THE GLORY OF DETACHMENT
According to Gita, detachment is doing the right thing for its own sake. It means you do it because it is your bounden duty and not because you are attached to it with selfish motives. And you do it without worrying about its success or failure, nor longing for its results. In ‘Think Like A Monk’ Jay Shetty narrates the story of a lady monk who visited a palace one day. She being a revered and much-known monk, was taken to the king. The king asked her what the purpose of her visit was.
Her reply startled the king. She said: “I want to stay at this hotel for the night”. Irritated and angry at her audacity and lack of respect, the king burst out. “This is not a hotel. This is my palace”.
The monk smiled and asked: “Really? Who owned this palace before you?”
The king replied haughtily: “My father. I inherited the throne from him”
“Is he here now?” the visitor asked.
“No. He’s dead. What’s the meaning of this nonsense?”
Ignoring the king’s poser, the lady continued, “And before your father, who was its owner?”
“His father”, the king who lost his cool totally, shouted.
The monk nodded and said, “Ah, so people who come to this palace stay here for a while and move on. Sounds like a hotel to me”.
Reflect on the story. We cling to material possessions under the illusion that “this is mine”, “this is my ancestral property”, “I own this”, etc. Attachment makes you revel in vainglory for some time, but eventually, you understand that you were simply the temporary custodian of the things. Ultimately, all attachments would lead to pain. That’s why the Gita stresses the importance of cultivating detachment. A quote attributed to Ali, cousin and the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, succinctly puts it thus: “Detachment is not that you own nothing, but that nothing should own you”. When you yearn for something, you become the slave of the thing so craved, and the thing in turn starts owning you! And that’s a sure recipe for suffering and misery, the First Noble Truth of Buddha.
Clinging to material things makes them our masters and these masters exercise control over their ‘slaves’. They lead us to greed and fear. Fear can be of two types — functional and dysfunctional. Functional fear is useful in the sense that it helps us change the situation that causes the fear. A student studying hard for fear of failure in the examination is an example of functional fear. An obese person taking to daily exercising and dieting is another instance of gainfully handling functional fear. On the other hand, when you worry over things and situations which are beyond your control, the fear is dysfunctional as it is hurtful. The only way out in such cases is to effectively control one’s mind.
Very often, we imagine that the situation would go bad and start worrying about it. Fear breeds more fear. “What if I fail in this attempt/ business….? What others will think and talk about me? Better I don’t do it”. And by deciding so, you become a failure ab initio. We have in front of us the stories of renowned scientists like Edison and world leaders who have failed umpteen times before tasting success. Failure precedes success, as men of wisdom would know.
“You are not judged by the number of times you fail, but by the number of times you succeed. And the number of times you succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times you can fail and keep on trying” (Tom Hopkins)
We have heard the story of the farmer whose horse one day got bolted. “How unlucky you’re!” his neighbor told him. The farmer responded by saying “Good or bad, who knows”. A couple of days later, the wayward horse returned to him, and with it was a beautiful wild mare. “You are indeed lucky”, the neighbor said with apparent envy. The unexcited farmer said: “Good thing or bad, who knows”. The next day, the farmer’s son attempted to mount on the untamed mare and was thrown out by the bucked animal. The boy got injured and his leg was fractured. “How unlucky again!” the neighbor remarked with a tinge of satisfaction. The farmer simply said: “Good thing or bad thing, who knows”. A few days later, all the young men of the village were drafted for military service. The farmer’s son with a broken leg was spared from the mandatory service. Hearing about this, the neighbor told the farmer: “His injury was a blessing in disguise for you. You are lucky indeed”. “Good or bad, who knows”, the farmer told dispassionately.
The farmer in this story was not delighted by any good fortune or perturbed by any mishaps in his life. He didn’t nurture a “what if….” mindset, and focused only on “what is”. ‘What if’ is imagination; ‘what is’, is reality. Since precious little can be achieved by worrying over and fearing about things beyond one’s control, why feed the “what if” premonition and feel miserable?
“Our fears are more numerous than our dangers, and we suffer more in our imagination than reality” (Seneca, The Roman Stoic Philosopher)
What’s in it for us?
* Attachment breeds greed and fear, detachment cures both.
* In this impermanent life, a man of stable wisdom will neither be elated by good fortunes nor dejected by misfortunes as he knows that everything is transient.
* Anything that you yearn for ultimately will own you.
* Fear can be functional or dysfunctional. The functional one helps you to adopt pre-emptive measures to allay the fear; the dysfunctional fear calls for self-control to maintain serenity.
* ‘What if…’ thinking is imagination, which, aside from spawning fear and stress, drains one’s self-confidence. ‘Wise men focus only on ‘what is’, which is reality, where there is little scope for conjectures.
* We suffer more in our imagination than in reality.
* As Khalil Gibran said, failures are our teachers, guiding us on the arduous path of success. Once you succeed, nobody would judge you retrospectively for the number of times you failed. So, why fear failure? Why fail in imagination?
(To be continued)
Dr. K R S Nair