Need For a Measure of Detachment
SRI SWAMI SIVANANDA
Bane of Self-attachment
It is generally thought that detachment might presuppose frustration and a lack of responsibility or carelessness. The spiritual meaning of the term is quite the contrary. True, when no responsibility is fixed on an individual and if no personal gain or loss is involved in some undertaking, one may show a lack of interest and initiative. That is the case with the worldly man, and nearly almost with everyone, since it is very difficult to find one who is hundred percent spiritual.
Detachment, however, has a great significance to a person who endeavours to raise himself from instinctive, physical level to a life of noble idealism and inner fulfilment. Without a measure of detachment, life becomes vitiated with an all- pervasive selfishness. It is gross selfishness that is at the root of individual discord, family disharmony, communal disruption and international tension.
The recent observation of a national leader is worth quoting: “All the millions of acts of violence that we commit daily in the course of our normal lives, constitute the basis on which the pyramidal violence of global war rests. All the little violences below, support the superstructure of world wars above. If there had been no violence at the bottom, there would have been none at the top.”
The life of man is permeated with violence, veiled or unveiled. There is perpetual violence in individual life. In the course of everyday life, man gives expressions to so many forms of violence, by words and deeds, by thoughts and attitude, when he tries to force his self-interest on others, to dominate his ego over that of others, and run down those who might have hurt his vanity.
Tension among communities, religious fracas and political riots, one nation trying to dominate over a weaker one, one class of society discriminating against another, the factional leader exploiting the mob passion for self-aggrandisement, the so-called patriots resorting to violence to satisfy their vanity of regional loyalty, in the name of safeguarding the so-called distinctness of their culture, even though thereby they might strike at the root of national unity-all these are dire consequences of man’s morbid, almost paranoiac attachment to self and all that are associated with it.
The whole structure of Society is a hotbed of violence, one class trying to thrive at the expense of another, even in the name of religion and even by promoting class hatred through doctrinaire violence. There is almost no exception, where the ubiquitous violence in life is not felt. ‘Myself and my interests are above everything else; my community and my province above all-such is the dictum of almost everyone, whether directly or indirectly given expression to.
A measure of detachment in individual relationship, family life, and inter-communal and international relations, is the foremost need of the hour. It does not mean throwing into the winds the responsibilities of man to his family and society and country. It only means a saner outlook, a better performance of his duties.
It is because of man’s extraordinary greed and self-attachment that he resorts to unfair means, in the name of desirable attachment to family or safeguarding personal interests. There is no harm if these are taken care of with a sense of responsibility. But, in actuality, man overstretches himself by resorting to untruth, cheating others and doing all-round violence in so many ways, in order that his self, which he projects into his immediate relations and the activities he does, might be perpetuated.
All relationships in life are vitiated because of this extraordinary self-love. It is here that a measure of detachment plays a vital role. If there is a little broad- mindedness, if man tries to rise above his loyalty to self for the sake of those with whom he is directly associated, from his loyalty to regional ties for the sake of national unity and common welfare, from his chauvinistic loyalty for the sake of international fellow-ship-then the all-pervasive violence in life will be lessened to a very great extent.
Detachment is an antidote to jealousy, hatred and fear, suspicion, anxiety and restlessness. Man’s fanatical attachment to material objects reduces him to a state of abject slavery, even though he might be a great votary of all kinds of freedom. He collapses like a punctured balloon when he suffers a material loss, and he bloats up to fantastic dimensions when his vanity has been overfulfilled. There is so much of irrationality in life.
A man saw a beautifully-carved walking-stick floating down a river. He was at once elated by its appearance and wanted to possess it. He jumped into the river, swam up to the floating stick, and as he caught it, he was bursting with the joy of having achieved his desire. As he was swimming back, accidentally the stick slipped out of his hand, and, since by now he was nearly exhausted, he desperately headed for the river bank, even though he could not retrieve the stick.
This man felt very depressed and lamented the loss of the walking-stick. A few moments before it was not his own; he possessed it only for a minute or two; and when he lost it, he became unhappy. The life of man is filled with such irrational causes for unhappiness. You did not possess anything when you came into this world, and cannot take back anything when you depart from it. In between you make yourself miserable by so much of attachment and possessiveness. A measure of detachment is, therefore, a vital factor for peace and happiness in life.
Real love and compassion can thrive, only when man is unselfish or has a little detachment to his ego-centric self. Only then could he discharge his duties well and do effective service to the people. There would not be so much of violence in society, class hatred and disharmony in family, if individuals and communities would take cognisance of the interests of others a little more than one’s own, if there is a little less of vanity about the so-called cultural or intellectual excellences of one’s region as superior to another’s, if one would take care to enlighten oneself by wider contacts and broader perspective. A measure of detachment must exercise a decisive role in curing man’s perverted mentality.