What's the difference between the Buddhist concept of non-attachment and being detached?

Q:

What's the difference between the Buddhist concept of non-attachment and being detached?

A:

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between the Buddhist concept of non-attachment and the act of simply being detached? They are sometimes mistaken for one another, but the truth is they’re completely different concepts.

Non-Attachment

Mindfulness

Let’s take relationships, for example. Someone who practices Buddhist non-attachment in an intimate relationship comes to it with pure presence and mindfulness. This person doesn’t lack compassion, empathy or love. Not at all. In fact, Buddhism teaches how to cultivate these qualities, while not attaching oneself to one’s thoughts, emotions and actions or the thoughts, emotions and actions of others. (Learn more about The Art of Mindfulness.)

Happiness

With these Buddhist non-attachment teachings, we learn that happiness doesn’t come from other people. We don’t depend upon our significant other to fulfill all our needs and desires. Instead, we understand that our happiness and well-being come from our own presence, our own consciousness. It comes from knowing that our higher Self cannot be affected by those we love. Unconditional love always comes from our higher Self. We can love deeply and passionately while also practicing non-attachment to situations and outcomes. (Read more about The Wisdom of Non-Attachment.)

Detachment

Avoidance

Detachment, on the other hand, is more an act of avoidance. We might detach from an argument with our partner by avoiding them. We might shut down and ignore our lover, or physically leave the room or even head out to the bar. Unhealthy detachment mechanisms often include drinking alcohol to numb the present discomfort or zoning out in front of the television, detaching from our own needs and the needs of a loved one.

Disinterest

We might also detach out of disinterest. We distance ourselves from the intimacy of love and life when we detach, acting aloof and nonchalant. We escape the present moment through drugs, alcohol, excessive shopping, TV and/or video games. According to Buddhism, this detachment and escapism is a form of human suffering. It’s altogether different from the Buddhist understanding and concept of non-attachment. (Learn more about The Roots of Suffering.)

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Written by Aimee Hughes
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Aimee is a yogi and writer who's been practicing yoga daily for nearly two decades. Since a journey to India when she was 20, the practice has been her constant companion. She loves exploring the vast and seemingly endless worlds of yoga. Aimee has also written a book called, "The Sexy Vegan Kitchen: Culinary Adventures in Love & Sex," available on Amazon. Full Bio