A great sage in ancient India was giving a discourse on attachment and how it hinders the soul’s progress. “Give up everything to the Lord, ” said the sage, upon which a foolish pupil got up from the crowd, saying that the piece of cloth covering his body was all he had by way of worldly possession. The sage pulled off the cloth and threw it into a nearby pond, saying, “Now you have no attachment to this cloth. Go to the forest and take God’s name until I return to this village in a few years’ time.”
As soon as the sage left, the pupil pulled out the piece of cloth from the pond and hung it on a tree to dry. Seeing some rats chewing the cloth, to shoo them away, he brought a cat. To feed milk to the cat, he got a cow. The cow gave excess milk, which he sold and became rich. To feed the cow, he bought a plot of grassy land. His friends helped to till the land and grow rice on it. He sold the surplus rice and married the rice-merchant’s beautiful daughter, who bore him twins. He forgot all about the sage and chanting God’s name.
Five years later, the sage returned and found a wealthy farmer, totally attached to his farms, wealth, wife and kids. “What happened to your quest for God and promising to be my pupil?” asked the sage. “It happened because the cloth had to be saved. It was all I ever had.” replied the pupil.
The sage said, “I saw the potential in you to achieve moksh (liberation) in this lifetime itself and that is why I chose you as my pupil. You threw away the chance, all for a piece of cloth!”
We are all like the foolish pupil. We all have the potential to achieve liberation ‘right here, right now’, but we are so attached and preoccupied with our worldly possessions, that chanting God’s name features last on our list of priorities. As for attachment, as long as we have any sense of possession, whether it’s material possession (money, shares, job, house, farm etc), or a mental possession (as in ‘this belongs to me’) or even an emotional possession ( of parents, spouse, kids, family, siblings, grandchildren etc.), so long as we have thoughts of these, we are attached and cannot let go sufficiently, when the divine call to transform our life comes.
To be detached, your consciousness should constantly function at a higher level. You don’t need to renounce the world. You may have the most luxurious life and a wonderful family but your luxuries and family bonds should not dominate your consciousness. If you can live like that, you are not attached to the good things that you’ve ‘earned’ with your past good karma.
You have to feel strongly from every pore of your body, that immaterial of how attractive your world and your possessions may be, it is all but part of a shadow-play, a passing show (like a movie we see for three hours) and the manifold happenings, the various events, are merely moving pictures, as temporary as the passing clouds that come and go. Everything in life is fleeting. There’s no permanent joy or sorrow. No permanent friends or enemies. Great loves turn to great sorrows. Great friends stab you in the back. Near and dear ones, spouse, children can turn on you. Nothing has real abiding power, except God’s name.
To practice detachment, you need strong inner renunciation. Let go of things in your heart. Own your possessions but don’t let your possessions own you. This world, which seems so real, so solid, so substantial like the chair you are sitting on right now, the paper you are holding in your hand, this article which travelled from my innermost thoughts to the newspaper-office – all these are dreams within a big dream we call life. Reflect on your whole life… all upto this morning. Where is it? Where has it all gone? Into memory! All those years that you lived so intensely, through the greatest exaltations and tragic disappointments, the most poignant emotions, the strongest lust and gentle passions, most terrible sufferings – where are they now? They are just a memory!
But what is memory? It’s a simple thought about the past, a mere idea in your mind – nothing more than that. But, if all your past is a mere transient thought, what about the future? Or your present? Well, your present will become your past, since past, present and future constitute the whole of human existence. From the highest standpoint, they are all illusory.
So, when you are attached to anything in life, you are attached to an illusion. This material world is a classroom to learn certain spiritual lessons. In school you didn’t get attached to your blackboard, desk or the teacher – so why be attached to anything in life and behave like the foolish pupil?