Attachment and detachment

University of Toronto; Toronto, Ontario, Canada
7 October 1970

Attachment is my teacher:
"God lives in a cave,"
I learn.
Detachment is my teacher:
"God lives in a Palace,"
I learn.
Attachment demands my body's breath,
The life of the howling finite.
Detachment offers my soul's promise,
The Light of the Beckoning Beyond.

Attachment is the root of desire; ignorance is the root of attachment. In this world we are attached to the body, the mind, the vital and the heart. Why? Because we want to possess. Unfortunately, we forget that there is nothing on earth we can possess forever. No, not even for a long time. Take the body, for example. No matter how much attention we give it, this body lasts for only fifty, sixty or seventy years, and then it dies. We cannot possess even our own body forever. There is nothing on earth that we can possess forever if we are in the physical and crying for the fulfilment of the physical. But if we live in the soul, then we are living in the Eternal and for the Eternal.

India's great philosopher Shankaracharya said, "Who is your wife, who is your son? This world is very peculiar. Brothers, think of the One who is eternally yours." This is the message of detachment. If you are attached to the physical person—the wife, the husband, the son, the friend—then you are only binding yourself and the other. But if you see the Object of adoration inside the wife, inside the husband, inside the son, then divine knowledge can dawn in you.

Lord Buddha left his beautiful wife and his little child when they were asleep. Before departing he said, "I loved you. I still love you. But I have to love the entire world also. Only if I can love the entire world will my love for you be complete." His human attachment had to surrender to the Divine Love in him. While they were leaving the kingdom, the Buddha's charioteer asked him a significant question: "Are you not mean? How is it that you are leaving behind your wife who has been so affectionate to you? You are her treasure; you are her peerless wealth." The Buddha said, "You are mistaken. My wife's affection was binding me, and my affection was binding her. Now I am entering into the world at large where there is no one to bind me, and where I will not bind anyone. I am going to free myself and others."

At the root of all attachment is ignorance. Is ignorance invincible? The philosopher Aldous Huxley once said, "Ignorance is vincible. We don't want to know something; that is why we don't know it." He is absolutely right. Ignorance is not something permanent and unchangeable. We can enter into the very breath of ignorance and transform it into wisdom and knowledge. But instead, we deny the existence of the ignorance inside us. This is a mistake. We have to accept the fact that right now we are full of ignorance. That does not mean that we have no light within us. Deep inside there is a little light, but we have to bring this light to the fore and make it grow in order to realise our own highest Truth.

A real philosopher is one who is detached. He alone can have the vision of Truth. Once he has this vision, he can easily be indifferent to success and failure, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. His detachment does not mean that he will not help the world or receive help from it. It means he will not be bound to those he is helping or to those who are helping him. If we are attached, we are frustrated; but if we are detached, we are fulfilled. If we can feel that it is God who is operating in us and through us, as well as in and through the world, then we can be truly free.

It is said that before marriage a man is a woman's aspiration and after marriage he is a woman's exasperation. But what is the woman aspiring for? She is aspiring for the fulfilment of desire. When the object of desire is attained, disappointment and frustration reign. When we fulfil any desire of ours, we will find that we are not eating the delicious fruit that we expected, but rather some destructive, poisonous fruit.

In India there is a proverb that whoever has eaten the Delhi ka laddu (sweet cake of Delhi) feels disappointed, and whoever has not yet eaten it feels denied. That is always the case with desire fulfilled and desire unfulfilled. Fulfilment may follow desire, but it will not be the fulfilment that energises you and gives you greater inner strength to do the right things. On the contrary, it will only destroy what little aspiration you already have.

Attachment does not diminish with age. Only through aspiration can we conquer attachment. In order to be free from attachment, we have to go through several stages. We have to study the scriptures and religious and spiritual books. We have to associate with spiritual aspirants who have studied these books and are now crying for the real light, or with those who have already received some light, insignificant or considerable, in their life of aspiration. We have to see and feel that in the ordinary world all around us is temptation, that at any moment we may fall victim to it, and that we must valiantly fight against it. We have to take our minds away from the physical consciousness and bodily demands. We have to enter into the world of expanded consciousness. We have to feel the necessity of attaining the divine Goal. We have to follow the guidance of our Inner Pilot, who is God, either in the form of a God-realised spiritual Master or in His own unembodied Form.

To love those who love us is to do the right thing.
To love those who do not love us is to do the nice thing.
To love God who always loves us is to do the wise thing.
When we do the right thing, we are free.
When we do the nice thing, we are safe.
When we do the wise thing, we are fulfilled.