The Meaning of Non-Attachment

“A practice of detachment is going to be a practice of artificial nature. It’s going to turn you into a mood maker, someone who pretends to be in a heightened consciousness state, but who actually, behind the scenes in your own mind and consciousness, you know that you’re not. Someone who is a poser, a mood maker.”

Thom Knoles

As Eastern philosophies have spread in popularity throughout the world in the past thirty years or so, ‘detachment’ has become somewhat of a buzzword.

It has become a spiritual scorecard of sorts, the theory being that the more detached one is, the more enlightened one is. Or not…

In this episode Thom sets the record straight, explaining the distinction between detachment, which implies attachment in the first place, and non attachment, which negates any attachment at all.

It’s a subtle distinction but it’s much more than just a semantic argument.

Non-attachment and Vedic Meditation

While one can fake detachment, thus creating another form of attachment, one can’t fake non-attachment. Thom will take us through what non-attachment means, and how we can work to achieve it. As usual, Thom also shows us how to become non-attached, without the strain of having to fake it till we make it.

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Episode Highlights


Maharishi Patanjali and Yoga Sutra



That’s Not What Yoga Is



Asana, Pranayama, Dhyan



Yoga Sutra



Not Just Any Old Meditation



Vairagya is Not Detachment



Detachment Isn’t Possible



Non-attachment May Occur



Neti – Not This



Detachment is Not a Practice



Detach from Detachment


Jai Guru Deva


The Meaning of Non-Attachment with Thom Knoles

Jai Guru Deva. Welcome to my podcast, The Vedic Worldview. I’m Thom Knoles.

[00:54] Maharishi Patanjali and Yoga Sutra

Today I would like to educate you on the subject of detachment versus attachment or non-attachment. These words have developed quite a lot of popularity in recent years, mainly because of relatively novice readings of great documents that came from the Vedic library of knowledge.

That library of knowledge includes one very particular text known as Yoga Sutra. Yoga Sutra, which is attributed to a great Maharishi, Maha; great, Rishi; seer, a great Maharishi of our tradition. His name was Patanjali, Patanjali. Sometimes mispronounced in the west as Patanjali, but Patanjali is the proper pronunciation.

Maharishi Patanjali, Patanjali, who, about 2,600 years ago, spoke words that were transcribed and that then became the Yoga Sutra.

Yoga Sutra means Yoga. Let’s talk about that for a moment. Yoga. When you say yoga in Western countries, notably United States, Australia, and most of Western Europe, people immediately think of a place that you go where you wear various kinds of stretchy clothing, spandex, and things made by certain brands like Lululemon.

There’s going to be all kinds of, rather showy bending and stretching going on with people applauding breakthroughs of people reaching levels of flexibility that are beyond the normal reach of the average human, and perhaps dovetailed into all kinds of very healthy snacks and maybe a little bit of coffee or tea or other kinds of socializing.

[03:19] That’s Not What Yoga Is

And then there will be perhaps some Om’ing, where people chant Om or chant other kinds of Vedic mantras that come from India. And it’s a fact that according to the yoga journals in the United States, more than 90% of all people who teach such programs either have never been to India or have no plan ever of going to India, the place that’s supposed to be the home of yoga.

So yoga has then turned into an idea of, you do physical postures, bend yourself into all kinds of pretzel positions, and breathe in certain ways. And, in fact, that’s not what Yoga is.

Yoga, when I’m in India, is understood by the masters of Yoga as a state of consciousness. Yoga is a layer of your own consciousness in which you find you have union; this is what the word Yoga means, union of your individuality with the universal consciousness.

The basic idea of Yoga philosophy is that there is one invisible, whole consciousness field known as Brahman, Totality, and it individuates into individual statuses and structures, individual forms and phenomena that are known as relativity, the ever-changing relative world.

The people, the forms, the phenomena, the animals, the creatures, the stars, the space, the elements, all of those things that are ever-changing, and then the one indivisible, whole Absolute field that is non-changing.

[05:21] Asana, Pranayama, Dhyan

And there is a place where, deep inside your consciousness, the relativity of your human condition meets The Absolute, the fountainhead, the source, the unmanifest Unified Field of consciousness, out of which you emerge like a wave emerging out of the ocean. When you can experience that layer, you experience Yoga, union of individuality and universality.

And one of the ways of assisting the mind in arriving at Yoga is to do a thing called asana. asana and pranayama, asana, A-S-A-N-A. Asana means the physical posturing of the body in certain ways to assist with the release of stress, which will come when you meditate after doing the asana.

Pranayama, prana; the life force in the air, yama; to administer a thing. So to administer prana to oneself, to administer the life force in the air, there is a variety of techniques to do with manipulating the breath as it moves in and out of the nostrils. And once you learn asanas and pranayama and practice that, then you’re supposed to meditate.

But meditate doesn’t mean contemplate. It doesn’t mean concentrate. It doesn’t mean to try to think about the stuff that you want in life and get the universe to give it to you. That’s not meditation.

Meditation, Dhyan, properly named in Sanskrit, D-H-Y-A-N, Dhyan is Patanjali, from the Yoga sutras that he wrote, Patanjali’s description of moving to a state of least excitation, Samadhi, S-A-M-A-D-H-I, Samadhi, and letting the mind, let go of its individuality to experience that vast unboundedness, and then to station one’s awareness there is the process of Yoga.

[07:38] Yoga Sutra

Yoga Sutras. Yoga Sutra. Sutra means an intention-laden mental vehicle, Sutra. An aphorism. The Yoga Sutras, the aphorisms or intention-laden mental formulae of the experience of Yoga.

When one regularly experiences the unboundedness of the inner state of Being that is in the place beyond thought, in Samadhi, when you meditate, then a certain experience begins to occur.

The oneness of my individuality with my universality, that layer deep inside me, which is the fountainhead of all that is, that layer deep inside of me, the field of pure Being, is not just my own little personal patch of silence. It’s in fact, the ocean out of which my individuality, my wave of individuality emerges.

When an ocean squishes itself up into a wave, it is still ocean. The wave is not non-ocean. It is undulating ‘ocean hood’. Undulating ocean is a wave. The saltwater of ocean and the saltwater of wave are the same saltwater. The wave in no way is connected to the ocean. It is the ocean, not connected. It is the ocean.

With regular practice of Vedic Meditation, where we settle down into our least-excited state, and we experience that layer where our individuality meets our universality, we experience Yoga, the Yoga state of consciousness.

Then we have the experience developing of Kaivalya, Kaivalya, K-A-I-V-A-L-Y-A, Kaivalya. Kaivalya is described by Patanjali, Maharishi Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, Kaiyalva is described as the experience of Aham Brahmasmi. I, my individuality, am one with Totality. Totality, the underlying consciousness field out of which all things emerge, out of which everything issues forth.

[10:24] Not Just Any Old Meditation

Totality consciousness is my ultimate reality. I am Totality. This experience begins to continue and continue to grow, stabilize, and become one’s identity with regular practice of Vedic Meditation twice every day.

One of the ways in which we can enhance our practice is to incorporate Vedic asanas. That is to say, to learn how to move the body gracefully from one position to the next, without any strain, without any spandex needed, without any breakthrough applause or anything like that. One simply moves the body very relaxedly through a sequence of asana. Asana means gentle bends and stretches, and then learns how to do Pranayama, the administration of prana, the breathing technique, and then practices Vedic Meditation, and then has a little lie-down.

We refer to this as doing ‘a round.’ Asana, pranayama, meditation, lie down. Vedic Meditation, Vedic Meditation, not just any old meditation.

And so then, when we have retreats in the Vedic Meditation world, we have a teacher or multiple teachers supervising while we do multiple rounds in a given day. Regular domestic strength of Vedic Meditation will give the experience of domestic-strength progress.

When we come away on retreats, we get to do industrial-strength meditation in the rounding format, to do a round, asana, pranayama, meditation, lie down. And then to repeat that under supervision of a qualified teacher several times in a given day. It allows the benefit of the growth of Kaivalya, the growth of identification with Totality.

[12:46] Vairagya is Not Detachment

On the flip side of identification with Totality comes another experience. And this is the experience which is defined by Patanjali as Vairagya. Vairagya, Vai, V-A-I-R-A-G-Y-A, Vairagya, Vairagya .

Vairagya is sometimes and most frequently mistranslated as “detachment.” Detachment is then incorrectly defined as a practice that you should engage in because Vairagya is supposed to be a product of that realization of oneness with the Totality, Kaivalya, and Kaivalya is the goal.

Vairagya, when mistranslated as detachment, “I should try not to be attached to things that normally I’m attached to.”

Like, for example, “Oh, I can’t really feel good unless I have a pedicure once a week. That’s not very detached. So let me detach myself from the pedicure. Maybe it comes. Maybe it doesn’t come. Maybe I do it myself. I don’t know. I’ll just try to be detached here.

“I enjoy having a tea or a coffee every morning after my yoga, but my yoga teacher tells me I should practice detachment. So let me see what happens if I just break the habit and don’t have the tea or the coffee.

“Maybe I’m a little attached to the way in which I speak, and I need to be more detached. So I’m gonna practice detachment.”

Let me be very clear. You cannot practice detachment. Practicing detachment is a complete hallucination. You have to be attached to the thing that you’re trying to detach yourself from in order to attempt to detach from it.

[14:56] Detachment Isn’t Possible

It’s just like if somebody was to say to you, “Whatever you do, don’t think of an elephant right now.” Well, you’re thinking of an elephant, the prohibited thing, and the prohibition itself is causing you to think of an elephant. So detachment is not a practice. Not only is it not a practice, it’s supposed to be an outcome of another experience.

We have the experience of stepping beyond the thought and experiencing ourself as Totality. This spontaneously, effortlessly happens during meditation. The meditation component, which is supposed to be there as the final part of a practice of doing asanas and pranayama, meditation, is supposed to follow that.

Meditation means going beyond thought, which can only be done successfully through the systematic practice of Vedic Meditation. Otherwise, one is just sitting around thinking about thinking and calling that meditation, or thinking about not thinking and calling that meditation, and then going away from all of that and trying to become detached from things.

A practice of detachment is going to be a practice of artificial nature. It’s going to turn you into a mood maker, someone who pretends to be in a heightened consciousness state, but who actually, behind the scenes in your own mind and consciousness, you know that you’re not. Someone who is a poser, mood maker.

And so we don’t practice detachment, and we don’t consider detachment to be even something that’s possible to do.

[16:47] Non-Attachment May Occur

Non-attachment may spontaneously occur when I find I am Totality. The things which once upon a time could define me or describe me, relative things like, “Oh, he wears a cowboy hat, so he’s a cowboy. Speaks with a particular accent, so he’s from Louisiana. Perform, behave, whenever trying to express unity and love, behave sexually in this particular way, so he’s a this,” one of the letters of the alphabet.

And so these doings that we do, things we wear, ways we speak, and so on, being the sole identifiers of what it is that we are, giving us an identity, and then living our lives in hopes that none of those things changes because our identity is going to change then. Striving to maintain artificially a particular set of doings so that we’re defined by those doings.

And as we continue experiencing Vedic Meditation, when we have the well-deserved, self-created good fortune to have learned Vedic Meditation, we start to experience increasing growth of Kaivalya. Remember Kaivalya, that inner sense of being defined by, “I am Totality. I am Brahman. I’m Totality.” That inner experience starting to dominate, I can no longer be described or defined by doings.

The clothes that you wore, the accent that you had, the school you went to, the places where the body has been, these things are still descriptive of your individuality, but they’re not descriptive of your new experience of Kaivalya, which is your universality, universality, cosmic nature.

[18:57] Neti – Not This

Cosmic means all-inclusive. “I am predominantly the big Self.” This is what the experience will spontaneously become. “And I’m operating through this individual human body that has a history that I completely acknowledge and adore, but I am not the body. I am not all of these things.”

This spontaneous reckoning that, “I’m not this, I’m not this…” Patanjali used the word Neti. N-E-T-I, Neti, not this, not this, not this, Neti, Neti, Neti, Neti. Neti body, you look at the body, Neti.

Someone who is highly enlightened, their body goes through some kind of thing, whatever it may be, some digestive phenomenon, some non digestive phenomenon, some interaction with a virus, some interaction with a bacterium, some interaction with some aging process or whatever.

These are interactions of a body with the environment, the mind grounded in its identity as, “I am Being, I am Totality, I am Unified Field consciousness…” notes that the body’s going through a variety of things, but may spontaneously have the experience, “I’m a witness of this body,” may spontaneously have the experience, “I am not able to be defined by merely my body,” but you can’t practice that.

[20:32] Detachment is Not a Practice

If you try to practice, “I’m not defined by my body,” but you’re not experiencing Kaivalya, you’re not experiencing that Aham Brahmasmi, I am Totality. You’re not experiencing regular contact with that underlying state. You’re not experiencing the Yoga consciousness state.

Then this kind of, “I’ll detach myself from this. I’ll detach myself from that. Someone just kissed me, that felt really good. Great. Now I’m just gonna detach myself from it. I’m detached.” And then, beyond that, going around, letting people know how detached you are, “I’m detached, I’m detached. I’m detached.”

Someone says, “Oh, I love you so much.” You go, “I’m so happy for you. You must really be enjoying your love of me. I’m totally detached myself.”

This is not the way to make friends. It’s not the way to be a leader of a community. And besides that, it’s a completely failed act. Detachment is not a practice. You can’t decide to detach yourself.

You will continue to be attached even to the phenomenon of trying to be detached. Your new attachment is your attempt to be detached. You’re just getting more attached day by day.

So, a change of my inner definition and Totality can only occur through direct experience of transcendence, Samadhi, as it’s expressed by Patanjali.

[22:12] Detach from Detachment

So, let’s let go of the detachment. Let’s let go of all of this idea about detachment. Detachment is not a thing. Non-attachment may spontaneously occur when you have self-sufficiency, as your identity is one with Totality. Then a spontaneous non-attachment may occur.

Though engaging in the activity, you’re not attached to the activity, non-attached. You’re not detached. You’re non-attached. You might enjoy a milkshake, but the body is enjoying interaction with the milkshake. The consciousness is not solely defined by whatever the body is up to.

This is you spontaneously noting, “I am the witness. I’m the non-attached witness of something my body is enjoying.” But you’re not drinking the milkshake and saying to somebody, “I’m detached,” or refusing to have the milkshake because you want to be detached.

I think now you know the difference between detachment, non-attachment and Vairagya, which is the description of non-attachment, which is a symptom of Kaivalya. Kaivalya that experience, fundamental experience, of identification with Totality.

Jai Guru Deva.

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