How To Cope With Pain Blog header image 1

What Hinduism Can Offer To Help With Your Pain: Part III

June 4th, 2007 · No Comments

This post is in a series about Hinduism and Pain. Today, we’ll look at Attachment and Detachment to Things in this World.

Attachment and detachment are concepts that in Hindu traditions relate to one’s level of involvement in this world and to the power this world holds over one’s state of mind. Attachment signifies overinvolvement in this world, having desires for things that one does not have and clinging to things one has. Detachment is a positive state of objectivity toward this world, where relationships, objects, and circumstances hold no power over one’s state of mind.

Attachment is a primary stumbling block to achieving moksha (complete release from this world). Attachment perpetuates the terrible bondage that keeps a person in the cycles of samsara (rebirth). Only through recognition that the Self is not bound to this world of suffering can release be achieved.

Perfect detachment creates an even disposition in the face of either happiness or sorrow. When someone achieves perfect detachment, no problem or circumstance, including pain, can cause her to suffer. From The Bhagavad-Gita:

Contacts with matter make us feel
heat and cold, pleasure and pain.
Arjuna, you must learn to endure
fleeting things they come and go!

When these cannot torment a man,
When suffering and joy are equal
for him and he has courage,
he is fit for immortality.

What suggestions are made for achieving this detachment? It can’t be simply an intellectual understanding that the Self is part of God/The Ultimate. It isn’t escapist, pretending that suffering doesn’t exist.

One part of achieving detachment is to follow dharma (appropriate action), but to be unconcerned with the outcomes of these actions. In The Bhagavad-Gita, a seeker of wisdom Arjuna is told:

Be intent on action,
not on the fruits of action;
avoid attraction to the fruits
and attachment to inaction!

Perform actions, firm in discipline,
relinquishing attachment;
be impartial to failure and success-
this equanimity is called discipline.

We who have pain are not to be passive and give up, and can continue to attempt to lessen our suffering. The ultimate goal would be to become neutral in the face of whatever outcome occurs, to not desperately strive for pain relief. Most important, however, would be to refocus away from pain to dharma.

The guidance to seek detachment from outcomes would likewise apply to those who treat patients, though this may challenge the outcome-orientation of Western medicine. Lack of immediate success in treating patients can be frustrating; however, an approach based in Hindu traditions would suggest continuing to try one’s utmost to heal patients but not becoming upset by failure. The dharma for a pain practitioner would be to be the best practitioner possible, while accepting all outcomes.

To be clear, this wouldn’t suggest becoming indifferent to patients’ suffering. Hindu traditions would support still caring deeply for patients, but needing to recognize that physicians aren’t in control of outcomes, nor know what’s the appropriate outcome from the perspective of karma.

Specific tools for achieving detachment also include meditation and yoga. These tools teach the understanding and control of one’s mind, and seeing beyond one’s mind to God/The Ultimate. As the focus of one’s life should be on God/The Ultimate, priority is given to this inner journey, with less focus on the world. By becoming less attached to one’s circumstances, including being in pain, a person can focus his life on God/The Ultimate, not pain. Hindu traditions hold that all have a capacity to achieve this.

Spiritual assistance and support are also to be found in God/The Ultimate. One way to know God/The Ultimate is through devotion, the way of bhakti. Bhakti implies that God/The Ultimate is accessible and knowable, in personal terms. A practice of some Hindus is to pray to God/The Ultimate, to ask for support in facing problems, believing that their suffering will be relieved and support will be provided.

Tags: 1