“Detachment, or nonattachment, can easily be seen in a negative light as indifference, and yet when understood in a certain way is absolutely fundamental to spiritual practice.”
Francesca Fremantle is a scholar and translator of Sanskrit and Tibetan works of Hindu and Buddhist tantra, and was a student of Chögyam Trungpa, with whom she worked closely on the 1975 translation of the ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’.
Fremantle received her doctorate from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
A Tantric View of Non-Attachment
“Tantra is described as giving both liberation and enjoyment, and constantly emphasizes the blissful aspect of enlightenment; it is one of the many paradoxes of the spiritual path that the greatest enjoyment comes through detachment. Tantra teaches us to enjoy consciously, to enjoy with awareness, but awareness itself simultaneously causes and is the result of a subtle movement of detachment. This is not an external distancing of oneself from life or from people, but an inner separation from the lower, limited self, with its false perceptions of the external world. Ordinarily we identify completely with this little self, it lives our lives for us, and we experience everything through it, but at the same time it produces a sense of limitation and bondage, of being controlled by our reactions instead of being in charge of them. Whenever we catch sight of this mechanism in operation, and become aware of it as a direct experience, immediately there is a feeling of opening out, a sense of space in which we have room to stand back and see what is really happening. We experience a new and quite different kind of presence, an ‘I’ who is less personal, less involved, and who can observe calmly the unnecessary problems the little self creates.
When we are happy we usually do not want to hear anything about detachment, because the little self likes being involved in pleasant experiences and thinks it would spoil the fun. Yet flashes of awareness can often occur spontaneously through emotions of happiness, wonder or love. Joy opens the heart and elevates the mind. There is a sudden feeling of expansion; it is no longer just our own personal joy, but it becomes part of the wider awareness of the impersonal presence.”
“…The path of Tantra is said to be appropriate for people of strong passions, and it teaches us to experience every kind of emotion fully and completely. Emotions are forms of energy, and we need this energy for our spiritual life, for greater consciousness. Detachment should not be a dilution of energy, but a means of redirecting it to its proper use. If we try to ignore or suppress an emotion, or to make ourselves indifferent, we are actually deadening a part of ourselves and depriving ourselves of a source of energy. But what we often think of as intense emotion is usually really extreme entanglement in emotion. We say we ‘lose control’, we ‘can’t help getting angry’, ‘fall helplessly in love’, and so on. But if a flash of awareness comes, we feel a sudden release from that entanglement, and the emotion takes on an abstract quality of pure, neutral energy. Whatever the original impulse may have been, this experience brings a tremendous sense of joy and freedom; it is like dancing in empty space.”
– Excerpts from Buddhism Now – December, 1990
Book to hang out with: Luminous Emptiness
The Tibetan Book of the Dead, a best-seller for three decades, is one of the most widely read texts of Tibetan Buddhism. Luminous Emptiness is a detailed guide to this classic work, elucidating its mysterious concepts, terms, and imagery. Fremantle relates the symbolic world of the Tibetan Book of the Dead to the experiences of everyday life, presenting the text not as a scripture for the dying, but as a guide for the living.
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