I think indifference is a better word for detachment. As I explained yesterday, detachment is often associated with renunciation but renunciation of material world is not our goal.
We would say that instead of renouncing the world we want to engage everything in Kṛṣṇa’s service but most of the time it’s beyond our capacity, we can hardly engage ourselves, what to speak of the rest of the world. This leaves us with interest in affairs around us but with no proper engagement and that leads us to undesirable outcomes.
I think our error lies at the beginning here – we mask our attachment to sense enjoyment by pretending we are doing it for Kṛṣṇa, that we are connecting material energy with Kṛṣṇa, that we are doing the world a favor. We subconsciously assume that interactions between our senses and their sense objects are somehow important to the Lord, that He watches these interactions with genuine passion growing into genuine concern when things are not going so well. That’s a delusion, of course, the Lord indifferent.
He sits in our hearts and He has zero interest in what’s going on with our senses, so the moment we tell ourselves that because we are devotees we must engage our senses in sense gratification for the Lord’s pleasure He simply tunes out. It’s like with a girl who can’t stop talking – we can’t start listening, we genuinely can’t, we can’t bring ourselves to participating in her fantasy world. Unlike the Lord, we always have the option to leave, imagine how He must be bored with our self-absorbed tales.
Anyway, where was I? Right – renunciation, detachment, and indifference. Well, renunciation is out, for conditioned souls like us it’s phalgu vairāgya all the way. Detachment is our friend but, as the opposite of attachment, it’s still defined in reference to the material energy. Like Lord Śiva who is permanently marked with association with material universe. However pure He is, this “stain” will always remain on His reputation.
Yesterday I also suggested a way to indirectly cultivate detachment. Even though it should be impossible, its innate connection with attachment can be exploited – by curbing growth of our attachments detachment would naturally follow.
There might be another, more direct way to cultivate detachment – by acquiring knowledge. When we learn true value of material things we tend to lose interest in them. Same often happens when we figure out how things work. We study something, solve all the related mysteries, and lose interest. This brings detachment even without transcendental knowledge per se.
In this sense its akin to overindulgence that leads to senses becoming numb to this particular pleasure, which leads to detachment. I don’t remember where but Nārada Muni once spoke about this method with an air of legitimacy.
It’s easy to see, however, that the path to detachment here lies through taking our attachments to the extreme. Even when we contemplate our attachments theoretically, ie defeat them solely with knowledge, the same principle is still at work, it’s just that instead of exhausting our capacity for sense gratification we exhaust our capacity to understand the world.
There’s nothing more to learn here, we tell ourselves. Learning and understanding, however, are just subtler forms of sense gratification. Māyā means to measure, among other things – desire to understand, estimate, and classify. When we want to know the world we are in māyā.
Indifference, otoh, is absolutely pure. It has no connection with material world whatsoever. We wouldn’t even know what is it that we are indifferent to. With detachment we always know the object, with indifference we are in complete ignorance.
We can’t cultivate indifference, directly or indirectly, it’s either there or it isn’t. It exists only as by product of devotion, it has no other causes and no connections to anything.
With detachment we always know detachment from what. We can always say things like “I’m attracted to serving guru and Kṛṣṇa and that made me detached from eating meat, drinking, gambling, and even sex.” “How about mundane entertainment?” – “I’m detached from most of it”. “How about news?” – “There’s still some work to do”
With indifference we wouldn’t even know what questions to ask. We are not aware of it until someone shoves something into our faces and forces us to express an opinion about it. “I don’t have an opinion, I don’t want to form an opinion on this subject, I don’t even want to know this subject exists.”
Good news is that we are already indifferent to so many things in the world we don’t even know the extent of our fortune. Most of it is based on ignorance, however – not exactly our goal. Our goal is to develop attraction to Kṛṣṇa which would simply squeeze out all existing interests in our lives, the ones we are fully aware of, and pretty soon we’ll become indifferent to them.
There’s an obvious problem with developing attraction to Kṛṣṇa – this attraction, bhakti, is the most treasured thing in all of creations, material and spiritual, it doesn’t come to us very often.
In the absence of genuine bhakti we always find some substitutes and holding onto them will lead us to serious problems, that’s how Gauḍīyā vaiṣṇavism was overrun by apa-sampradāyas in the time of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. In our case it might lead to the problem I stated in the beginning of this post – we foolishly assign spiritual value to our material interests in this world.
This might also lead to a false assumption that if we like things related to Kṛṣṇa then we are spiritually alright. Food, Deities, clothes, decorations, culture, history, philosophy, stories, songs, music, kīrtans, bhajanas, classes, friends – we can have fully material attachments to all those things and indulge ourselves in gratifying our senses and there will be precious little spirituality in our pursuits.
Simple example – everybody in India knows Kṛṣṇa and “loves” Him but devotees are still very rare and difficult to find. It’s of course better to like stories about Kṛṣṇa than stories about Snow White or Cinderella but it’s not enough to develop genuine devotion. At some point our attachment to materially imagined Kṛṣṇa’s forms will hold us back.
What I’m saying is that sometimes we can be indifferent to this folklore, too. What if someone says “I cannot be indifferent to our Deities, they are the most beautiful Deities in the world!” To this I can reply by asking if this person attachment to Kṛṣṇa extends to all the not-so-beautiful Deities, too. Genuinely spiritual attraction would manifest equally to all deity forms, and if we feel indifferent to some of them then we can feel indifferent to all of them, too, we just need the right circumstances to notice our lack of interest.
That is to say – when we fail to see Kṛṣṇa we can become indifferent, too, it would be more honest of us.
Same is true for all other external manifestations of divinity. We can see devotees as our friends, not as Kṛṣṇa’s servants. We can see our guru as our manager, not as our eternal master and the only connection to the Lord. We can treat kīrtans as good music, prasāda as good food, etc etc.
It’s okay to be indifferent to the beauty of the Deities, to the bank of knowledge of our guru, to the friendliness of the devotees, to the pleasant sound of the kīrtan, to the taste of prasāda – all those things are material anyway. Spiritually speaking, poorly decorated deities are as attractive as the best dressed ones, uneducated guru is as good as a top class brāhmaṇa, grumpy devotees are as good as friendly ones, unsalted prasāda is as tasty as the most delicious one and so on.
We shouldn’t waste our time on cultivating these false material attachments and pretend we will be okay. We should become indifferent instead.