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Religion

Life, Detachment and Letting Go

David Langness | Dec 9, 2013

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Dec 9, 2013

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Buddhist monkFor both Buddhists and Baha’is, detachment from the material world infuses and defines their faith.

What does it mean to detach? The Baha’i teachings and the Buddhist teachings have very similar perspectives:

One who is imprisoned by desires is always unhappy; the children of the Kingdom have unchained themselves from their desires. Break all fetters and seek for spiritual joy and enlightenment; then, though you walk on this earth, you will perceive yourselves to be within the divine horizon. To man alone is this possible. When we look about us we see every other creature captive to his environment. – Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 86.

A wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion, does not act as if it is real, therefore he escapes the suffering. – Buddha

We all know that the world, its illusions and desires, will fade and ultimately disappear. Seen from one point of view, life on this physical plane means a consistent pattern of loss. Each day brings us closer to our last day. Every stage of development means we lose and let go of the previous stage – infancy leads to childhood, which leads to adolescence and adulthood, which leads to the senior discount. At each juncture we lose our earlier life. Every plant and animal and human being has an arc of existence, from birth to the prime of life to a gradual physical decline and the preparation for death — and the next stage that follows it.

tunnelDoes contemplating that fate sadden you? Does the thought of death and the loss of this physical existence depress you; or maybe even make you fortify your internal denial about your eventual transition away from the material to the spiritual? Our contemporary cultures don’t encourage this sort of contemplation of the end of our material lives — so if you don’t welcome and look forward to death, you might want to think about developing some detachment.

How? When we’re growing up or in our physical prime, we usually don’t ponder detachment much. But as soon as the physical begins to decline, we all need to begin building a sense of detachment in our minds, hearts and souls, a realization that this material world does not last while the spiritual world is eternal:

God has given man a heart and the heart must have some attachment. We have proved that nothing is completely worthy of our heart’s devotion save reality, for all else is destined to perish. Therefore the heart is never at rest and never finds real joy and happiness until it attaches itself to the eternal. How foolish the bird that builds its nest in a tree that may perish when it could build its nest in an ever-verdant garden of paradise.

Man must attach himself to an infinite reality, so that his glory, his joy, and his progress may be infinite. Only the spirit is real; everything else is as shadow. All bodies are disintegrated in the end; only reality subsists. All physical perfections come to an end; but the divine virtues are infinite. How many kings have flourished in luxury and in a brief moment all has disappeared! Their glory and their honor are forgotten. Where are all these sovereigns now? But those who have been servants of the divine beauty are never forgotten. The result of their works is everywhere visible. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 135.

Every season of life, each stage of maturation, all of the milestones of our short physical existence culminate in death – which is really another birth, the Great Faiths tell us, a transition to a spiritual world. Both the Baha’i Faith and Buddhism – and all of the other major Faiths, for that matter – teach that we have eternal souls. And because our hearts and souls instinctively want to love, we need to find something to love that lasts.

That means, according to both the Baha’i and the Buddhist teachings, that attaching our emotions to anything temporal is futile and destined to fail. Expending our love and attention and resources and energies on short-term desires will ultimately only frustrate and defeat us.

Does that mean we should get rid of our possessions? No, Abdu’l-Baha advises:

Attach not thyself to anything unless in it thou seest the reality of God – this is the first step into the court of eternity. The earth life lasts but a short time, even its benefits are transitory; that which is temporary does not deserve our heart’s attachment…. Detachment does not consist in setting fire to one’s house, or becoming bankrupt or throwing one’s fortune out of the window, or even giving away all of one’s possessions. Detachment consists in refraining from letting our possessions possess us. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 134.

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Comments

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  • Anne Parviz Ighani
    Mar 22, 2020
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    Excellent article! Thank you John! Happy Naw-Ruz!
  • Dennis Skey
    Aug 21, 2018
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    I attended a conference where the topic of "Emotional Sobriety" was discussed. They referred to a Letter that Bill Wilson wrote, 23 years after he was sober talking about his depression. Read what his solution was... I think this relates directly to detachment.. http://home.earthlink.net/~insure/emotional.html
  • Alan Cundall
    Jun 22, 2016
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    What does it mean to see the reality of God in something material? And how do we have healthy love or care for ourselves, knowing our lives are only transitory?
    • Jennifer Jurkofsky
      Jul 30, 2016
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      "It is clear and evident that when the veils that conceal the realities of the manifestations of the Names and Attributes of God, ney of all created things visible or invisible have been rent asunder, nothing except the Sign of God will remain..." God's attributes can be seen in every created thing. When we attach to God alone, we also attach to seeing Him in all things. In this, we attach, not to the thing itself, but to the reality of God we see in it. When we are able to see the true nature of all things, the ...Names and Attributes of God endowed in all of creation, we lift above the finite material world we perceive and are able to see the reality of the eternal. The thing itself, though we take joy in it, is not what is important, it is the attributes of God it directs us to that matters. When the thing perishes, we can continue without being disheartened, know that attribute of God is eternal. This is where we attach. Prayer is infinitely important, but not just in the sense of reciting prayers daily. When we live in a state of communion with God, we are able to see Him manifest in all aspects of His creation. When we see the Reality that is God reflected in all things, we can't be anything but happy. When we look to the world and do not attain to see God in all things, we open ourselves to making other things our god. When we see God in all things, God can be our sole focus.
      We care for ourselves because we love God. He created us and we are His property, we are not our own. Our true essence is God's and we have been commanded to share that truth with the world. We must take care of all that God has bestowed upon us, not because we worship it, but because it is a gift from our Beloved. When we begin to change how we see this world, we are able to understand how to live in it, but not be of it.
      Read more...
    • Asal Rolpour
      Jul 10, 2016
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      "Attach not thyself to anything unless in it thou seest the reality of God" I don't think it means material. I think it actually means spiritual. Cause that is the only thing you can link with God... An example could be praying. I guess it is possible to be attatched to prayer. We care for ourselves because we love ourselves. Our lives are transitory. But it doesn't mean what we do now doesn't effect our eternal soul. We can be happy with what we have just never be so that we get sad without it. Don't ask "why do we ...even try to be happy with an illusion" because I don't know. I just think because we are physical beings at the moment it is ok to be happy with physical joys. I would love a better answer to your question for myself.
      Read more...
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