A Zen Master Explains the Real Meaning of Non-Attachment and Why Most of Us Get it Wrong

Zen monk

If you’ve ever read any Buddhist texts, then you’ve probably heard about detachment or letting go. It’s a powerful concept, but a lot of people tend to misunderstand the non-attachment concept.

While some people think it’s negative, non-attachment actually provides several benefits to everyone.

To understand it’s true meaning, we’ve found a great chapter from mindfulness expert Osho that explains in detail what detachment really means. We’ve summarized his excellent teachings below.

What Detachment Really Means

The oxford dictionary defines detachment as a “state of being objective or aloof”. Osho says that being objective is considered powerful in practising detachment, however being aloof is not terribly useful.

When you are become emotionally aloof, you are disconnected from your feelings. You’re not really engaging in life.

However the true detachment that’s inspired by Zen Buddhism means deep involvement in life – because there is a lack of attachment to the outcome.

As spiritual author Ron W. Rathbun wrote, “True detachment isn’t a separation from life but the absolute freedom within your mind to explore living.”

Here Osho explains how to know if you’re experiencing true detachment or indifference:

“It is not difficult to know. How do you know when you have a headache and how do you know when you don’t have a headache? It is simply clear. When you are growing in detachment you will become healthier, happier; your life will become a life of joy. That is the criterion of all that is good. Joy is the criterion. If you are growing in joy, you are growing, and you are getting towards home….If you are moving into detachment, love will grow, joy will grow, only attachments will drop — because attachments bring misery, because attachments bring bondage, because attachments destroy your freedom. But if you are becoming indifferent…. Indifference is a pseudo-coin, it looks like detachment, but it only LOOKS like detachment. Nothing will be growing in it. You will simply shrink and die…

“Beware. Whenever something goes wrong there are indications in your being. Sadness is an indicator, depression is an indicator; joy, celebration is also an indicator. More songs will happen to you if you are moving towards detachment. You will be dancing more and you will become more loving. Remember, love is not attachment, love knows no attachment, and that which knows attachment is not love. That is possessiveness, domination, clinging, fear, greed — it may be a thousand and one things, but it is not love. In the name of love other things are parading, in the name of love other things are hiding behind, but on the container the label ‘love’ is stuck. Inside you will find many sorts of things but not love at all.”

How can you tell if you’re attached?

Osho says that when you are attached to an object, a goal, a dream, or another, there are feelings that tell you “If I don’t have that, I won’t be whole.”

These can be feelings like anxiety, fear, anger, jealously, hopelessness, sadness, disconnection, pride,  or vanity.

Why do we attach?

A common misconception about happiness is that if you obtain all the things you desire, you will be happy. However, the reality is opposite, according to Osho.

In order to acquire something, you have to relinquish your attachment to having it. When you recongize that the only genuine source of security is living as your true self, you can more easily detach.

5 Steps to Detach

1) Observe your mind

Try to take a step back from your mind and observe your thoughts. What are you identifying with the most? What are your conditioned thought patterns? You’ll begin that the mind, or the ego, isn’t really you which will give you enormous liberation.

Recognize that when a negative emotion comes, it’s probably from attachment. Observing is the first step to changing.

2) Distinguish between the voice of the ego and the actual situation

Your mind, or your ego might tell you that not getting the job you want has ruined your career. The actual reason is that you have disappointed over something you never had in the first place. There has been no loss. Nothing has changed except what you perceived to be your future.

3) Embrace uncertainty

Easier said than done, but embracing the unknown actually provides secuirty. Deepak Chopra says: “Those who seek security in the exterior world chase it for a lifetime. By letting go of your attachment to the illusion of security, which is really an attachment to the known, you step into the field of all possibilities. This is where you will find true happiness, abundance, and fulfilment.”

4) Meditate

Meditation is a fantastic practice to take a step back from your mind and observe what’s going on. Our mind is conditioned to desire and get unhappy when things don’t go our way. You’ll be to observe your mind and take an objective view about the reality of what’s really happening.

5) Don’t beat yourself up

When you experience negative emotions, don’t get upset with your life. Embrace all the facets of life and be thankful that you’re actually aware of what you’re feeling. Osho explains why embracing our emotions is so important:

“Sadness gives depth. Happiness gives height. Sadness gives roots. Happiness gives branches. Happiness is like a tree going into the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of the earth. Both are needed, and the higher a tree goes, the deeper it goes, simultaneously. The bigger the tree, the bigger will be its roots. In fact, it is always in proportion. That’s its balance.”

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