A Brief Case for Detachment


from Back To Godhead Magazine #33-05, 1999

The sage Chanakhya wrote, “There is no misery like attachment. There is no happiness like detachment.”

I lost my briefcase recently, and although it was a relatively insignificant loss, I felt disappointed and thought about how painful it can be to lose things we value greatly. Attachment often leads to disappointment. Either the object of our attachment doesn’t continue to satisfy us, or it doesn’t last forever. The things we work so hard to acquire quickly lose their thrill. Our loved ones may let us down, even hurt us deeply—as only those close to us can. Or circumstances separate us from those we love.

The final separator is death. Our own death drags us from everything we’re attached to. And the death of a loved one is surely one of life’s most painful experiences.

In the material world this kind of suffering, like many others, is inevitable. But we can do something to ease the pain. Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that we must tolerate distress because it’s part of life. But Krishna doesn’t leave Arjuna without support. He tells him that a true understanding of the self and its situation in this world will give him the strength to carry on even when things go against him. Lord Krishna teaches Arjuna that he is not the body but the soul within. The soul has no lasting connection with either the body or anything related to it. Knowing just that can inspire detachment.

Beyond that, Lord Krishna teaches Arjuna the art of transferring attachment from the temporary to the eternal—specifically to Lord Krishna, the Supreme Lord Himself. All the attachments we develop in this world are misplaced attachment for Krishna. Or, seen another way, everything we’re attached to is, in a sense, Krishna. Because He creates and pervades everything, all our attachments are to some aspect of His energy.

Yet while Krishna and His energy are identical, they’re different too. So although attachment to Krishna leads to liberation from all suffering, attachment to His material energy binds us to the material world, where we must suffer repeated birth, disease, old age, and death.

Every transcendentalist knows that attachment to the temporary is the root of all suffering. Various philosophers prescribe different ways to stop all attachment, but because it’s part of our original love for Krishna, it can never be stopped. The solution to the problem of attachment and the misery it brings is to love Krishna. That will fulfill all the desires we’re trying to satisfy in other ways.

Loving Krishna includes loving things related to Him, especially His devotees. One thing I miss from my briefcase is my collection of hundreds of index cards with scriptural verses on them. One of those verses says, “Attachment for the material is the greatest entanglement of the spirit soul. But that same attachment, when applied to the self- realized devotees, opens the door of liberation.” With or without my briefcase, I can benefit from remembering that.