“Non-attachment” sounds a bit intimidating, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, most people tend to associate this spiritual phrase with being emotionally cold and unfeeling. But true non-attachment is quite the opposite: it allows us to live in this world fully, without being attached to people, things, or thoughts that create suffering.
As the Dalai Lama was once quoted to have said:
Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.
But we don’t have to sell everything we own and become monks or nuns to practice non-attachment; we simply need to understand the vital importance of letting go.
Non-attachment or release from desire has been spoken about in many religions such as Taoism, Hinduism, Jainism, and the Bahá’í Faith, but this concept is most commonly linked to Buddhism.
Related: How To Make Peace With Desires
Here are a few perspectives from major spiritual traditions on non-attachment:
“The root of suffering is attachment.” – The Buddha (Buddhism)
“When we come to non-attachment, then we can understand the marvelous mystery of the universe: how it is intense activity and at the same time intense peace, how it is work every moment and rest every moment.” – Swami Vivekananda (Hindu Tradition)
“Consider the trees which allow the birds to perch and fly away without either inviting them to stay or desiring them never to depart. If your heart can be like this, you will be near to the Way.” – Zen saying
“Act without expectation.” – Lao Tzu (Taoism)
“He who is attached to things will suffer much.” – Tao Te Ching
Aparigraha (or Non-attachment) – (One of the three pillars of Jainism)
“Attach not thyself to anything unless in it thou seest the reality of God.” – Abdu’l-Baha (Bahá’í Faith)
“Detachment is not that you should own nothing, but that nothing should own you.” – Ali Ibn Abi Talib (Islam)
There are simply too many quotes out there on non-attachment to include here, but I hope these perspectives give you an idea of how important non-attachment is not only religiously/spiritually, but on a global level.
What Is Non-Attachment?
Non-attachment is not about being a cold or emotionally dead brick wall, instead, it’s about learning how to let go of the thoughts and emotions that create suffering. Once we can stop being so attached to our thoughts, we experience tremendous relief, inner peace, and a pervading sense of joyful well-being.
So how do we let go of our thoughts and emotions? We must learn to observe and disentangle ourselves from our thoughts through practices such as mindful awareness, meditation, and self-inquiry.
When we can simply allow life to unfold naturally without being attached to outcomes, beliefs, feelings, or opinions, then we experience true non-attachment. Picture this process of detachment like being an ice cube that slowly melts down into a puddle of flowing water. Water, like the practice of non-attachment, flows with life effortlessly and peacefully, whereas ice cubes do not. The goal of non-attachment, therefore, is to become like water.
Essentially, non-attachment is about letting go of everything, both physical and non-physical – or what spiritual teachers such as Eckhart Tolle refer to as “dying before you die.” At first, this sounds scary, but dying before you die really only means letting go of everything that is preventing you from finding what is true, eternal, unchanging, and forever present.
In the words of Tolle,
“Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to die before you die – and find that there is no death.”