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Non-attachment - a means to mental equanimity

Updated on May 15, 2015
Dr Pran Rangan profile image

I am a physician by profession. I like to write on topics related to health, psychology, psychiatry, and spirituality.

“The one fixed in the equanimity of mind frees oneself in this life from vice and virtues alike; therefore, devote yourself to yoga; work done to perfection is verily yoga.”

— The Bhagavat Gita in chapter 2, verse 50

Mental equanimity can be described as a state of mental stability, which is undisturbed by emotions, pain or other phenomena that may cause to lose balance of the mind.

Equanimity is one of the most sought after mental state of the Buddhist practice. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, and immeasurable without hostility and ill-will.” The most common Pali word translated as “equanimity” is Upekkha, meaning “to look over.” It refers to equanimity that arises from the power of observation, the ability to see without being caught by what we see. When well-developed, such power gives rise to a great sense of peace. Upekkha can also refer to the ease that comes from seeing a bigger picture.

According to Buddhist viewpoint, equanimity signifies control over the emotions produced by eight opposites - praise and blame, success and failure, pleasure and pain, fame and disrepute. Becoming attached to success, praise, fame or pleasure can be a set-up for sufferings, when the winds of life change direction. For example, success can be wonderful but if it leads to arrogance, we have more to lose in future challenges. Becoming personally invested in praise, we may tend towards conceit. Identifying with failure, we may feel incompetent. Reacting to pain, we may become discouraged. If we understand that our sense of inner well-being is independent of the eight opposites, we are more likely to remain emotionally stable in their midst.

Bhikhoo Bodhi describes Upekkha as an evenness of mind, unshakeable freedom of mind, a state of inner equipoise that cannot be upset by gain and loss, honor and dishonor, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. Upekkha is freedom from all points of self-reference. It is indifference only to the demands of the ego-self with its craving for pleasure and position, not to the well-being of one's fellow human beings.

All religions of the world promote the acquisition of the mental state of equanimity by attaching importance to it for achieving peace and happiness in life.

Non-attachment as a means to mental equanimity –

“Having abandoned attachment to the fruits of action, ever content, depending on nothing, though engaged in karma, verily he does not do anything.”

— The Bhagavat Gita chapter 5, verse 20

None of us can deny the fact that all of us experience dissatisfaction in life that arises from our longing for the life to be different from what it is at present, even when we have no control over particular circumstances. This is, in fact, a cause of great suffering at times. But, paradoxically, we deny what is causing us suffering. We fail to accept the cause of our suffering with calmness because we confuse it with either resignation or indifference with the result that our suffering continues to make us miserable.

On account of the reason that various attachments are the source of miseries, the concept of non-attachment came into existence. Desires as of themselves are neither good nor bad; they are simply desires. They arise involuntarily, are normal and unavoidable. In the words of the Buddha –

“Desire is the root cause of suffering. The dropping of desires brings an end to sufferings.”

When we have a strong attachment to particular outcomes of our desires, we suffer if the outcomes are in conflict with what we want.

Once we are able to accept dissatisfaction as the cause of many sufferings in life, we can then go on to the next step of alleviating them. By developing an attitude of non-attachment to worldly desires, we can alleviate sufferings in life. Two important ways of developing non-attachment are -

Letting go - A common spiritual cliché of letting go has become popular amongst people. We all have attachment to things, attachment to ideas and attachment to views, which are reasons enough to get our knickers in a twist, thereby disturbing mental balance. All of us have experienced pain when something – material or immaterial - very dear to us leaves us.

Ajahn Chah, the Thai Buddhist monk says about letting go –

“If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will know complete peace and freedom. Your struggles with the world will have come to an end.”

One cannot stop desires from arising since it is normal to have them. As a matter of fact, we cannot have the outcome of the desires as we want them to be, since it is beyond our control. But we can choose not to become attached to the outcome of our desires. So, letting go the attachments to outcome instantly restores mental composure, which will help us concentrate effectively in fulfilling our genuine desires. If, in case, the outcomes are not favorable, we will not lose our composure but will continue to have it.

Surrender to supreme divine Power - If we subscribe to the view that everything is unfolding perfectly according to a flawless Divine plan, surrender and non-attachment are much easier to achieve. But there is a catch that subscribing to this view does not mean that we don’t have to do our acts but simply have to sit waiting for the divine Power to deliver us what we want. The real meaning of surrendering to a divine Power is to perform all acts righteously with absolute faith in the Power and surrendering the outcome of the acts to will of the Power. Thus, by surrendering the outcomes of our acts to the divine Power, we are practicing non-attachment to the outcomes. When we are not attached to the outcomes, we are calm and composed and this will help us focus more intently on our performance resulting in a better outcome. If by any chance, the outcome of an act is not in our favor, we won’t be disheartened as we had surrendered it to the wish of the Power. And the Power wishes that the act should be performed better again so as to get favorable outcome. Therefore, an attitude of surrender to some Divine power always keeps us emotionally positive and maintains our mental equanimity in all circumstances.

The bottom line is that all religions of the world attach much value to mental equanimity by professing to acquire it because it leads to individual peace and happiness. Non-attachment to the fruits of our actions is one of the means to acquire mental equanimity. The practice of letting go and having a faith in the supreme divine Power are two of some important ways of practicing non-attachment.


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    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for your wonderful comments.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 

      3 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Wonderful post. (When we have a strong attachment to particular outcomes of our desires, we suffer if the outcomes are in conflict with what we want.) This took me many years to awaken to that wisdom, and when I did my life changed for the better. I loved your last comic image. Well done!

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for giving me encouragement with your nice comments.

    • Akriti Mattu profile image

      Akriti Mattu 

      3 years ago from Shimla, India

      Awesome.

      Loved your post.

      Voted up.

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