Sunday, November 21, 2010

Will you die unhappy?

Today, I saw an interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on CNN-IBN. The Dalai Lama was being interviewed by Karan Thapar, the host of Devil's Advocate. For most of the interview, Karan Thapar focused on the issue of Tibet. However, when you are talking to the Dalai Lama, you can always expect to hear some great words of wisdom even when the topic of discussion is political affairs. Here's something that caught my attention:

After a long discussion on the problems with respect to the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Thapar asked: God forbid you die before you return to Tibet, will you die unhappy?
Dalai Lama: Not necessarily. When you become a Bhikshu, theoretically [you are] no longer attached with one's family (referring to Tibet and its people as his family).
Karan Thapar: So the attachment has gone?
Dalai Lama: No no no... the important thing is one's own daily life should be meaningful.

This above conversation had a profound impact on me. Detachment is a goal that is talked about a lot in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, but from the above conversation it became clear that even the Dalai Lama had not fully realized the ideal of detachment. It gave me some solace, because I have been struggling to stay in the state of detachment beyond very short intervals of time. But looks like, there is still hope, because one can be happy by making one's daily life meaningful.

Recently, I noticed the wisdom in the Dalai Lama's words being practiced by a friend who recently suffered a heartbreak. Obviously she was under a lot of pain after her partner had walked out of her life. However, she had successfully made changes in her life that made her daily existence very meaningful. She had started meditating, and was trying in her own small way to make people around her happy. Consequently, there was an aura of peace surrounding her that I hadn't noticed before.

The point is that we will never get all that we want in life. And most likely we will not get the very thing that we want the most in life. We can develop an attitude of detachment towards our wishes and intentions. However, I am coming to realize that detachment is more of an ideal that we--lesser mortals--can only strive to come close to. Achieving a permanent state of detachment is very difficult. But thankfully, we can still be happy by working on making each and every day of our existence meaningful. We can all make a conscious contribution to the world daily in ways that make our existence for that day worthwhile. "Living happily ever after" is too lofty to be realistic, but making today a happy day is very doable. So, no matter what happens today, it can always be a meaningful and worthwhile day. I guess that's all there is to happiness.


  1. I have very opposite idea from you. According to me detachment is a runaway attitude and a kind of defense mechanism. With this attachment only one can be happy and can do something meaningful in his/her life.We should attach with somebody so we can give meaning of life with him/her or without him/her. Attachment is a flow of life, actually it is a meaning of life, it can be with a person,idea,goal and institute or nation.

  2. Nice thoughts Paresh! But something common that great masters preach is that unhappiness is only a state of mind when one does not have the objects/situations of one's liking. I have not realized a happy state of mind like the great masters do, but I do understand that it is not bound by a situation, a day or a week.

    Everybody is already born in that state - 'Sat-chit-ananda'. The society makes us forget it. I love watching little children as they teach us a lot about detachment.


  3. @ Prachi, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I see your point that detachment can be like a psychological defense mechanism. Many people sure take sanyaas in response to something they couldn't get in life, but that would not be true detachment. In Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, detachment does not mean running away from life. Instead it means embracing life, but in a way where one is not fixated on any particular thing or outcome. I think this idea of detachment is best explained in the Bhagavad Gita (5.10), where detachment is described with the metaphor of lotus leaves which though immersed in water remain untouched by it.

  4. @ Anupama, thank you for sharing your thoughts as well. I completely agree with you that a large part of our unhappiness is caused by our conditioned response to societal expectations. So yes, we surely can learn a lot from those young children who are still not under the full grasp of societal norms and expectations. I too believe that our essential nature is Sat-Chit-Ananda. Unfortunately, we are not always in tune with this channel of truth-consciousness-bliss, and consequently we suffer from a lot of static noise. But as long as a person realizes that one is suffering from cross-connection, there is hope. :)

  5. Each moment I experience detachment and extreme love within myself ...constantly(Paradox..but true) ....only attached to my aloneness but not lonley at all ..the mantra... have learened to live by my heart and not head ....

  6. @ Aparna, thank you for sharing your experiences. It is said that true love comes only from detachment. So, I can understand how you feel extreme love and detachment at the same time. I am not there yet, but hopefully someday I will be. For the time being, it's living as whole(heart)edly as I can :)