Detachment (philosophy)

Detachment, also expressed as non-attachment, is a state in which a person overcomes their attachment to desire for things, people or concepts of the world and thus attains a heightened perspective. It is considered a wise virtue and is promoted in various Eastern religions, such as Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism and Buddhism. It is also a key concept in Christian spirituality (often referred to by the Greek term apatheia), where it signifies a detachment from worldly objects and concerns.

Importance of the term

Detachment as release from desire and consequently from suffering is an important principle, or even ideal, in the Baháʼí Faith, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Stoicism, and Taoism.

In Buddhist and Hindu religious texts the opposite concept is expressed as upādāna, translated as “attachment”. Attachment, that is the inability to practice or embrace detachment, is viewed as the main obstacle towards a serene and fulfilled life. Many other spiritual traditions identify the lack of detachment with the continuous worries and restlessness produced by desire and personal ambitions.


Flower of an Indian Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)

The lotus symbolizes non-attachment in some religions in Asia owing to its ability to grow in muddy waters yet produce an immaculate flower.

Detachment is one of the supreme ideals of Jainism, together with non-violence. Non-possession/non-attachment is one of the Mahavratas, the five great vows Jain monks observe. Detachment is meaningful if accompanied by the knowledge of self as a soul; moreover, it can serve as the means for attaining self realization. According to Jain saint Shrimad Rajchandra, for those who are lifeless ritualists, mere bodily restraint does not become helpful in attaining self-realization — detachment and such other attributes are the requisites for attaining it. Therefore, he suggests one should undertake such activities, but one must not get stuck there. One cannot get rid of the root cause of birth and death without self-realization. As such, a Jain must understand and apply detachment for the purpose of gaining realization. However, he states that if one bears hardships that do not lead to a reduction in defilement, one becomes strayed from the path to liberation.

Baháʼí Faith

Thou hast inquired about detachment. It is well known to thee that by detachment is intended the detachment of the soul from all else but God. That is, it consisteth in soaring up to an eternal station, wherein nothing that can be seen between heaven and earth deterreth the seeker from the Absolute Truth. In other words, he is not veiled from divine love or from busying himself with the mention of God by the love of any other thing or by his immersion therein.

The second definition is in the Words of Wisdom:

The essence of detachment is for man to turn his face towards the courts of the Lord, to enter His Presence, behold His Countenance, and stand as witness before Him.

— Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 155)


Main article: Nekkhamma

Regarding the concept of detachment, or non-attachment, Buddhist texts in Pali mention nekkhamma, a word generally translated as “renunciation”. This word also conveys more specifically the meaning of “giving up the world and leading a holy life” or “freedom from lust, craving and desires.”

The writings of Milarepa are canonical Mahayana Buddhist texts that emphasize the temporary nature of the physical body and the need for non-attachment.

Detachment is a central concept in Zen Buddhist philosophy. One of the most important technical Chinese terms for detachment is “wú niàn” (無念), which literally means “no thought.” This does not signify the literal absence of thought, but rather the state of being “unstained” (bù rán 不染) by thought. Therefore, “detachment” is being detached from one’s thoughts. It is to separate oneself from one’s own thoughts and opinions in detail as to not be harmed mentally and emotionally by them.


Eastern Christian monasticism cultivated practices of detached watchfulness which were designed to calm the passions and lead to an ongoing state of calm detachment known as apatheia.

In Western Christianity, Ignatian spirituality encourages detachment, sometimes referred to as indifference, in order to maximize a person’s availability to God and to their neighbors.


The Hindu view of detachment comes from the understanding of the nature of existence and the true ultimate state sought is that of being in the moment. In other words, while one is responsible and active, one does not worry about the past or future. The detachment is towards the result of one’s actions rather than towards everything in life. This concept is cited extensively within Puranic and Vedic literature, for example:

One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus is untouched by muddy water.

— Bhagavad Gita 5.10:

Vairagya is a Hindu term which is often translated as detachment.


The Tao Te Ching expressed the concept (in chapter 44) as:

Fame or Self: Which matters more? Self or Wealth: Which is more precious? Gain or Loss: Which is more painful? He who is attached to things will suffer much. He who saves will suffer heavy loss. A contented man is rarely disappointed. He who knows when to stop does not find himself in trouble. He will stay forever safe.


The Christian practices of detachment derive from ancient Greek philosophy, most notably Stoicism. According to the Stoics, apatheia, which can be translated as equanimity, was the quality that characterized the sage.

Whereas Aristotle had claimed that virtue was to be found in the golden mean between an excess and a deficiency of emotion (metriopatheia), the Stoics thought that living virtuously provided freedom from the passions, resulting in apatheia. It meant eradicating the tendency to react emotionally or egotistically to external events, the things that cannot be controlled. For Stoics, it was the optimally rational response to the world, for things cannot be controlled if they are caused by the will of others or by Nature; only one’s own will can be controlled. That did not mean a loss of feeling, or total disengagement from the world. The Stoic who performs correct (virtuous) judgments and actions as part of the world order experiences contentment (eudaimonia) and good feelings (eupatheia).

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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