Friday, January 17, 2014

On Non-Attachment, part 1

Many religions and spiritual traditions advise that attachment is misery, while non-attachment is the mark of a saint or of an evolved soul.

Attachment is the emotional investment in a person, idea, object or a goal.  Spiritual texts are therefore opposed to the emotional investment in a person (calling it "worldly love"), in an idea (calling these "mental constructs"), in an object (calling it "materialism"), and in a goal (calling it "desire").

Emotional investment in anything other than God is decried as a fall and a failure.  The God in new age texts is generally phrased as "Enlightenment" or Truth or Nirvana.

Krishnamurti famously said, "The search for Truth is the only true vocation of man."  He obviously did not mean the discovery of mass-energy equivalence, or whether the steady-state theories of the universe are true.  He meant Truth with a capital T, i.e., the seeking of union with God.  The word "God", in his opinion, has been so misused by religious professionals that it had lost all meaning.

Let us, in these series of essays, investigate on what exactly is right or wrong about attachment, and whether it is wisdom or folly to advise non-attachment.

In each of these essays, I will present a short parable to illustrate a theme of attachment or the spiritual-religious teachings about that theme.

Here goes the first parable:

The kingdom of Obsidian had existed for many thousands of years.  Over the last few centuries, it had become prosperous and the envy of many neighboring rulers.

He, the strongest guard in the royal army of Obsidian, had been guarding that gate for many years now.  The gate was the entrance to the kingdom's treasury.

One day, it so happened that a traveling monk from the Hindu Kush mountains arrived in the capital of Obsidian.  The monk carried nothing but a small bag, a wool blanket and a container of water.  The monk, as he was roaming around in the capital, noticed the stoic and resolute guard and went near him.

The guard bowed before the monk and asked for his blessings.  The monk put his palm on the top of the guard's head and said, "May you be free from what binds you."

The guard felt a strange twitch in the back of his neck.  His eyes glazed over.  No longer considering himself an Obsidian citizen, he threw away his suffocating uniform.  Stark naked, he stopped breathing and dropped dead in a few minutes.

It took about three years from that day for the capital city to be ravaged by its jealous enemies.  Hundreds of thousands were massacred.  The kingdom of Obsidian perished soon after.

It is said that those who survived the calamity demolished their temples and turned into immoral heathens.

to be continued


Sanjay Srivastava said...

You cannot discuss Non- Attachment without discussing Bhagvadgita.

While Gita contains lot of conflicting ideas, at least one of them – viz. Nishkama Karma Yoga – is considered to be the primary (or at least one of the primary) teaching of Gita. Nowadays there are many management books claiming that Nishkama Karma Yoga is a sound philosophy of action, however almost all of them are written by devout Hindus and therefore cannot be considered objective. OTOH Marxist writers such as Kosambi have come down heavily upon the idea of Nishkama Karma Yoga, which again I think may be agenda driven. Recently in his book “Who wrote the Gita?”, Meghnad Desai has attacked the concept of Nishkama Karma Yoga as a sound action philosophy. Desai is not a card carrying Marxist, but he is just one data point.

Real objective research on the efficacy of Nishkama Karma Yoga is lacking, in my opinion. Therefore I personally tried it for some time. It gives a certain peace of mind and comfort –no doubt; however, I am not sure it made any impact on my effectiveness. But then, I think, it was probably not meant to be used as a management brochure. Moreover replacing your secular goal with the goal of pleasing God, does not come easily, if you are an agnostic. So there again I faltered.

In my opinion, giving up emotional dependence on the outcome of my actions – after I have made my best efforts – is certainly a desirable trait. Though I do not know how to cultivate it.

Ashish said...

Wow! This is not a happy ending

Anonymous said...

Harman's parables and conclusions are more like our realistic cinema / non stream movies and I have never seen a single such movie with happy ending might be few with exception.

I am not trying to offend Harman 's writing , he is great story teller , amazing imagination power and good observant of life..but sometimes it make me sick !!! Perhaps bitter truth makes me so. :)