July 2019 by Agathe Fay
Vairagya or non-attachment, you’ve likely heard the terms tossed around, but what does it mean? First let’s just be clear that it doesn’t mean complete renunciation of relationships or material possessions, and it certainly doesn’t mean indifference to the wide spectrum of situations and emotions that make up the sentient experience. Quite the opposite. Emotions don’t cease to exist as you learn to let go. You just relate to them differently because you understand their ephemeral nature. And that means there’s a lot less to get riled up about. It doesn’t mean you stop caring about people, places, things, connections. On the contrary, you appreciate them so much more because you’re ever-aware that they won’t last forever. You can live your entire life savoring every moment knowing that in each moment everything can (and often does) change. Non-attachment actually brings about the most profound sense of care, compassion, and freedom.
Attachment has a very specific meaning in the Buddhist dharma; it refers to a mental attitude or emotion in which we exaggerate or super impose good qualities on a person, object or idea. This projection makes us cling to things and we don’t want to be separated from it and we regard it as the source of our happiness setting us up for dissatisfaction if we don’t get what we want or suffering of change (when the satisfaction of getting what we want fades and we have to find something else to get satisfaction again) if we do. Indeed, the Second Noble Truth of Buddhism states that “the origin of suffering is attachment.” We lose all sense of freedom as we allow the object or subject of our attachment to own us, we do a disservice to the person or object as they are bound to disappoint us given the unfair expectations we’ve placed on them, and we disempower ourselves by seeking happiness from outside ourselves, attempting to fill a perceived void that can only be attended to from within. The Buddhist teaching on non-attachment is ultimately about realizing the truth of yourself. That is, realizing that you’re an expression of the entire cosmos. That you’re in the cosmos, that the entire cosmos is in you in a very real and observable way, and that there is no separating the two (and everything that comes with the realization).
As human beings we are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain often leading us to cling to sources of (temporary) pleasure, thus developing attachments. It’s not hard to spot, we are a society plagued by attachment and the list of things we can become attached to is endless; people, ideas, places, our self-images, expectations, praise, money, our practice, substances, material possessions, food, love, our body and having an extraordinary life (Instagram syndrome).
I was introduced to the Buddhist dharma of non-attachment while studying at Tushita and it offered me a new lens on my tendencies that allowed me to begin to transform behavioral patterns as well as providing me with tools to implement when I start to spot attachment taking over. I am looking forward to sharing the Buddhist wisdom surrounding this afflictive emotion as well as gems I have picked up elsewhere along my journey through eating disorders, substance abuse and love and sex addiction. Through mindfulness, investigation, understanding, compassion, non-identification we can begin to find freedom from destructive behavior and tap into real, sustainable happiness – it’s already there, within us, we just have to get out of our own way.