Detachment, Love, and Family

Think about this story. It features a man who is proclaimed to be one of the ideal devotees of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. His name is Gordhanbhai; the townspeople called him Gordhan Gando (Crazy Gordhan). One morning Mrs. Gordhanbhai asked her husband to take the clothes to the river where the dhobi (professional clothes washer) would clean them for the rich landlady. Gordhanbhai took what he thought was the stack of clothes with one hand and flung them over his shoulder. He walked out the door nonchalantly not even noticing that the “clothes” he was carrying were crying and screaming. As he passed his neighbors and townspeople they began to berate with calls of “Oy Gordhon Ganda!!! Stop!! Can’t you hear your child crying on your back!” Gordhanbhai stopped and looked at his right hand. It was only then that he noticed that in his hands were the feet of his little child – not the legs of his lengho. Gordhon apologized to his boy and took back home to the safety of his mother (not as crazy as him in the town’s opinion).

Now hear stories like this all the time and you’d get to thinking that being God’s devotees pretty removes any possibility of healthy relationships in this world. How can you both love your family and be detached from them? How can you be firm in samkhya and yet still have true love for your spouse, children, siblings, or parents? Really is there a balance? Doesn’t seem like it at first glance.

The problems seems to be our misunderstanding of what samkhya vichar, atma vichar, and vairagya are. In particular, samkhya vichar seems problematic. If I’m supposed to constantly remember that the people I love are perishable, not my eternal relatives/lovers, and have the same relationship in eternity as the neighbor’s dog, how can I possibly achieve that fantastically fulfilling love that I crave? So let’s focus on samkhya.

What is samkhya vichar? It is the repeated thought of the fact that all things that are made from Maya (our bodies and any other objects we can think of) will one day perish and return to their composite elements. This does not mean that we should stop all relationship with our bodies or our relatives or other objects – just that we should realize that that love and that relationship is in a context. The other important thing we forget is that samkhya is not an ends of its self. It is a means for our greater end – to become brahmrup and offer loving and humble devotion to Bhagwan Swaminarayan. That is why Gunatitanand Swami calls samkhya, our eyes. They are tools of knowledge that help us achieve what we really wish to achieve – yoga/attachment with God. It is a tool to help the attachments that arise from our false sense of self (aham) and possession (mamatva).

So let’s not get carried away with extreme notions of samkhya and just think of it as a tool for dissolving I-ness and my-ness. Applied to the family what might this mean? I have four thoughts.

  1. My relatives, my wife, my children are not possessions. Not tools that I control. I must look beyond their bodies and realize that they are individual souls.
  2. God lives in each soul. They have a constant relationship with him. As such, not only are they not mine, they are God’s. So, I should love them because they are related to God – not because of their love for me.
  3. In numerous Vachnamruts, Maharaj has give each follower the responsibility of making sure to act in a way that would please God and to help others do the same. We, the souls of the family have been entrusted to each other by God. I should love my family in a way that let’s progress in Satsang.
  4. Samkhya‘s stress on the perishability of our relations and bodies is to help us remember that God and Satpurush’s relationship with us is eternal and not temporary. This knowledge helps us prioritize. Relationships are in the end just levels of priority. We love our friends in much the same way as we love our spouses. But our spouses rank higher because we give them priority. Does that mean we don’t love our friends truly? No, it means that we believe blood is thicker than water. Hopefully, the wife is guaranteed to stay our whole life; friends are here today and maybe less so tomorrow. Similiarly, we love our family truly. It’s just that atma is thicker than blood and so our relationship with God and the Satpurush takes priority.

If you look at samkhya this way, it is not an opposing force to our familial love and harmony but in fact, it may help. Not believing your children and spouse to be your possession might let you stop trying to control them and begin to respect them as individuals. Thinking of them as God’s souls entrusted to you may let you cherish them more as gifts from God while also helping to remember that is God who gave them to you; he is the real cause of your happiness. Like all things in satsang, the actions don’t change, the thoughts and motives must change. That is what detachment’s relationship is to love and family. It is not an opposing force, it is a helping force that gives us clarity of purpose and motivates us to love each other in a genuine and healthy way.

I’ll try to develop this more later.