and others negative. We could all do without hate, fear, jealousy, etc. but things like the need for love and security are acceptable and even positive for those on the path of the householder.

  3. And the thing is, there are different kinds of love. Attached love is not a pure love, it is based on what you are getting in return, the good feelings you get from loving someone. It seems to me that attached love is very rajasic (jealous and controlling).

    When my friend died last year it hurt so tremendously and my mother said, I'm sure she's fine, her soul is fine. I said, I know she's fine, it's me I'm worried about! :)

    Worry is so useless, isn't it? Either you do something or you don't do something, either something happens or it doesn't, worry has never, ever changed an outcome, right? And yet, I worry way too much.

  4. I was just thinking about attachment and detachment earlier today. For me, detachment means understanding that the people and things in our lives don't really belong to us and have no permenance, and at some point we will have to let go of each and every one. That doesn't mean it is without pain, however.

    I understand what you mean about worry, too. It's hard not to, especially when it is about something that touches the heart. One thing, among many, that causes me too much worry, is the animals in shelters. Whenever I go to visit them, to play with and pet them, I always end up getting attached to at least one in particular, and others in general. I feel like I bond with that one, and want so much to give it a permanent home, but I can't. Then I worry about the one (along with the others, but the one most of all), hoping that someone will give it a home. I worry about how long they'll be in the shelter, and what will eventually happen to them. It breaks my heart to see them living in cages. I definitely cause suffering for myself this way. I bring this up in particular, because it happened to me, AGAIN, over my Christmas trip home to see my family. But maybe that's OK, because for the time I'm there, the animals have someone giving them love and attention. *sigh*

  5. I somehow agree with this statement, "Detachment is not detaching from the person whom we care about, but from the agony of involvement".

    As per my understanding, you should detach yourself from all the "moh" and "maya". You need to detach yourself from the worldly and material pleasures so as to attain God. You need to completely devote yourself to God.

    Now that does not mean that you should leave your family, parents, kids etc. You have duties to perform for you parents, your spouse, your kids and so on. You will have feelings of love for them. But you should not let those feelings reduce your dedication and love towards God.

    Here is what my parents/grandparents say, "You should lead a normal life, perform all your duties as you would normally do, but never forget God". For example, it is wrong if I don't perform my duties towards my family or do not give them the love they deserve. Also, it is perfectly natural to cry on a loved one's loss. Even lord Ram cried on his father's death. But ultimately you should not let these feelings of love, grief etc. overpower your devotion to God.

    Hope what I wrote made some sense. Excuse me for my bad English and my inability to write down my feelings.

  6. I always thought that detachment that is talked about is detachment from the outcome.

    It is also said in hindusim that an ideal person should keep a balance between the four essentials - dharma , artha, kam, moksha.

    the first one - dharma translates not to religion but duties. So to lead an ideal life you have to do your duties - as a son/daughter, as a parent, as a friend , as a citizen - so on.

    and one needs to do these duties without the expectation of the return. so it is not detachment from life but detachment from the expectations from life.

    So one has to love his wife but not in return of something.

    moreover i think this concept of love is bit different in indian and western thinking. though there too many other factors involved but still thinkings behind marriage, parents-offspring relations may be a pointer.
    not saying - either one is good or bad.

    - basu

  7. Melissa, I like how you say that the people and things in our life don't really belong to us, that is so true. We can be caretakers to things, but ultimately they are not ours to hold onto.

    Sumit, yes we still have our duties to our families and those around us. The reading at study group said that it was like a movie. A wise man laughs and cries and feels emotion based on what's happening on the screen, but he knows that it's just a movie, a blank screen in reality, and that's the same as life. We have our scripts, our parts to play.

    The reading also pointed out that you don't necessarily recognize a wise man, it isn't that he is doing things differently from you. He does all the same things, but his mental state is different.

    Basu, yes, real sattvik love is love without expectation of return. Love free from attachment is love without concern for the outcome, thank you for the reminder on that.