Detachment is Different from Renunciation

Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati

In order to be detached, does one have to renounce everything?

We often imagine that a person who is detached will be indifferent to those around him and dislike everything that reminds him of what he has renounced. This is not true. Detachment is only possible for those who remain unaffected or undisturbed by every situation in life. Only the person who is able to maintain equipoise and balance in the face of success and failure, love and hatred, pain and pleasure, is truly detached.

With attachment arises dependence on the object of your attachment and with dependence comes slavery – you are then controlled by your attachments. If the object of your attachment is out of your reach, you become miserable and hanker after it. Then again, if you manage to own it, you are in constant fear of losing it. Thereby your freedom of expression, behavioural patterns and outlook on life become limited.

With attachment arises the idea of possession, the sense of ownership – my house, my car, my family, my wealth. This sense of ownership is an outcome of the lower ego. With each new possession your ego is reinforced, until finally your possessions begin to dominate and control your life.

Imagine an enormous man who is chained to the ground. There seems to be no escape. This is how we are chained to the objects of our attachment. Detachment on the other hand, develops freedom of thought, word and deed. It frees you from the fetters which bind you in the ordinary plane of awareness. One who is detached may enjoy every pleasure of life, acquire wealth and status, raise a family that he loves, control a vast business, or even an empire. On account of his detachment, however, he is never dependent on them. He enjoys everything, but as the master and not the slave. On account of his detachment, he develops an inner freedom or independence which nothing can conquer. No adversity can shatter him, because he remains unaffected, and no amount of success can affect him, for he is established in equanimity. Thereby he becomes the master of himself in every situation.

Detachment, therefore, should be understood as the ability to remain unaffected in the face of the trials and tribulations of life. With detachment comes a greater feeling of love and unity with those around you. Earlier you had loved only because you were attached to or dependent on the objects of your love for your happiness. So, in fact, you had ceased to love. However, with detachment you experience love which is not bound or restricted by personal likes and dislikes, greed or ambition. The love is devoid of personal motives.

The guru is an expression of the universal spirit. Although he loves each and every one of us alike, he is truly detached or independent of the external or internal factors which dominate human beings. To the guru, saint or sinner, rich or poor, learned or stupid, beautiful or ugly, are all alike.

Although detachment is a spontaneous inner development, karma sannyasins can implement it in their lives by first developing attachment. It is only after you have developed a universal attachment to everything around you that you will begin to experience inner detachment.

—As printed in Times of India, September 22, 2005