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Detachment also expressed as non-attachment, is a state in which a person overcomes his or her attachment to desire for things, people or concepts of the world and thus attains a heightened perspective.
Antiquity to sixteenth century
- Then there is a very small remnant … of worthy disciples of philosophy: perchance some noble nature, brought up under good influences, and in the absence of temptation, who is detained by exile in her service, which he refuses to quit; or some lofty soul born in a mean city, the politics of which he contemns or neglects; and perhaps there may be a few who, having a gift for philosophy, leave other arts, which they justly despise, and come to her; and peradventure there are some who are restrained by our friend Theages' bridle (for Theages, you know, had everything to divert him from philosophy; but his ill-health kept him from politics). My own case of the internal sign is indeed hardly worth mentioning, as very rarely, if ever, has such a monitor been vouchsafed to any one else. Those who belong to this small class have tasted how sweet and blessed a possession philosophy is, and have also seen and been satisfied of the madness of the multitude, and known that there is no one who ever acts honestly in the administration of States, nor any helper who will save any one who maintains the cause of the just. Such a saviour would be like a man who has fallen among wild beasts—unable to join in the wickedness of his fellows, neither would he be able alone to resist all their fierce natures, and therefore he would be of no use to the State or to his friends, and would have to throw away his life before he had done any good to himself or others. And he reflects upon all this, and holds his peace, and does his own business. He is like one who retires under the shelter of a wall in the storm of dust and sleet which the driving wind hurries along; and when he sees the rest of mankind full of wickedness, he is content if only he can live his own life and be pure from evil or unrighteousness, and depart in peace and good will, with bright hopes.
- Plato, The Republic, 496d
- And with how free an eye doth he look down
- Upon these lower regions of turmoil?
- Where all the storms of passions mainly beat
- On flesh and blood: where honour, power, renown,
- Are only gay afflictions, golden toil;
- Where greatness stands upon as feeble feet,
- As frailty doth; and only great doth seem
- To little minds, who do it so esteem.
- Samuel Daniel, To the Lady Margaret, Countess of Cumberland
- My third maxim was to endeavor always to conquer myself rather than fortune, and change my desires rather than the order of the world, and in general, to accustom myself to the persuasion that, except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power. ... This single principle seemed to me sufficient to prevent me from desiring for the future anything which I could not obtain, and thus render me contented. ... But I confess there is need of prolonged discipline and frequently repeated meditation to accustom the mind to view all objects in this light; and I believe that in this chiefly consisted the secret of the power of such philosophers as in former times were enabled to rise superior to the influence of fortune, and, amid suffering and poverty, enjoy a happiness which their gods might have envied.
- Descartes, Discourse on Method (1637), J. Veitch, trans. (1899), part 3
- I look down from my height on nations
And they become ashes before me.
- A man is intellectual in proportion as he can make an object of every sensation, perception and intuition; so long as he has no engagement in any thought or feeling which can hinder him from looking at it as somewhat foreign. … Indeed, this is the measure of all intellectual power among men, the power to complete this detachment.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Natural History of Intellect, Complete Works (1883), vol. 12, p. 38
- Nations! What are nations? … Like insects, they swarm. The historian strives in vain to make them memorable.
- Henry David Thoreau, "Life Without Principle" (1863)
- The Ancients … subjected themselves to a fierce discipline of detachment from public opinion. Although they inevitably had to try to influence political life in their favor, they never seriously thought of themselves as founders or lawgivers. The mixture of unwise power and powerless wisdom, in the ancients’ view, would always end up with power strengthened and wisdom compromised. He who flirts with power, Socrates said, will be compelled to lie with it.
- Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), pp. 284-285
- Goethe, … who lived through the struggle against Napoleon, was once asked how he had managed to exist during the days of shame, defeat, and humiliation. He replied: “I have nothing to complain of. Like one who, from the fastness of a cliff, gazes down on the raging sea, unable to help the ship-wrecked crew, but also out of the reach of the billows—according to Lucretius, a not unpleasant feeling—I have been standing in security, and have watched the fury of the storm passing by me.” ...
It was not only on the political combats and storms of his emasculate fellow-countrymen that Goethe looked down with indifference; to those troubles of the heart, which Rousseau’s teaching had quickened, a philanthropic and educational enthusiasm, he was not merely apathetic ; he was positively hostile. ...
“As of old Lutherdom, so now French ideals are forcing us away from a peaceful development of culture,” he used to say.
- Oscar Levy, The Revival of Aristocracy (1906), pp. 29-30
- Nothing is rarer than giving no importance to things that have none.
- Through detachment man learns to withdraw his interest and his consciousness from the things of the senses, and to turn a deaf ear to the calls of the lower nature. Detachment imposes a new rhythm upon the man. Through learning the lesson of dispassion he becomes immune to the suffering of the lower nature as he detaches his interest from secondary things and the non-essentials, and centres it upon the higher realities. Through the practice of discrimination the mind learns to select the good, the beautiful and the true. These three practices, leading to a changed attitude towards life and reality, will, when held sanely, bring in the rule of wisdom...
- He will talk about honesty of mind, sincerity of spirit, and detachment. These are the three. He gives them as three very potent forces of evolution. They are potent because they are the essentials. They are the essentials because only in growing detachment can you advance to the point... of being Self-realized. Only through honesty of mind and sincerity of spirit can you become detached. Unless you become detached, you cannot do the others. Unless you do the others, you cannot become detached.
...Without detachment, you cannot make one step forward in evolution. A growing detachment, by its very nature, frees you from identification with your body, your emotions, your mental concepts. That is how the steps are taken. I would say, read Maitreya’s teachings and put them into practice. Read Krishnamurti and put it into practice. It is not simply a question of reading and knowing; it is a question of putting it into practice. They are talking about exactly the same thing, the same process — detachment.
- Benjamin Creme, in Maitreya's Mission Vol. III (1997), p. 285
- One of the easiest ways to know me, Maitreya says, is to be honest in your mind, be sincere in your spirit, and practice detachment. Any action performed with dishonesty of mind, an insincere spirit and attachment is destructive. For example, when you think one thing, say another, and do something which is different again, you are lost. Honesty of mind leads to honest speech and honest action. This harmony leads to peace and happiness. Without detachment there is no salvation. Be what you are. Do not surrender your self-respect, your dignity, to others. Do not allow anyone to cast his shadow over you. A Master gives experiences, but does not cast his shadow. Do not follow one another. If you practice honesty of mind, sincerity of spirit and detachment, you will know me, you will know...
- Maitreya's Teachings on On the art of Self-realization
- Attachment makes our mind run after the things we are attached to, and so instability develops within the mind. When we are attached, our mind cannot be still, it is always flickering, is always in a disturbed state... Without knowledge we become restless, but knowledge brings steadiness of mind which leads to detachment. Through detachment, everything we do in this world will have value, will only bear very good fruit... and the world will be better for that.
- Swami Nirliptananda Detachment brings peace and harmony