THE GIFT OF DETACHMENT
There was a time in India when a strong and beautiful type of social organization prevailed under the power of Brahmanical law. The fabled law-giver, Manu, had established a pattern of society based on a very remarkable grasp of the differences inherent in the various levels of human nature, and of the characteristics of the various phases of a human life. According to this code of laws every human being was theoretically to perform at any time the tasks which were the most natural to him; that is, which followed along the normal and expectable "line of least resistance" of his organic, glandular or bio-psychological faculties.
Obviously, such a principle of conduct could easily lead to social chaos and anarchy if human beings let themselves be motivated by the typical selfish desires of their personal egos, which very often, especially in intellectually conditioned persons, rebel against natural rhythms and functions. Thus the clever person might force upon his less bright comrades many duties to which he finds himself superior, simply as a matter of wanting selfishly to escape their performance. Besides, there is in every organism a tendency to keep repeating forever pleasant (or even, at times, painful) acts, rather than go into a new and unfamiliar realm of experience. It was therefore necessary to establish norms of natural behavior; norms varying according as men were born out of one type or another of racial and social conditions, or showed one kind or another of biological and psychological characteristics. The four "castes" of India, now known only in degenerate forms, were originally such "norms" of social-biological temperament and behavior. They constituted the regulating principles of social behavior and the foundation of a thoroughly planned social and economic system.
The life of every man was also divided into four "ages". To each age, or period, a general type of duty - a certain type of relationship between the individual and the community was ascribed. Through his youth, the individual learnt from the elders and assimilated the results of the past of society. From his early twenties onward, the individual contributed to the substance of his community, providing it with children and the physical products of agriculture, trade, etc. Then, as a fully mature man whose children had reached some degree of independence, the individual led the process of social and cultural development, working for society as a whole rather than for his family. Finally, as a man in old age, he turned his attention to the next step, death, and learnt to prepare himself for death and the after-death by detaching himself from all earthly connections.
During this last phase of life the old man often took his abode under a tree in the forest usually surrounding his village or town, there to meditate upon the deeper realities of life and of the beyond of embodied existence. The course of these meditations led him naturally because of the glandular as well as psychological change in his personality - to a progressive retirement or detachment from the things which had seemed so important to him while engaged in an active biological and social existence. What was "breath of life" came to be reinterpreted as "spirit" - the name for both being often identical in ancient culture. What was "sex" became to him the creative Power of the universe, Brahma - the force of expansion. Thus, the old man, in his meditations, progressively gave a new meaning to his familiar experiences: a transcendent, or ideal meaning.
In time there developed in India a type of men who, having thus retired into the forest to meditate upon death and release, formulated an attitude to life which eventually became the core of all later-date Hindu philosophies. The teachings of these Forest-Philosophers to the few disciples who gathered around them became formulated in a series of discourses generally called "Upanishads". These constitute the source of the transcendent, idealistic philosophy which has dominated the religious life of humanity ever since, flowering eventually in Christian mysticism after having reached a modified and more absolute expression in the teachings of Gautama the Buddha in the sixth century B.C. At the root of such a philosophy is the concept and the practice of "detachment".
It is very important for us to realize today that the society which developed under the caste-system of Manu was, for the time and in relation to the general evolutions of mankind in India, as perfect a type of "planned society" as could be devised. Every social activity was not only planned, but ritualized and consecrated by religious practices, and enforced by occult-religious sanctions. "Nature" was enforced by divine authority. Everything (in theory, at least) was as it should be according to the rhythm of human and earth nature; but man's consciousness was thereby completely attached to these natural rhythms. Even when, in old age, individuals came to experience detachment and release, this still was according to plan.
However, in planning for an ultimate state of life in which men should seek release from the planning itself, the old Hindu society sowed the seeds of its dissolution. The Forest-Philosophers taught detachment and transcendent individualism to the few who were ready, according to the time-honored plan. Buddha, however, taught detachment and practical everyday individualism to every human being - and freedom from the bondage to any plan, be it nature's plan or the Manu's laws. He taught detachment as a positive technique of living for every man to use at any time; a technique leading to a perfect state or condition of being which any man, whatever his birth, could attain. The revolutionary effect of his teaching was tremendous. It changed the course of human development and laid the foundation for Christian individualism and the Christian gospel of universal love.
Gautama, the Buddha, was born at the Full Moon of May; and, according to tradition, reached illumination and died at this same Full Moon. Whether it be fact or symbol, this in any case should be of capital significance to the student of zodiacal symbolism; for it places a strong emphasis upon the deep meaning of the sign, Taurus. Taurus signifies man's complete subservience to the natural rhythm of human activity. It is the symbol of "attachment". Attachment, here, does not necessarily imply a negative or compulsive bondage to nature; but it means a very deep identification with the energies of human nature, with the evolutionary processes operating within man normally in a subconscious manner, and leading us to goals ordained by Life, or by God.
Historically speaking, the period of centuries which, according to the cycle of precession of the equinoxes, is identified with the symbol of Taurus (third and fourth millenia B.C.) was the period of "vitalistic" religions, in which the powers of natural fertility were deified. Natural fertility is indeed the keynote of the Taurus type of human being. The people of the great agricultural cultures of this Age believed that human beings could only grow through their attachment to the rhythmic powers of nature.
During the second millenium B.C. the attitude of detachment began very slowly to challenge the one of attachment. The Taurean Age had passed. But it was only with the Buddha that the new orientation was publicly formulated as a universally valid philosophy and a practical religious attitude which promised "salvation" from the suffering and the dying inherent in nature - salvation from bondage to any planned society and ritualized religion as well as freedom from individual misery.
The old Hindu attitude of detachment was based on the fact that a time comes when we must let go of what we possess and enjoy, of body and life; when that time comes, we must learn to meet this unavoidable phase of detachment gracefully and with a quiet feeling of harmony and identification with the infinite. This, however, was a negative or passive attitude toward detachment. In its place the Buddha sought to substitute a positive and deliberate attitude of detachment. He taught that it could be reached through an objective and rational understanding of the nature of ourselves as living personalities and of the world as a whole - through total awareness, through a scientific analysis of all our reactions and of the cyclic series of causes and effects to be found wherever there are living organisms, and through the control of desires.
This control was not to be obtained by means of will-full acts of repression as much as by the focusing of the clear intelligence upon the process of formation, growth and unavoidable disappearance of all these desires, impulses and emotions which, if we identify our consciousness and ego with them, throw us into the tragic world of joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain.
Our attachment to the objects of natural desire must end in sorrow; our attachment to life must end in death. Why then not give up at the start, willingly and resolutely, what we will have to give up inevitably sooner or later in the midst of pain and anguish? To kill the seed of pain by withering the weed of desire with the fire of awareness and understanding: this is to be wise. This is to follow the Noble Path, Arya Dharma — the "truth that sets all men free".
All men; not only the Brahmins or the Initiates in ritual Mysteries! There is no caste before the truth of the Buddha. There is no special age to learn the liberating secret of detachment. The sword of detachment and severance must be wielded by the strong mind and the noble soul; but these can be found in a low-cast barber (an outstanding disciple of the Buddha) as well as in the highly educated philosopher. This sword cuts through the veil of nature, cuts through the magnetic-electrical polarities of life and death, love and hatred, joy and sorrow, which are at the root of human nature - nay, of all nature. Aware of the essential meaninglessness of the perpetual ebbs and flows of the vast ocean of universal life, the Sage identifies himself neither with ebb nor with flow. He follows the Middle Path, the Path of Equilibrium. Being attached to neither polarity of life, desiring nothing in particular - even not to cease desiring! - he enters a state or condition of being which is beyond nature: Nirvana.
This word has been grossly misunderstood by Westerners and by a vast number of Hindus themselves. It means symbolically "absence of vehicle". It refers to a state in which the consciousness is free from attachments to the particular mode of operation of a particular type of "vehicle", -system, organization, or natural organism. It is consciousness unconditioned by nature and its many "wheels", its fateful cycles of birth, death and rebirth. It is consciousness poised at the hub of any and all wheels, where there is repose in the midst of motion and emotion.
All compound things must come to decay. Every entity finding its expression in a particular shape, name or set of attributes will have to lose at some future time this shape, name or set of attributes. That only escapes the universal decay of complex substances - thus, of nature - which, being simple and single, finds its manifestation in any thing or condition whatsoever.
What is "That"? The Buddha shunned to give answers to all metaphysical questions. He was a practical realist, a technologist. He taught: Give up attachment to all desires and you will be "That". Nirvana is a condition. It does not refer to any being, however transcendent or divine, for any one to worship. It is a practical condition for you to reach, now. You can reach it. All men can reach it, if they dare to understand and to face the inevitable end of all things; if they dare to uproot from their inner being and consciousness the profound cause of all bondage and all suffering; if they dare to be free; if they not only dare, but perseveringly apply the technique of liberation. All else has no ultimate value or meaning.
This message of detachment is the answer to the Taurus type of personality, because in the symbolical language of the Zodiac, Taurus identifies the type of person who lives fundamentally in his or her attachment to nature and to the ideal of natural growth and fulfillment in substantial, earth-born organisms. This attachment to, and identification with the rhythm of the universe can produce great beauty and an extraordinary richness of response to life and love; and in an age of mechanical artificiality, as ours is, the Taurean characteristics may be very precious. Taurus is a magnificent song of bondage to "life". It is the wondrous slave of a master great beyond all measure. Yet the Buddha came to show that greater still is the spirit within man.
This spirit is slave to no master; not even to life, to love, or to any god summoned by man's eternal desire for a universal Father upon whom to place the burden of the world's guidance or liberation. The spirit within every man is inherently free. It knows no decay. It knows no pain. The ebbs and flows of universes and cycles succeed one another along the rim of Time's endless wheel. All things return to whence they came. All beginnings are already deaths in disguise. But within the core of all human experiences there is that stillness and that peace which can be felt where all feeling ceases, which can be known in the failure of all knowledge.
To be that stillness and that peace - this is the only "salvation"; this alone is freedom. Strive after it diligently, incessantly - yet... unhurriedly, serenely, without desire for its gifts. Strive after it; until there is no need any longer for striving; until there is no need whatsoever; until there is nothing whatsoever.
An Astrological Triptych