The Art of Life|Dec 24, 2014 5:04 AM| by:

On Attachments

As a new year approaches, pondering on a perennial question becomes stronger. How can we really let go of the various attachments that bind us?

Giving up of objects or possessions is meaningless if we can’t let go of the attachment to what those objects or possessions represent. Perhaps we suffer because we are attached not merely to the object itself but to the feeling of gratification that we get from possessing that object. If we can somehow get rid of this desire to feel in possession – which perhaps amounts to the same thing as being in-charge of things, circumstances, people around us –  then we can begin to reduce our suffering.

Sri Aurobindo once said – “Attachment is egoism in love and not love itself”1. When we say we love our parents, children, spouse, house, books, art, furniture, stuff, etc. do we really love them because of who or what they are or because they are “ours”? If we love them because they are ours, then in actuality we are in love only with ourselves. But only our outer, apparent self, the self that likes to ‘own’ and ‘possess’ the ‘others’ for our own pleasure and satisfaction. And that is egoism pure and simple. The people and objects thus in a way become extensions of our ego-self to which we are attached. And because of this attachment to our ego we feel a sense of desire (for caring, loving, protecting) towards those who serve as extensions to our ego. So in a way it is a desire within us that actually gets fulfilled when we take care of someone or when we protect them. We have to let go of this sense of ‘egoism in love’, that is how we can begin to love truly and deeply with no attachment.  It is only when we can get rid of this need to fulfil our desire ‘to love’, ‘to help’, ‘to take care’ we may really begin to learn how to selflessly love, serve and care for others.

It is our ego that is aggrandized when we feel we have done something to help another person. The idea that we are able to help someone by offering advice or by “being there” for them in their difficult time is nothing but egoism at work. When we can get rid of this egoistic feeling that we are helping someone or that the other person needs OUR help and support to come out of their difficult situation, we may begin to practice inner renunciation.

Possession does not have to be of any tangible object, it can be of an idea, opinion, belief or thought. It is the ego that is satisfied when we have convinced others of our viewpoint. If we can get rid of this “need” to hold on to our ideas and opinions, and if we can get rid of this desire to convince others of the truth of our viewpoint, we can begin to practice inner renunciation.

Can we let go of the desire that our actions must lead to a certain outcome? Sometimes there may be no outcome from an action; at least to our little minds it may seem that there has been no visible outcome. Yet we must act. If we can act in that detached way with no consideration to whether there will be any outcome and whether that outcome will be as per our will and preference, we can begin to practice inner renunciation.

Can we really do this? How can we really do this in a way that is lasting and not just occurring as a once-in-a-while phenomenon in a fleeting moment of desireless-ness and selfless-ness? Answer to this question, like all other real questions in life, perhaps lies within.

But perhaps it is also true that the path of letting go of all other attachments becomes easier if we can find a way to ‘attach’ ourselves to something higher, something Divine – within us, in others, in everything and everyone around us. Because then we will be able to gradually shift from our attachment to the outer forms and begin to ‘feel’ more and be in touch with the ‘real’ thing within, the essence and the formless truth of the spirit within the form. To make this shift from an attachment to the outer to a new kind of detached-identification with the inner truth behind the external form is what is needed if we want to progress on the path of true inner renunciation while living and working in the world with all its delights and pleasures.

“The rejection of the object ceases to be necessary when the object can no longer ensnare us because what the soul enjoys is no longer the object as an object but the Divine which it expresses; the inhibition of pleasure is no longer needed when the soul no longer seeks pleasure but possesses the delight of the Divine in all things equally without the need of a personal or physical possession of the thing itself; self-denial loses its field when the soul no longer claims anything, but obeys consciously the will of the one Self in all beings. It is then that we are…released into the liberty of the Spirit”2.


  1. CWSA, Volume 23, pp. 329-30
  2. Sri Aurobindo, CWSA Volume 23, p. 333