The Beauty of Non-Attachment / by Sam Abelow

My mother and sister out in nature, where inner peace can more easily be found.

My mother and sister out in nature, where inner peace can more easily be found.

What is Non-Attachment? 

The goal of spirituality in the East is to become “free” from suffering. This means eternal peace of mind and is achieved by removing one’s identification with the transient forms in the material world, which are  seen, felt, heard and thought about by the physical senses and mind. This is done by concentrating one’s consciousness towards an infinite source of pure awareness, known in Hinduism and Yogic traditions as the Self. In this way we are as the Samadhi Pada Sutra says, “unaffected by any afflictions, actions, fruits of actions, or by any inner impressions of desires.”

The state of “samadhi” is renowned throughout India, Tibet, Thailand and so forth. It is equated with Enlightenment, and is the result of spiritual discipline and practice. The mind becomes free and rests in the one true Self; the infinite, pure, consciousness the pervades all. This is also known as “stream entering” to Buddhists. In these traditions it is understood that the soul is then liberated, free from cycles of life and death, with the inventible suffering, and will not be tied to another incarnation. This wheel, circling within the illusion of the material world, is known as “samsara.” It is the attachment to experiences which perpetuates “karma,” which after death tethers us back to the earth planes; so the soul can try again, in human form, to become fully conscious and free.

When someone is able to realize fully the True Self, there is no more attachment to the phenomena of the material world. This doesn’t mean they won’t do anything, but it certainly effects the choices one makes. People in these states of consciousness tend to act in service to others and the world at large, because they are intimately aware of the interconnectedness of all life.

The Challenge for a Modern Man

Carl Jung describes, in his commentary of the “Secret of the Golden Flower,” how Western mind’s are “held in thrall by countless people, things and circumstances, that is, unconditionally influenced. His mind, nearly as much as the primitive’s, is full of disturbing contents and he uses just as many charms. He no longer works with magic… animal sacrifices, but with nerve remedies, neuroses, ‘progress’, the cult of the will, and so forth.”

People in our culture are in the grasp and control of forces they are unaware of. Anxiety, depression, self-pity, and obsession with work are lived through people without any identification of their sources. The primitive man, as Jung says, has no conscious awareness of these forces either, but uses mythology and ritual to sort through them. The modern man think of himself as evolved, but has only replaced the shaman with the psychiatrist, and the herbs with Prozac. They are both, despite outward appearances, unable to steer and direct their own consciousness willfully to peace.

Still, though their is value in Western abilities. The emphasis and the intellect and will, although bloated, can be applied to and integrated with Eastern concepts. If the scientific and intuitive minds can be combined, true evolution will take place.

Whether or not liberation from samsara (cycles of rebirth) through samadhi (transcendence of the mind) is possible may be irrelevant to us, on a practical and general basis. It is more valuable for the public to focus on identifying and experiencing the Unconscious, and it’s forces— the “gods” if you will. Experiencing these symbolic realms, intuitively connect us with ourselves, in it’s most authentic form. As one moves deeper into this unknown, the Collective Unconscious, is further rooted into the personal Ego: one’s own individual mind is humbled, as it see’s the interrelatedness of all humanity and life.

At this point one is able to see that beyond the “I” or “me” there is a another level of consciousness which is “detached from pain as well as joy” as Jung says in his commentary. He also points out that this occurs as people age, and move closer towards death. He notes an anecdote from a patient in his practice, citing that this development occurs in his psychotherapeutic process, where people confront and integrate the Unconscious through dream work. His patient writes that “by… repressing nothing, remaining attentive and by accepting reality— taking things as they are and not how I wanted them to be, unusual knowledge has come to me. I … play the game of life, being receptive to whatever comes to me, good and bad.”

Resolutions and Applications

The Hindu’s have a term “lila”, which means “dance” or “play.” The religious texts describe that we exist within a world of “maya” or “illusions.” Rather than being attached, and therefore unnecessarily stirred by the ups and downs of life, one can become aware of these natural cycles, and “play” with them. This is non-attachment in action. When, through meditation and other spiritual practices, this state of mind can be integrated into daily life and one can go about the obligations and activities of life without being at the mercy of its conditions.

It may not be a matter of trying to achieve this ultimate state of realization. For us in the West, we may need to begin to recognize the practical nature of these teachings, and learn to discover their value in our own way. This must be combined with the power of the intellect and technology in order to serve humanity and all life in better ways.

If we fall for New Age appropriations of spirituality, which assign many of the forces that stir us to the “full moon,” or the “effects of Mars” then we will remain unaware of our own abilities to determine our life and our experience. Examples of this include the belief that crystals will give “confidence,” or “creativity” which are things that come from within. Even if the crystal effect us, it is up to our own conscious action as to how how we act. If we designate all “negative” thoughts or ideas, experiences to be “attracting” what we don’t need, then we are repressing what must be understood, and therefore released and adjusted within our minds.

 If we can implement discipline and achieve transformation, through understanding ourselves, we may be able to become more free on a daily basis, and collectively evolve towards equilibrium and cohabitation.