What does the Gita say about attachment, detachment and rupture in relationships?
Transcription by Bhaktin Andreea Chelu
What does the Gita say about attachment, detachment, and rupture in relationships?
For the devotee, what does Bhagavad-Gita say about relationships, attachment, detachment and especially if there’s a loss due to death or any other way, how do we deal with that?
The Bhagavad-Gita talks about relationships in two contexts. Our current existence is multilevel. We are eternal souls but are material bodies residing. So we have relationships at the material, bodily level with others and, while we are in the body, those relationships are important.
Bhagavad-Gita is part of the Mahabharata and the whole Mahabharata is centered around what is one’s duty. What is grandfather’s Bhisma duty to his family: should he fight on the side of the Kauravas or should he fight on the side of the Pandavas? What is Yudishtir’s duty: should he obey his uncle Dritarastra or should he disobey him and do the right thing?
Relationships have a lot of importance in the Bhagavad-Gita’s world view. The idea is that all relationships come with obligations andduties. As I said the horizontal relationships are with people around us, they are at the level of the body. And there’s a vertical relationship with God. The ideal human society is where the horizontal and the vertical relationships are symbiotic. That means that, because of a relationship with God vertically, we have inner calmness, we have inner strength, we have inner maturity, and by which, whatever ups and downs come in our horizontal relationships (sometimes people disappoint us, sometimes they let us down), so in any of that, we need to be patient, cause just as people commit mistakes, we are also going to commit mistakes sometimes.
If our only sense of satisfaction, self-worth and self-identity are coming from one horizontal relationship, so when there’s disappointment in that relationship, not only are we disappointed with that person, we become disappointed with ourselves also. Why did I form a relationship with this person? Why did I act like that? Why did I trust such a person?
When we have the security of a vertical relationship, then these setbacks in the horizontal relationships are not so damaging. So we can endure them and then we can find out how that relationship will … further. So the vertical relationship stabilizes our horizontal relationships.
If those with whom we are relating they are also devoted to God, they are also spiritually minded, then sometimes when we feel uninspired in our devotion to God, that relationship with them helps us to move onwards. So the ideal situation is where the vertical and the horizontal relationships are symbiotic. Even if all our relationships do not become symbiotic like that, even if some of the relationships we can make symbiotic, we will find out life much more fulfilling. The relationships can be in this way harmonized, that’s what the Bhagavad-Gita primarily tells us.
With respect to relationships: attachment and detachment. Sometimes the notion becomes that detachment means hard-heartedness, we don’t feel any emotions towards anything. Actually, detachment is not hard-heartedness, it is level-headedness. Level-headedness means that sometimes there are certain relationships that are injurious, which may be abusive, which may be harmful, and detachment enables us to step back and step away from situations, relationships and actions, which are harmful to ourselves. So in that sense detachment is a strength. So detachment in certain relationships which are injurious can actually help us focus more of our emotional energy on relationships that are healthy, that are beneficial for us. So detachment which is talked about in the Bhagavad-Gita is not meant for hard-heartedness in relationships. It is for level-headedness and choosing and nourishing relationships properly.
Attachment on the other hand… there is an attachment and there is affection. The two are different. When there’s attachment to someone then we let ourselves be manipulated by that person because of a blind sense of emotional dependence on that person. Just like the example of attachment is Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana.
So Dhritarashtra was attached to his son. Comparatively speaking, Dhritarashtra was not as even-minded as Duryodhana. Duryodhana was a person who would come up with all kinds of nefarious treats. And Dhritarashtra would sometimes resist, but half-heartedly. And if Duryodhana was adamant then Dhritarashtra would just give in.
So attachment means if you are attached to someone and that person … Duryodhana knew all the buttons to press and he would just make Dhritarashtra dance like a puppet to his tune. So attachment actually makes us weak and it makes us manipulable by other persons. And attachment is different from affection. Affection means there’s a healthy emotional give and take between the two people in the relationship.
Affection is a natural part of human existence. And not only human existence but even spiritual existence. The Bhagavad-Gita explains that the soul is a part of God:
Krishna says all living beings are my part and the part is meant to harmonize with the whole. So we have a natural loving relationship with God and at the same time, God is not alone. God … family … So that also means we have natural loving relationships with others. So affection is natural and desirable. But attachment is not. Actually, detachment enables us to direct our affection properly. Detachment doesn’t mean that we are hard-hearted, but we are level-headed so that we can choose and nourish the relationships.
With respect to loss in relationships, one it can happen because of death. Certainly, it’s natural to grieve in such a situation, but within a materialistic worldview, when someone dies, that is the end of it all, nothing we can do except cry. But, when we have a spiritual understanding of life, there are lessons that we are all souls and the person who we love, that person doesn’t cease to exist, that person continues to exist at another level of existence. And, although a material connection will not be possible anymore, a spiritual connection is still possible. So, if we pray for that person, if we offer our well-wishes and prayers through acts of worship, through act of devotion, then, through the spiritual connection with God, we can still benefit others.
That sense of helplessness that comes when a relationship is ruptured by death that comes when there’s a materialistic world view. But there is grief even in the spiritual worldview. But that sense of helplessness is not there. Because we know that the person is still existing and we can do something to express our love for that person even now.
And with respect to loss because of, let’s say, rupture of relationship, because of misunderstanding or heartbreak or just incompatibility, whatever, if we are too invested in one relationship alone, then a break in the relationship causes too many problems. I can devastate emotionally, cripple or devastate a person. But at the same time, we have a vertical relationship with God and that vertical relationship, no matter how much people in this world misunderstand us, neglects us, reject us, abuse us, no matter what happens, God never stops loving us. His love for us is unconditional, unfailing and unflinching. He’s always there for us. And when we understand that and especially (inaudible) just be a theoretical conception for us right now. But actually, if we practice bhakti, bhakti yoga is the process by which we gain experience of God.
Bhakti is the process that para ishah, that God who is beyond the senses, we cannot normally perceive, but through the process of bhakti we get (sanskrit quote) we get the experience of that God. And that experience of God is so fulfilling that (Sanskrit quote) we are no longer dependent on other things. It’s not that we reject other things, but we are no longer dependent on other things for our sense of self-worth, our sense of self-identity.
So when there are losses in other relationships, if we have a healthy vertical relationship, that helps us to rebound from those losses faster and, in that way, our hearts need for fulfillment through relationships, both in an eternal vertical sense and a healthy horizontal sense, we get guidance for fulfilling both in the Bhagavad-gita.
Does it answer your question?
Thank you. Hare Krsna