No claim to perfect understanding. Penning down few lines on the topic based on my reading, observations and experiences.
Detachment is antithesis of materialism (hedonism); it’s about sense of belonging and not possession. To be detached is to realize that one can’t own anything in this world because nothing belongs to a mortal. And, detachment follows this realization. For, if one owns anything then that something shall never separate from the owner. Greatest Truth of life is that even the Prana(the energy flowing in and out of the body) don’t belong to an embodied Being as it does leave the body at some point of time and render it lifeless. What to speak of relatives and friends!
What this embodied Self truly owns are habits, nature, temperament, mannerisms and behavioural patterns for, all these that are characteristic of an individual being accompany this embodied Being until the last moment- the moment when Prana leaves the body.
It implies that all such attributes- including intelligence, reasoning capabilities, and associated emotions- that differentiate one from the other are the ones that an individual owns because they are inseparable part of this jiva.
Because habits, nature, temperament, mannerisms, emotions and behavioural patterns are one’s own and therefore controllable (can be restrained) by the combination of intelligence and reasoning capabilities that too are an inseparable part of this Whole-the embodied Self.
When one tries to control and manipulate external objects to one’s advantage, it furthers materialism, but when one tries to control what it owns (within) it leads to detachment.
Detachment in what context and for what purpose? The following lines attempt to address this Q.
Detachment and Duty:
I take this liberty to share with all prospective readers my very personal experience because I believe that it’s that experience, in addition to other things, that motivated me to read our Vedic world-view.
Everyday when I drove to my office my mind would divert my attention to the graveyard cum cremation ground to my right and on my return to my left. Each time a thought emanated from my mind, as if reminding me, This Is My Final Destination! I guess that has left an everlasting impact on me. However, let me come back to the topic.
Duty can’t be performed without detachment to worldly losses and gains. I had gone to Rishi Valley School in Andhra Pradesh, sometime in the year 2001, and in one of the evenings I found myself in a gathering where I was put this Q. What is Detachment? And, I replied in very simple words: If I know that my child has committed theft then I must voluntarily report the matter to police. That’s Detachment. That was pretty short and simple answer and no further Qs were put to me. I don’t know whether the knowledgeable ones in that sitting pitied me for my simplistic reply or were spellbound by it that they didn’t further engage me in the discussion that evening. However, let’s try to figure out in some detail the context within which Detachment can be explained.
Every moment and from moment to moment we are faced with a Q: To do or Not to do.
Not to do:
If one decides not to do, the matter may rest there for him/her. But, this individual is not living in an isolated world and therefore this individual is bound to face a barrage of Qs on his/her stand.
How to handle such a situation? Sanatan Dharm dictates, “first experience and then only believe”. So, having experienced gives rise to an unshakable belief/confidence in oneself even though it may be contested by the world outside. But this “first experience and then believe” is in the context of certain philosophical articulations about the existence of this universe and embodied-Self’s co-ordinates therein.
Here we are entangled in a worldly situation- a gross one and not a subtle one. So, how do we handle such a situation?
The bottom line is that I, for my acts, am answerable primarily to my Conscience. The Qs that rise from within are much more difficult to answer than the ones that are raised from outside. For, I may try to manipulate my answers for the external world, but can’t befool my Conscience because it chases my mind relentlessly. My internal conversations do have a chastising effect on my mind because my Conscience(Intelligence) imposes its sovereignty on it. It’s a kind of course correction that follows. This is true for both the extreme- Good and Bad Conscience. Any act of mine that violates my Conscience makes me uncomfortable and I get to feel as if I am going through Hell because feeling of guilt engulfs my mind. Therefore, I may say that one’s Conscience regulates one’s Mind.
But the world I live in is Real and, therefore, not ignorable. So, how do I handle a situation wherein I am put to all sorts of Qs for my act(s)? Fundamentally I should be at peace with myself(Conscience) and, therefore, the best way to handle this kind of a situation is to follow the Axiom: I don’t have to answer every time and neither do I have to Q every time. This kind of discretion, if made use of, leads to a sense of detachment towards the obtained situation.
If we decide to do, then do it as our duty or as favours to others?
If someone requests me to intervene in his/her matters for, he/she thinks that my intervention may lead to problem resolution, then if I say to myself that I must do it(dictate of my Conscience) because I can resolve the problem, then I do it as my duty towards myself. Without any expectations from the other side. That's Detachment & a state of Bliss.
If I do it as a favour, then expectations emerge and my Karma gets afflicted with attributes and an appropriate cause and effect relationship sets in that may bring in an elated or depressed feeling in me.
Parent and Child:
It's incumbent on parents to bring up their child because they are the cause for child's birth. So, it’s their duty and has nothing to do with emotional connect with their child which, in any case, is a function of time based association.
Duty towards the child is the imperative with no strings attached and no expectations accumulated.
Yes, indeed, the bringing up of the child is in a way sacrifice made by the parents yet it’s inescapable and outside the realm of expectations.
Any parent who claims to have made sacrifices by way of devoting their life to child's upbringing, is bound to be miserable because implicit in such a statement is a flavour of favour to the child. It gets exacerbated if the Child fails to pass litmus test of his parents insofar as the meeting with their expectations is concerned.
If parents do everything as their duty towards the child & just leave it at that - that's Detachment and relative State of Bliss.
Because what would be the child’s behaviour/concern towards the parents, in time to come, is governed by child’s Internal World (Niyat) and which is not under any outsider’s control. Parents cannot possess their child, but can only nurture a sense of belonging towards him/her. That sense of belonging ingrains a sense of Duty within whereas possessiveness throws up a bundle of emotions that only end up impairing the mutual relationship.
A common Space, to start with, is shared by the parents and their child; this space is multi-dimensional. The moment this child makes a friend his/her space in the joint set begins to increase while that of parents begins to decrease. For, the child has now someone other than parents to interact with. As the child grows into an adult his/her world expands further to create his/her own Set within the parent Set. Once married, the child’s world of interactions further grows.
Now, if the parents are possessed of their child then they develop a feeling of neglect from their child because the child is unable to spend as much time with his/her parents as in childhood days. This causes misery and may become the main cause for strained relationship between the two.
On the other hand if the parents have a sense of belonging towards their child then as they see their child grow, they relish every moment of it as they observe different moods, behavioural tendencies, expressions and emotions of their child. And, this attitude of theirs affords them enough space to freely interact with their child and develop mutual understanding of each other for a healthy and lasting relationship. If the parents don’t transgress into their child’s Space, the child is more likely to be concerned about parents’ welfare with all attendant constraints.
The sense of belonging (Detachment) thus generates a Relative State of Bliss indescribable by words.
That I am employed in an organization to do the work that I am qualified to do is the fundamental fact.
If I do my work and move on then I am in a state of Bliss because having done my job to best of my capability and sincerity there is nothing more that I can do.
But, if I, while doing my work, say, as a team member, get laced with the thought that my contributions are the best and therefore my entitlement to promotion, salary raise, and appreciation etc. is more than that of other team members or of those working in other teams becomes the cause both for my ecstasy and depression depending upon what I receive in return.
If I discharge my work as pure duty then I cease to be in competition with others and don't seek anything in return because I did the work for which I was employed. If I relate my work to career growth then I invite miseries for myself.
Not to expect anything in return is Detachment for, what all one does is only his/her part of the duty as ordained- be it at home, office or elsewhere. The Essence of Sanatan Dharm.
It may not get one material benefits, but one is ever at peace with oneself- no matter how the world of relatives, friends and colleagues may classify this individual.
To be indifferent to the comments and commentaries of others, having performed the work with a sense of duty is Detachment. For, one is ever remembered for one’s contributions in one’s discipline of work and commensurate with it is the respect that one derives from one’s colleagues and that shows when one visits one’s place of work post retirement. No accumulation of property and no rank( be it the highest) can be as fulfilling as the one to be remembered for one’s selfless contributions in one’s area of work. And, this is Relative State of Bliss for, no one carries anything with him/her to the other world, but he/she leaves his/her fragrance in the place of work by dint of his/her selfless Karma (Duty).
What’s true for the situations as described in the foregoing lines is also true vis-à-vis the role of an individual in his/her society. For, a society shall be healthy and prosperous if its members develop a sense of belonging towards others and not try to possess everything and anything at all costs one can based on one’s economic strength.
Ultimately it’s the Essence of Sanatan Dharm, Nishkam-Karma, that is the panacea for all the depravity and deprivation in human societies.