Almost every book on philosophy and enlightenment seem to suggest that the most important stage in the path to enlightenment is “detachment”. I was reading the Bhagavad Gita a couple of months back. In Chapter 3, Verse 9, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna – all actions, other than the ones done in detachment and as sacrifice to the Lord, cause bondage and hence suffering. I am not a Sanskrit pandit, but this is how I understood the words. If you want to rant then I suggest you read this post of mine first. Anyways, I think the point Sri Krishna wanted to make is just this – if you perform actions without attachment, then you will be free from bondage. But then what is the meaning of ‘attachment’ and ‘bondage’ in this context? I have understood, or rather made it mean, as explained below.
Eckhart Tolle in his book – A New Earth, talks about Ego in every human being. In his book he says that the Ego creates the identity of its host by means of identification with things, people, status etc. Identification is derived from the Latin word ‘idem’ which means “the same”. So when one identifies with something – he/she is basically saying I am same as that. For example – if I call myself as Software Developer then I am saying is – ‘who I am is same as software developer’. If I say – ‘this is my BMW’ then what I am truly saying is – ‘who I am is same as the other people that own a BMW. So I belong to a elite club.’ According to Eckhart Tolle, the ego creates identity of its host in terms of things, people and status that it identifies itself with. And if we look at it closely those things, people and status is external to the host. And once that identification is created – the human being becomes same as the identity and nothing else. For example – suppose I successfully execute a project. My ego creates that success as my identity. If I succeed again the next time, the ego inflates – if I don’t, then I get deeply disappointed. When we look at it from a third person’s point of view – the success or failure doesn’t mean anything. The point I want to make is – our ego creates identity, which becomes who we are and hence we are bound by it. That’s the bondage, I think Sri Krishna is talking about.
But who creates that bondage – the Ego of-course! The ego has an affinity to turn everything personal. Success is personal, failure is personal, happiness is personal, pain is personal, pleasure is personal and so on. In other words the ego loves to attach significance to everything that happens around its host. It is this attachment that creates our identity and hence the bondage.
That brings us to detachment. Detachment, I think, is about being the consciousness that notices Ego as it attaches significance to the result or outcome of any action. The Ego will attach significance, there is nothing I can probably do about it. But if I can notice it; then that’s detachment. When the outcome of any action doesn’t define who I am – then I can function from the space of pure possibility and not from the past or from the self-created identity. This means that I can take on executing actions irrespective of whether similar attempts in the past have been successful or not. That brings about a lightness in life.
We are all so concerned about something called – reputation. What is reputation? Nothing but an attachment to an identity created by the Ego. Put in other words – it is a description of who we are based on the past successes (and sometimes failures). If we are so attached to reputation – then every time we take on some new action, we will be concerned as to whether the outcome of the action will remain consistent with the reputation or not. Detachment frees us from this. Every action taken is new. Every result is new. We can truly get to a space where we can say – I did this and this action in the past and this was the outcome. I did the same action in the present and this was the outcome. Either way the outcomes are not labeled success or failure – and more importantly they wont feed our self-created identity.
One of the top takeaways of my SELP program was the distinction – Attachment vs Commitment. When I am attached to something then the outcome determines my identity and hence becomes breeding ground for strong-suits and rackets – and then I begin to function from the past. But when I am committed – then I will function from the space of pure possibility. I will keep taking action to generate the desired result. Every outcome will occur only as something that is consistent or inconsistent with the possibility.