Thursday, June 25, 2009

Detachment and the world.

Sri gurubhyo namaha.

Wikipedia defines ambivalence thus - Ambivalence is a state of having simultaneous, conflicting feelings toward a person or thing.[1] Stated another way, ambivalence is the experience of having thoughts and emotions of both positive and negative valence toward someone or something.

I wonder if anyone but a Hindu would truly understand the ambivalent attitude of the Hindu towards the phenomenal world and its activity? Through the many observations of my own personal experiences in interactions with people, it appears as though this sort of a 'simultaneously conflicting' attitude is not really appreciated for what its worth. I mean, take for example the Hindu view of this world. A score and ten of texts and scriptures and the experiential findings of many a wise person, declare almost unanimously that this world out here is 'unreal', 'illusory' (mAyA), 'a sure way to end up sucked into a never ending wheel of bondage', ' a distraction' etc. At the same time an equal number of texts and scriptures (to make it classically Indian, the same scriptures sometimes!) and the experiential findings of many a wise person, see it as 'incredibly beautiful', ' the product of divine compassion', 'altogether pervaded by the divine' and even as the 'very back bone of the varnA based life system' and more importantly as 'the medium through which the eternal beingness of the Self/supreme can be understood'. Both from a personal point of view and even speaking for the larger collective (of Hindus), I have to say that often times both these apparently irreconcilable poles are simultaneously evident in the interaction with the world.

Most people would probably consider this sort of attitude to be akin to 'sitting on the fence' or even think that one's mind is not yet 'made up' with respect to whether the world activity is positive or negative. In a way most people (who are perhaps not born Hindu) tend to consider that only one view could be true and appropriate. Moreover, the common idea that a 'detached' stand implies lack of involvement, is a yet another stumbling block when it comes to understanding the Hindu's idea of life. It is not my intention (at least for now) to preach the merits of a detached attitude in life through the pulpit of this blog. I assume the intelligence of you the reader and encourage you to come to a conclusion about the pros and cons of detachment. The bottom line that even to comfortably understand the basics of 'detachment' as a concept, never mind its practise in life, needs a particular type of soul is perhaps a core factor in why it is for most people a very difficult idea to come to terms with.

The scriptures declare that the jIvA after innumerable births spawned due to the effects of bondage and the actions committed under the influence of such bondage, at some appropriate point/moment realises the pointlessness of endless activity in the transient world. They aptly liken it to building kingdoms in a dream - the palace, the princess, the footmen and the subjects all vanish into nothingness on waking up. All there is left, at best, is a lingering and vague aftertaste of the experience. The untold vAsanAs, forming the ground for many more 'future' births. After running in vain to a thousand mirages in the desert, searching for water, the person realises the 'truth' of the 'illusion'. And then on does not waste any effort in the search of water where ever the mirage is seen. Rather, he attempts to find an oasis and when through the agency of fortune he does find such an oasis, he settles there.

The varnAshrama dharmA or the breakdown of life into the four stages (brahmacharyA, grihasthA,vAnaprasthA and sanyAsA) is very much based on this understanding. It encourages the individual to attain this detachment through the use of the natural and physical stages of our life here from birth to youth to adulthood and old age. In the society of today where a high degree of emphasis is placed on the individual and there is an overall attitude of encouragement for the expression of his/her desire(s). This post is neither an exercise in morality nor one intended to question the prevalent attitude that it is a very good thing to live life to the fullest by cramming it with activities from sun rise to sun set. Even the notion that fullness has something to do with multiplicity (i.e. many, much, lots of etc) is in my humble opinion a faulty one stemming from an improper understanding of the 'I' and the lack of a clear analysis of what the jagat or the world really is.

The Hindu mind is (to the most part at least) able to reconcile this negatively tainted idea of the worldly life while still continuing to live a life. We have societies, we have communities, we have families and extended families. The ties, be they social,communal or familial are very strong and play even today a very large part in dictating the lives of the majority. The strength and the importance of the Hindu idea of family life is a valuable insight into the fact that this bigger 'negative' view of the world and ties and relationships is not one that manifests simply and automatically as 'uninvolvement'. The yOgIs and ascetics who have cut asunder all ties to this transient world are obviously a minority in the huge Hindu collective. The majority of us have over eons learnt to live in this world of relationships and doing, while still harbouring the dream somewhere deep down of eventually rising above it. Some have gone further and experienced the transcendence while still visibly and deeply involved in the world and the activities of the world.

A careful study of the principal doctrines pertaining to karmA and its effects, of mAyA, of what is this we know as the world etc is needed to really appreciate the way in which the ideas of detachment and the dissolution of doer ship etc are framed. Otherwise it naturally produces a faulty reckoning of the meaning and the intent behind these concepts. And automatically leads us to think that detachment means uninvolved, or that one cannot perform and execute his or her duties in this world while being detached etc. I know from experience that I can be involved in all the day to day running of my life while still being (to the most part) detached from the experience of being the experiencer. I can see and understand both from experience and the light of the scriptures that being detached is not a state where the experience is shunned or rejected. It is one where the idea of being the experiencer is not experienced. Does this invalidate the experience? I don't know for sure, but I don't think so. The experience is as real as in one undetached (i.e. the fear or pain or pleasure etc are all felt and registered), but the fundamental difference is that the identification of self is not with the experiencer (the I ness) but with the witness (the Self or beingness). I think that one is able to be fully involved only when one is sufficiently detached. Otherwise I imagine there is only entanglement (though understood and perceived as involvement). It is this 'entanglement' factor of this world that the wise have repeatedly warned against.

Its like the spider that weaves its web. The web is woven with great care and attention (full involvement if you will) and whats more the silk that is the raw material for the weaving of this web is produced from the very being of the spider. But even still if you see, the spider itself is never caught up in its web. It walks every inch of the web, up and down constantly. Yet it remains unstuck. The passing fly or other insect however fares differently. It gets caught right in it and gets totally entangled in the web, eventually unable to make it out. Similarly the wise one through the cultivation of a detached attitude is able to steer clear of entanglement while being effectively and actively engaged or involved. It is from this point of 'real' fullness that they are able to be the beacons of undiluted and unconditional love and compassion that they are. One entangled on the other hand is able to only react at all times and every action of his remains tainted by the colour of his own prejudice and intent.

Another example, say I have a dream that I am the lover of a beautiful woman and in the dream both of us are locked in an embrace that sends waves of bliss throughout our bodies. I thoroughly enjoy the experience. But when I wake up the next morning, I would be silly if I felt dejected that the beautiful companion in my dream is not in my bed with me still. In a similar way, the detachment spoken of is the realisation of the transience of the experience and the field of experience and not the invalidation of the experience. The wise have seen the dream like quality of this world and have advised us to watch this be aware of it. The attitude of detachment will naturally follow.