Is it really possible to enjoy life without ambition, desire, and attachment as religious philosophies suggest? Where will motivation to do anything come from?

The common answers found for this question usually swing between morality(“Because God said so”) and practicality(“We can try whatever is practically possible”) But that’s not needed. If you understand what the teachings really mean – it makes absolute, logical, meaningful sense. 

The other good news is, you do not have to use labor, hardwork, ‘will power’ to do it – just understand how it works. Once you see it, Then change/transformation becomes inevitable. Let us see how.

Warning: This needs us to explore nuances, and go beyond standard interpretations we hold on to. So please bear with me…I promise your investment of 10 minutes will be worth it.

Desire – Desire in itself is not bad. The want to attain Nirvana, Moksha, transcend suffering – its all desire? The problem is failing to understand the mechanics of desire, and falling into the trap of attachment.

Attachment: You can never be attached to ‘desire’ or ‘action’. Desire is the origin, and action is always moving. You need something static – the result/object of your desire. This can be something physical like a car, house, money. Or something mental like an ‘image’ – when you get a promotion, fame, power. But static. Attachment brings in conditional/constrained effort. “I will not act unless I am certain about the result”, “Why should I act if I do not get a result?”

Attachment limits our potential: “I can do 1000x, but why should I do it if I am going to GET only 10x in return?” Your attachment puts a boundary to your potential. Incentives define your limit. True fulfillment comes from realizing our full potential – so you can see what ‘holding ourselves back’ might do!! 

But if you do for the sake of doing, results become a natural side-effect; but not the limiting criteria or end-goal. As you can see, this is not just a matter of degree. Working/growing for the sake of working/growing results in a paradigm shift. Its where passion resides. 

All else is just forced labor and stress masking as success – not genuine internal joy. We never ask “What is the max that I can do?” but only ask “What is the minimum I need to do to attain the promised result”

Attachment brings suffering: When we are attached to a result, we work under the fear of losing what we have, or not getting what we want. The normal state is ‘fear’. Achievement of the result or ‘success’ then just becomes a temporary relief from fear, until we get back to the fear cycle again. 

So our life is basically a cycle of fear,anxiety, stress punctuated by a few relieving breaks of ‘success’. There is no place for constant joy. And we believe that’s the best life can be!! 

Do you now see the so called ‘no pain no gain’, ‘success is filled with pain’ beliefs might be misleading? The only good pain is ‘growth pains’, which gives us a sense of fulfillment while experiencing it. The pain makes the journey richer. Its not a ‘punishment’ to be borne for a paradise to be ‘won’ later.

Ambition: Ambition is the desire to become something. Again there is a result involved – a mental one. And you are attached to it. It involves comparison as well. You want to become X. Which means you are not-X right now. Both “X” and “not-X” are images in your mind? And you strive to overcome this contradiction, to close the gap. This is nothing but internal conflict. 

So we create a conflict ourselves and then strive to defeat it!! Huge wasted energy again. Instead, what if we had simply put in the effort? Wouldn’t the effort have been much more potent, increasing the probability of success? But as soon as we make success the end-goal, anxiety and hence inefficiency creeps in.

In short, detached effort or ‘Nishkama karma’ is pure action. Highest probability of success. (I still say “probability” because success depends on a variety of factors, not just you) Anything else is adultrated, therefore inefficient. 

The question is: How inefficient do you want to be? Do you want to be anxious by worrying about incentive? Or whether you will achieve your ambition? Or whether you will get the rating you wanted? What will it take to achieve less than your full potential? Sounds crazy, but that is exactly what we do.

Now let’s tackle the emotions part.

Ego: We commonly perceive ego as a superiority complex. Really, ego is just the complex, the self-concept. Whatever story constitutes your ‘I’. Remember the ambition part above? So when you achieve your ambition – ‘I’ becomes ‘X’. ‘I’ also becomes ‘happy’. But now ‘I’ is worried about losing ‘X’. Afterall, ‘I’ has worked so hard to move from not-X to X. 

But aren’t this ‘I’, ‘not-X’, ‘X’ all just concepts? Exactly, and that’s the whole point!!! But the mind identifies with this ‘I’. So losing this self-concept is akin to death. Anything or anyone that might poke a hole into this concept, this complex becomes a threat. Insecurity is born. 

We act to defend and protect these insecurities – more energy wastage. We build a wall around ourselves – in our bid to hide and protect our vulnerabilities. To protect ourselves from hurt. We are actually DE-sensitizing ourselves. 

The ’emotions’ that you speak of are just anger, panic, aggression, how we REact(because our mind is doing a replay of the scary past memory/story) – when our insecurities are exposed, or our ‘wall’ is breached. We are under their control, not their master. How can this be sensitivity?

True sensitivity: As you saw above, attachment results in fear. All our actions emanate from a place of fear. You act not out of love/joy/peace, with optimal effort(‘passion’ might be a good word) but out of fear/pressure/worry/anxiety. This leads to insecurities. So we build a wall to protect our vulnerabilities. 

As opposed to this, when you are truly fearless, you do not have anything to lose – because you are not attached to anything in the first place – then you are not afraid to be vulnerableYou do not need a wall. Would you be less or more sensitive to what’s happening around you then? This might be a tad ‘overwhelming’ though. Being genuinely sensitive, truly feeling others’ pain, real compassion. But you do not resist it. You open yourself to everything. Can you ever be more ‘alive’???

Temptation itself is a state of conflict. Something you want, but think you should not. Waste of energy. When you achieve a state of love, you do not ‘overcome’ temptations, they simply cease to exist.

The words that different philosophies use might be different, but do not get lost in the semantics. See if they make logical, sense; including this article. Any teaching is only as good as your interpretation. And an interpretation is only as good as it is useful. If its not useful – what’s the use, even if it is ‘right’? 🙂

So you have 2 choices:
A life of desire –> attachment –> ambition –> fear –> anxiety –> sub-optimal effort –> less sensitivity –> lesser growth –> lesser chances of success –> hence more anxiety –> ….. 
A life of scarcity
A life of desire –> non-attachment –> no fear –> optimal effort –> more chances of success (but it does not matter) –> more sensitivity –> more growth –> hence more productive effort –> more success…
A life of abundance.

What’s your choice now? 🙂

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