Detachment is absence of emotional dependence, not absence of emotion

Some people fear, “If I become detached, will I become emotionless, uncaring, stone-hearted?”

No, detachment empowers us to care truly for others, for it frees us from emotional dependence on them. When we are emotionally dependent on someone, we make decisions based on considerations of their pleasure, without considering any higher principles or purposes. Being driven by such narrow considerations, we often act against their best interests and even our best interests.

In general, if getting others’ approval becomes the sole determiner of our actions, we can’t act assertively even when it’s necessary. For example, if a physician hesitates to give an injection to a child just because the child starts screaming at them, they will fail in their duty. Multiply this scenario a million times over in gravity and we get a sense of Dhritarashtra’s dereliction of duty because of his excessive attachment to his son, Duryodhana. Because he was so emotionally dependent on Duryodhana, Dhritarashtra could never say no to him, even when Duryodhana wanted to do reprehensible things to the extent of killing his cousins or even disrobing their wife in public.

Dhritarashtra’s attachment comes out in the Bhagavad-gita’s first verse (01.01) wherein he sees only Duryodhana’s party as his party, while treating as enemies his nephews who revered him like a father figure and for whom he was meant to act as a surrogate father after the untimely demise of their father. If he had been even slightly detached from Duryodhana, he could have acted assertively to give the Pandavas their due, to protect Duryodhana from a painful death and to protect the world from the catastrophic Kurukshetra war.

Dhritarashtra’s example illustrates that attachment weakens, whereas detachment empowers. When we cultivate detachment, we become empowered to have emotions without having emotions subvert our principle-centered life.

Think it over:

  • How does detachment enable us to care truly for others? Explain with example.
  • How did emotional dependence disempower Dhritarashtra?
  • How can detachment empower us?


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