Letting Go: Living a Life Without Attachment
“Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is central to a Jedi's life, so you might say we're encouraged to love.” -- Anakin Skywalker1
“Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” -- Yoda2
“You’re [Jedi are] allowed to love people, but you’re not allowed to posses them.” -- George Lucas3
In a Clone Wars Writers’ Meeting in 2010, George Lucas gave a short talk about how he envisioned the Force, saying the core of the Force, the Light Side and the Dark Side, one was selfless and the other was selfish. It was this core of selfishness that leads to the Dark Side. According to Lucas, if one is selfish, that leads to greed. The wanting of things, for the Sith usually wanting power. Obtaining things leads to momentary pleasure, but it is fleeting. In order to keep the pleasure, one must obtain further things. This ramps up and soon you begin to fear losing it. Not for the possession itself -- but the pain of not having it. This fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering, usually the suffering of the person with selfishness.
Having things one fears to let go of is having an attachment. Now attachments are not necessarily physical things, but can be merely the desire. Now desire for physical things are not the only attachment, but the cautionary tale of Anakin Skywalker teaches us, a powerful attachment can be wanting things to be different than they actually are. This is not to say one should be content with injustice, poverty, hunger and other ills. One should work with what means they have for beneficial social change. The attachment I am speaking of is desiring changes that are beyond one’s power to do anything about, such as events that happened in the past, or hanging on to things past their time.
Now, I do not know if it is possible to live completely without attachment or if this is a desirable thing. Where I am in my training is trying to let go of all unnecessary attachment. I need the basic things of life, and technological conveniences allow me to do things I would not otherwise be able to do. I do not think the Jedi Path is an ascetic one, nor is it a life of extravagance. Somewhere in the middle is the right way, I think. To me it is permissible to have such comforts as long as one is not afraid to let go of them, if it becomes necessary to do so.
Now the first step of being able to let go of attachments, is to be able to recognize the attachments you have in your life. This takes meditation and self-reflection. In this, we can find the guidance of Master Yoda, to let go of everything we fear to lose. While we examine our mental attitudes, do we find something that we feel we cannot live without? something that would be painful to lose? a desire that is causing us emotional pain? These are some of the ways to recognize attachments. While Lucas has said attachment leads to fear, which leads to anger, hate, and suffering, the Buddha simply said that attachment leads to suffering. I think Lucas identified one of the paths that leads there.
So how does one begin to let go of attachment? I think the answer can be found in the Jedi Pillars of Strength: The Force, Knowledge, and Self-Discipline. By using the Force we manifest the attitudes of the archetypal Jedi, in this case, the core of the Light Side according to Lucas, selflessness. As we encourage within ourselves the attitude of selflessness we find joy in giving, and in letting go. The second pillar, Knowledge, we use the knowledge from our self-examination to identify our attachments, and this leads us to the third pillar, Self-Discipline.
It is through self-discipline we actually do the work of letting go of our attachments. We must bring our will to bear to shape our very mind and thought processes. Make no mistake, this is training, and it is difficult. But like a muscle that is exercised your self-discipline will get stronger over time. There are no shortcuts with this.
There is not one technique to bring your self-discipline to bear in shaping your mind and personality. What works for one person will not work for another, and vice versa. That being said, no one can do it for you. A therapist can guide you in such exercises, bit it will be you doing the work.
Letting go of attachments is training that is never finished, as we create new ones all the time. In this a Jedi should be ever vigilant. But when one finds they are able to let go of attachments the also let go of the temporary pleasure of having things (or having things be the way they like) and enters into a hard won, but much more satisfying joy.
1Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones by George Lucas and Jonathan Hales
2Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith by George Lucas
3George Lucas - On the Force - 2010