Detachment is a core thought in Hinduism, Buddhism and philosophies like Stoicism.
The logic & benefits of being emotionally, materially, & psychologically detached are compelling and have been thoroughly debated over the ages. While it is not easy, a student seriously practicing detachment will realize the fruits, sooner or later.
However, the path of detachment can be filled with pitfalls which have to be navigated skillfully. Two common pitfalls are
- Being surrounded by family, friends & others who don’t appreciate or understand detachment. For the fully detached person, unreasonable reactions & extreme opinions of others may not matter. But the practicing student goes through a disturbing period before he graduates. Family members & friends may criticize. Relationships can get strained. Social circle may shrink. The student may suddenly find himself lonely or alone.
- Losing joy or cheerfulness. The student practicing detachment may not be exactly sad or gloomy, but she might find herself less joyful or cheerful. Family & friends may point out she is not enjoying life & herself as before. She is not openly expressing joy and happiness as often as before. Is she ill? Is she scared? Is she losing the ability to feel & express joy? Are being cheerful & detached incompatible? One may have progressed on being detached emotionally, materially & psychologically, but does it mean one also has to distance oneself from a vibrant & joyful life?
Reading & observing masters of detachment shows they are cheerful beings too. They laugh & smile readily. They lead vibrant & active lives. They are fully engaged in their chosen paths, full of joy & cheer, but also steady in practicing detachment. Just think of Buddha, Krishna, Socrates, Seneca & Gandhi. They travelled & taught to a big following, were cunning & waged wars, mocked & forced people to think better, were deeply engaged in society & politics, mobilized mass support to fight for freedom. They chose not to shun society and take refuge in the hills (though that’s another common path with its own pros & cons). They had flaws. They were masters & accomplished practitioners of detachment. Yet they were actively engaged in life, joyous & cheerful. How did they do it? How did they manage to be detached and yet be cheerful?
The questions answer themselves after a little thought. The masters chose to actively engage in their paths. They knew they must remain detached in their personal & inner lives. But they also knew they must engage actively with family, friends & society, if they were to leave the world a little better than what they found it to be. When one chooses to engage actively with the external world, its contradictory (& futile) to remain aloof & sombre. Why not be cheerful & spread joy?
Be detached, be cheerful. Its contagious.