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Non-Attachment or Detachment PDF Print E-mail

In simple words, non-attachment can be described as the process of letting go the many attractions and distractions, of life that are clouding the true self.

The life of Lord Krishna and Mahatma Buddha are great examples in this regard. Mahatma Buddha was a prince, married to a lovely wife, and the heir to his father’s throne.

What did he do? He renounced his family, wealth, and power and fled to the mountains to meditate upon the way of truth. After his enlightenment, the Buddha continued to exhibit the attitude of non-attachment. Lord Krishna lived a complete and luxurious life, took sides, waged wars, indulged in mischief, and yet, remained free from the fetters of life.


Holding on to things dearly, as if you cannot live without them, is attachment. We are attached, not only to our bodies, but also to our possessions. We continually weave a net of clinging around our clothes, our car, our house, and our wealth. We hate to part with these things and always try to accumulate more of them. Common attachments are hopes, fears, upsets, goals, emotions, spiritual ideas, beliefs, dreams, desires, plans, drugs, unhealthy habits, pleasures, sex, service to others, and gluey relationships. In fact, they are the mental bonds you develop with things and objects you believe are important for you and your happiness.


A man took resort in a forest – renouncing all worldly attachments. At that time, he owned no possessions, except a cloth piece. In daytime, he used to wrap it round his body to clothe it; and at night, he would spread it on the ground to make a bed to sleep in. In the forest, there lived many rats, which nibbled his cloth. The man thought of protecting his cloth from the rats anyhow. With this idea, he tamed a cat. Milk was needed to feed the cat. So the man had to tame a cow, as well; but grass (fodder) was required for the cow. Now, to employ a cowherd became essential for this job. A house was then needed for the cowherd. As soon as the house was built, a maid servant was engaged to look after the house. The maid servant expressed her desire to keep her kith and kin along with her. The man built separate houses for every one of them.

Thus, in some days, the forest was filled with the hustle and bustle of the city; yet his troubles went on increasing by leaps and bounds. The underlying idea is that, by and by, even a petty attachment assumes large dimensions in the long run. Therefore, it is most essential to get rid of attachments at the initial stage.


We have come from the unknown; we will return to the unknown. We should be grateful to the Lord, to providence, for whatever we have. All the things of the world are meant for us, and we have the right to use them. However, they are not ours, so we should not possess them. We have no right to establish ownership over the things we have, because they have been given to us to use; but they are not ours. We should use them as means, but we should not possess anything. Learn to love all the things of the world – just as means, but don’t get attached to them. This is the secret—the philosophy of non-attachment. Every man should think that he has certainly to depart from this world one day, leaving behind land, house, gold, sons, wife, and relations; in fact, leaving even his body. Hence, why all this mad strife for worldly attachments?! If you really want to enjoy life, and be happy, learn to practice and understand the philosophy of non-attachment.


To give up the belief that this thing belongs to me is the virtue of non-attachment. You can start the journey by becoming aware of your likes and dislikes and what you value most in your life. Find out what you criticize, whom you criticize, what you defend, and whom you defend, what you oppose, what you want to change, what you avoid, and what makes you happy and unhappy, fearful, contended, angry, or hurtful. These are your reactions to different situations, objects, and perceptions caused by your attachments. They are rooted in your past experiences and shaped by your attachments. Become aware of your hopes and aspirations, your opinions, judgments, memories, vulnerabilities, feelings, emotions, passions, beliefs and anxieties through mindfulness, detached observation, being a witness of yourself. Know what makes you happy and unhappy, what drives you crazy, what holds you back, or forces you into desperation. These are the responses you have learnt because of your attachments to objects, people, beliefs and knowledge. When you learn to respond differently, or stoically, to whatever that seems to evoke a response in you habitually, you break the shackle of your past and set yourself free from the illusions of your own mind. It is not an easy process; but by becoming aware of them, truthfully, honestly, and mindfully, you are opening yourself to the possibility of life without limits.


The practice of non-attachment is a practice for each and every moment of life. There was a forest. Daily, some cowherds led the cows to graze in that pastureland. While grazing the cows one day, they chanced to see ripe mangoes hanging from a tree. Their mouths watered on seeing the mangoes. When one of the cowherds cast a pebble at the mangoes, two mangoes fell down. He ate them and enjoyed the delicious fruits. The mangoes were really very sweet. This made another cowherd think – “Why to miss such tasty fruits? I shall also pluck a mango just now.” So saying – he picked up a pebble and struck at the mangoes. Instead, the stone piece struck the head of a saint meditating under the tree. His head was injured and started bleeding. This horrible sight terrified all the cowherds. Seeing tears flowing from the eyes of the saint, the cowherds approached him and spoke humbly – “O saint! We are guilty. You are all merciful. Please pardon us. We have inflicted severe injury and pain to you.” The saint replied calmly, “I have suffered no pain.” The cowherds again questioned, “If you have felt no pain, why are tears bursting from your eyes?” At this, the saint replied, “Boys! When you cast pebbles at the mango tree, it gave you sweet and tasty mangoes; but now, when your stone piece struck me, I have nothing to give you in return. That is why tears are flowing from my eyes.” The cowherds paid homage to the saint, lying at his feet, and returned home. The instant the feeling of compassion grows in the human heart – it is the beginning of pious happenings in life.


Yoga is a science that gives us the skills for living with wisdom and experiencing joy. It advises that we should be satisfied with less material objects to practice non-attachment or ‘Vairagya’. A practitioner, who follows the path of Yoga, reaches a state of detachment, wherein he does not get affected by anyone or any situation – or for that matter, by anything that happens around him. This doesn’t mean that you don’t need to have some possessions. It means that you should be detached from them – that they mean less to you. It is the constant craving for possessions that feeds the ego, which can never be satisfied.

To illustrate, if you have 20 T-shirts, you should narrow it down to 15, or even 10 to start. Why? Why do you need 20 T-shirts? Do you wear all of them? If you had less, you wouldn’t need to wash, dry, fold, and organize them. Think of the time and space you could save. Now, the question arises: how do you dispose of them in a Sattvic (pure, respectful) way? My suggestion is to lay all your T-shirts out and pick your favorite one. Keep it! Choose your next 5 favorites, and put them away. Now you have 6 T-shirts that you love, that fit you and that you feel good in, and 14 T-shirts left on the bed. Some you like; some you know are not that great. Why are you keeping them? You are not responsible for those objects. You don’t need to take care of them anymore.

Liberate yourself from them. Give some of them away to goodwill or one of the many charities, such as a group home for teenagers, or abused women’s shelter. What have you accomplished? Besides giving yourself more space, you have lessened your dependence on material objects that only serve to boost your ego. Happiness is never achieved through consumerism; it lies within. You have given generously to others who need it more.

From the Bhagavad-Gita: “What is it that you lost that you are grieving for? What is it that you brought into this world that you have lost? Whatever you gained, you gained from this world. Whatever you lost, you lost to this world. What belongs to you today, belonged to someone else yesterday, and will belong to someone else tomorrow.”


The following suggestions may help you in your efforts to overcome attachments.

• Start with a few attachments and work on them. It may be a particular food item you like or dislike; a habit that has become part of your daily routine, or a relationship that you have trouble accepting.

• Let go of your attachment with money. Participate in some voluntary work. Make a donation. Help a child in his or her education.

• Overcome your attachment with the body. Take a cold bath. Wear simple dress. Practice Yoga and exercise.

• Deal with your preferences for food. Eat the food you do not like. Fast at least once in a week.

• Practice detachment with the usual forms of recreation you are attached to, such as watching TV or movies.

• Become aware of your actions, arising from your need for recognition, power, and influence. Practice silence when you are urged by the compulsion to speak in a group or conversation. Listen to learn. Consider others view points and arguments with which you disagree.

• Let go of your attachment with discipline and perfection. Forgive yourself and others for faults and oversights.

• Let go of your possessions. Remove the clutter from your life. Give away the things that you do not need and do not use.

• Become aware of the motives behind your actions and words. Overcome the profit motive and selfish motive.

• Let go of your need to dominate and influence others.


A detached life is a librated life, in which the boundaries of self, the notions of oneself, and one’s identity dissolves. Detached consciousness is alert, attentive, calm, and spontaneous. It offers us a chance to be what we truly are, to experience life without fear, or the compulsion of choice. From non-attachment comes the true joy of living in the present and here.

A detached person lives in the present, unburdened by the memories of his past, or the uncertainty of his future. He does not look far ahead or plan things in advance, meticulously, to secure his life. He lives without fear. He is contended with what life offers him and accepts life as it comes, without complaint, without judgment, and without striving. He is a traveler, who is on a journey of self- discovery, without any baggage, and without any conditions, with complete trust in the reality of the present moment. He has attained perfection because he has transformed himself from becoming – to being. Non-attachment is like a fire that can burn the binding power of past Samskaras. Non-attachment gives freedom, but attachment brings bondage.


There lived a learned king in a city. He used to recite a Sanskrit couplet (shloka), as soon as he got up in the morning, daily. He would step down from the bed, only after he had recited the full couplet. An extremely poor, destitute Brahmin also lived in that city. Although he was poor, yet he was a good scholar of Sanskrit language.

Being fed up with the sufferings of poverty, he thought of committing theft one day. He decided to enter the royal palace for this act of stealing, rather than breaking into the house of an ordinary householder, in order to get hold of a good booty. He thought that this act would cause no suffering to the king, since he had a vast royal treasure. One night, he stealthily entered the royal palace. When all the inmates of the palace had gone into a deep slumber, the learned Pandit began to roam hither and thither, inside the palace, in search of something worth stealing. He caught sight of precious articles in the palace – one after the other, with the result that he was at a loss to decide as to what things he should steal and take away.

While wandering, he entered the king’s bedroom. A lamp was illuminating the room. All the costly objects kept there, to adorn the room, were clearly visible. He was so much enamored by the sight of those lovely decoration pieces – which he could not make up his mind as to what to steal. At last, he saw the gold bricks placed under the legs of the king’s bed to raise its height. He decided to steal one of them; but the problem was how to remove the brick from under the leg, without waking the king. The night passed in this condition of indecision. As soon as the day dawned, the king woke up and started reciting the Sanskrit shloka – sitting in his bed. He succeeded in completing only three steps of the shloka. The king repeated the three steps, time and again, but could not recite the fourth step. The three steps that he recited were:

“I am the master of several beautiful and charming young damsels as my wives. I have many true friends and brothers. Many sweet-speaking submissive servants attend on me. Many elephants trumpet at my door, and many fast racing horses are there in my stable.”

On hearing the three steps of the shloka, the learned Brahmin, who had got into the palace with the main intention of stealing, could not control himself. Then, and there, he instantly composed the fourth step and recited it to the king as under:

“As soon as a man breathes his last, none of these horses, elephants, wives, friends, servants, and attendants will accompany him to the other world”.

The king was taken aback on hearing such a fine step, which completed his shloka. He looked at the learned Brahmin with surprise and asked him, “O learned scholar! Who are you? How and why have you come into my bedroom?” The Brahmin related the whole tale of his wretched campaign. Being pleased, the king rewarded him handsomely and bade him farewell.

To sum up, these physical possessions belong to us, so long as we breathe and survive. No sooner do we give up our body, and all this vast wealth is left here in this world. All our affluence and grandeur; i.e., wealth and property, except our immortal soul, are not our own, and are perishable. Therefore, the immortal soul, alone, is our real self. We should always make incessant efforts, only for its uplift.


By Dr. Rita Khanna



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