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sangAt-samjAyate kAmah kAmAt-krodho'bhijAyate /
krodhAd-bhavati sammohaH sammohAt-smRti-vibhramah /
smRtibramSAd-buddhi-nASaH buddhi nASAt-praNaSyati //
Anxious desire follows attachment;
the (non-fulfillment of) that desire leads to anger;
only one step away is delusion,
followed by a confusion of intellect; and this leads to
the failure of intellect; and thereafter, disaster.
The effort therefore should be to overcome these consequences of attachment and that is what one means 'not to be attached'. If a person can go about one's duties for the sake of duty and not claim authorship, ownership or doership for oneself then one will not be subject to the experience of resultant pleasure or pain. Neither the good results nor the bad results of his actions would bind him. So long as any actions bind him he has to return to the cycle of transmigration. The ultimate purpose is to see that neither the good nor the bad keeps us in bondage. That is why we are advised to be detached.
Total detachment does not mean asceticism. Poverty is not the only gateway to purity. Asceticism usually is taken to mean retiring to the forest and seeking in the serenity of the silence there a communion with the divine. This is certainly a worthwhile goal but this is not prescribed for the millions who cannot but toil in the humdrum world of samsAra. Hinduism has different prescriptions for different levels of seekers. Retiring to the forest as an ascetic is prescribed for those who are ready for the fourth stage of life. For the millions of us, when the scriptures say 'be detached' they mean 'have a detached attitude'. It is the attitude that matters, not the physical act of renuciation. The physical act of renunciation, if it is not simultaneously accompanied by the a complete cessation of the feeling of attachment to anything that binds, is only hypocrisy (gItA, 3 - 6):
karmendriyANi samyamya ya Aste manasA smaran /
indriyArthAn vimUDhAtmA mithyAcAras-sa ucyate //
The one of deluded understanding
who, restraining the organs of action,
sits thinking in his mind of the sense objects,
is called a hypocrite.
On the other hand, being in the world, if you go about its affairs with a feeling of detachment, that is exactly what is wanted of a seeker who is a householder. Karma yoga recognizes that the real evil is not in the physical possessions themselves but in the attachment to them. It is not the ordinary duties involved in the process of earning a livelihood that should be abhorred, but selfishness - which is a consequence of attachment to the non-
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