As a Westerner, detachment has been something very difficult to grasp. In fact, a lot of Hindu philosophy has been difficult. I took one day of a Hindu philosophy class in college, before realizing that it was way over my head and then dropping it to take a medieval English literature class (all middle English and Chaucer and whatnot). Now that I’ve been following sanatana dharma, it makes a lot more sense, and I sort of wish I could go back in time and take it again, because I think I’d actually understand it pretty well.
The point of that rambling monologue is that I keep growing and learning and realizing new things.
Take vegetarianism, for example. I’ve never been particularly good at abstaining from things I like. I spend more time watching TV than is good for me. I over-listen to music until I can’t stand to hear it any more. I eat a certain food exclusively until it becomes unappetizing. So while I’m good at working things through my system, the giving up isn’t as easy.
Inititally, I assumed that the purpose of vegetarianism was ahimsa, or noninjury (for those reading who aren’t as familiar with terminology). And it’s really still mostly about that, as far as I can tell. You don’t eat animals because a Hindu (to use a blanket term) does his/her best not to harm living things. You do this by refraining from using unkind words, by making choices that benefit others rather than harm them through neglect or direct action, and at least on special holy days you try not to eat meat.
But you know what? As with many of the new things I’m learning, I realize that there’s much more to it. For me, the gradual path towards vegetarianism is a lesson in detachment. I read somewhere that detachment isn’t separation from the world/maya/the physical, but rather not needing it to be a whole person. You experience but are not affected by the physical, because understand that that “need” is an illusion. So here’s how diet has helped me realize this: I used to eat beef and pork and lamb and goat and all other sorts of mammals. I didn’t eat them a whole lot, but I ate them with great relish, even going as far as to tell myself that I “needed” them to be healthy. About eight months ago, right about the time I started this blog, I cut all those out of my diet. I still eat poultry and fish occasionally (small steps), but don’t eat red meat or pork. At first, I was worried that I’d crave it, and I did eat it a few times.
Now, though? Well, I know it exists. I smell it cooking, I see other people eat it, and my husband still cooks it at home. Occasionally I’m at a place where it’s all that is served. However, I’ve gotten to the point where I know that my life will not be any better or worse for not eating it, and that I can go happily on my way without it in my life.
I think that’s the way I will probably approach my struggle with detachment from now on. Obviously not everything fits this model (for example, family), but my goal is the same – live my life now, making choices as they come, and knowing that I am secure no matter what happens. You deal with things as they come, process them, and don’t pine for them when they’re gone. Like that steak that I once thought I needed, it’s not something that I can’t live without, even if sometimes I think it is.