“The root of suffering is attachment.”
Does attachment to something or someone always hurt us in the long-run? Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Jainism have always said so.
I had touched upon this topic before. But now, due to COVID-19 and talk of social distancing it seems even more relevant than ever. Since this whole ordeal began, I’ve heard stories from friends and family members about how they were wishing to visit loved ones, especially on special occasions and couldn’t.
Simultaneously, I was going through the archives of this site and came across my earlier article on this subject. The totality of everything going on right now inspired me to re-think my opinions and see if they’re the same.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your personal viewpoint, my opinions expressed in that article remain the same. I do think, however, that I am more open-minded about the subject as a whole.
So to bring this topic back to the forefront, is detachment a good thing?
From a practical point of view it makes sense. As human beings, we all have a heart and feelings. You never know when these two elements will act up and cause a rift between you and a family member or a friend.
And even if that doesn’t happen, death will surely snatch them away at some point. Either way, when you’re separated from someone you’re close to, it hurts.
From an emotional standpoint, however, it’s a whole different story. To tell someone never to get attached to someone else would be asking them to become robots. It’s biologically and emotionally impossible.
That’s precisely why people who express a desire to attain monk-hood or nun-hood have always fascinated me. While smaller intricacies may vary culture to culture, every religion that offers this path, be it Christianity, Buddhism or Hinduism, claims the path of monk-hood is primarily to become detached from the outside world.
The physical requirements of this (specific attire, shaving your head, living in a monastery or convent etc) might become easier by the day simply with habit. But psychologically, can one really attain a mental state where they can be that nonchalant or indifferent towards their loved ones?
In my opinion, no. And if one claims to be able to do it, I would guess that that’s more of an act of suppression than nirvana. Nirvana, in Buddhism, is often described as a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self.
But how can that be when we have all a heart, have five senses and neurologically, we’re all wired to have feelings and emotions?
With materialistic things it’s a bit easier. We all move place to place at various stages in our lives and our accumulation of things such as clothes, electronics, furniture, etc change as well. Along the way, the loss of certain mementos or gifts with sentimental values might hurt but not nearly as much as losing a person.
But how can you possibly forget loved ones? Even if they’re not there physically, you can’t erase their memories unless you’re specifically dealing with a disease like dementia or using drugs that alter your mind.
To conclude, I would say detachment of certain elements like materialistic things is possible, albeit not always easy. But detachment of people close to us is not nearly as easy as stating it in a philosophical text or preaching about it in a religious context. Even among monks and nuns, I would argue that the illusion of detachment is more suppression than anything else.
But then again, I’ve never tried to attain nirvana. I’ve never meditated with the specific intention of enlightenment. Perhaps one day, should a desire to do so awaken within me, I’ll have an entirely different opinion.
That’s why I would love to know how others feel about this subject. Not just a mere “I believe in it” or “I don’t believe in it” but what exactly shapes your opinions about it and why? How do you feel about attachment and detachment? Do you think it’s as simple as some philosophies suggest? Have you ever known a monk or nun who were able to detach themselves completely? Share your experiences and thoughts by commenting below on our secure servers.