Unattached Action: How it conserves emotional energy and reduces suffering in life

In the Indian tradition we are repeatedly told that every action should be performed without any attachment to it emotionally. Most often people find it quite difficult to grasp. How can one perform an unattached action without any emotion is what they ask? People say emotions are the primary driving force behind our actions and if we remove them then we will become zombies. They say that while bad actions do originate from bad emotions, however for good actions, good emotions are also needed, so removing emotions behind action will mean both bad and good actions will not happen. This is a valid counterargument and in this article we will discuss this objection.

The answer to this objection is given by Shri Krishna in chapter 3 verse 20 of Bhagavad Gita, where he mentions to Arjuna that while performing the unattached work, keep the welfare of people in mind also. Unattached action without moral direction can make you ruthless. There is actually a very thin line that differentiates the attitude of a saint and a psychopath. Both of them perform unattached action in a manner without worrying too much about the future. The only difference between the two is that the saint acts by keeping the welfare of people in mind while the psychopath does not. You can see how such a small difference between the two makes them totally opposite of each other.

Let’s say that its morning and a mother is taking her child to school on a scooter and suddenly a ditch comes in front that she notices but her child does not. As a result, the child falls from the scooter. A young boy is driving a car at a very high speed on their side and unfortunately the child comes under the car. There was a man who was walking by the road side and saw this event happen right in front of his eyes.

Now think about the mental state of these three people. The mother is highly attached to her child. When she sees that her child has come under the car, she will be horrified. If she is not able to control her emotions then these emotions will paralyze her. She will become flustered and hence will not be able to react well to the situation. This is what happens when we are too attached to everything in our life.

The young boy who was driving the car does not care about the safety of other people, he is living his life without any concern to the future, just enjoying the moment. In this situation that boy will not feel any compassion for the child and will leave the child to die on the road. This is what happens when a person is unattached to this world but at the same time is devoid of moral responsibility.

The man on the side of the road who saw this all happen is also unattached to this whole situation, as the child is not his. But in his actions, he keeps moral responsibility in mind. He is the one in this situation who can keep a cool mind and act in a correct manner. Therefore, he noted down the license plate of the car. He gave instructions to a person near him to give a call to the ambulance. He asked people around him to channel the traffic and gave the child first aid. This is the kind of behavior Indian traditions ask us to cultivate, performing unattached actions with a concern to the well-being of others.

By unattached action we do not mean that you become machine and just do the thing without feeling anything. It actually means that you keep a certain distance from the emotions you are feeling so that you can keep a calm mind which can work effectively in the situations of distress. Attachment to whatever you are doing makes you emotional and thus clouds your understanding of truth. Complete non attachment without any concern for other makes you a psychopath. Only when you perform unattached action while keeping the concern of others in mind is when you perform optimally. Keeping a distance from the emotions makes you grounded in truth and keeps you in touch with real situation. This is how it reduces our suffering and we live a more fulfilling life.

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