Detachment can be a tricky concept. It underlies most spiritual striving, but can have many forms. In the Bahá’í Writings, the original word is “inqitaa", derived from "qat”: to cut. One could easily translate this as “severing one’s self from the world”, as in the statement, “Be thou severed from this world…”.

There is, however, an irony to using this metaphor: Is our ultimate goal unity, or separation?

Perhaps “cutting off” refers to something else, a realization of which would draw us closer, not push us away, from the world in which we live. Otherwise, we’re forced into a dualistic metaphysics containing both “God” and “not God” – with our soul always caught between the two. Yet how can what is “not God” possess sufficient reality to command our attention, compared to “God”? It doesn’t make any sense.

Holding unity as my object, then, I re-evaluate my concept of detachment: one in which “detaching” would bring me closer to my goal, not farther away…

For instance, an example from ordinary life: If I’m in a relationship with someone, and they do something that bothers me, the odds are good they didn’t do it to upset me (what kind of friend would that be?). But as long as I let my take on things upset me, it will isolate my heart from my friend. To be closer, I must give up the expectation of mine that bothered me. That is, by severing a part of “me”, I can be closer to her.

If detachment means severing our soul from what blinds us, rather than insulating ourselves from God’s creation, then it echoes something Bahá’u’lláh wrote:

Know ye that by “the world” is meant your unawareness of Him Who is your Maker, and your absorption in aught else but Him. The “life to come,” on the other hand, signifieth the things that give you a safe approach to God, the All-Glorious, the Incomparable. Whatsoever deterreth you, in this Day, from loving God is nothing but the world. Flee it, that ye may be numbered with the blest. Should a man wish to adorn himself with the ornaments of the earth, to wear its apparels, or partake of the benefits it can bestow, no harm can befall him, if he alloweth nothing whatever to intervene between him and God, for God hath ordained every good thing, whether created in the heavens or in the earth, for such of His servants as truly believe in Him. Eat ye, O people, of the good things which God hath allowed you, and deprive not yourselves from His wondrous bounties. Render thanks and praise unto Him, and be of them that are truly thankful.1

I read this quote as implying that what we call “the world” – the reality outside our window – can be either heaven or hell: If it draw us away, it is “the world”; if it lead us closer, it is “the life to come”. Detachment concerns whatever prevents us from appreciating this latter role – which might mean detaching from be our very idea of detachment!!

And so it dawns on me that the fine and beautiful things I see in life do not take me from God, rather, they are my experience of His attributes in the medium of this life. My idea of detachment had created a schism in my heart: a conflict between loving the beauty I saw, and later thinking it was “not God”. But beauty can only derive its nature from the selfsame Beauty my soul has always desired: there need be no conflict. It is this conflict itself I must detach from, for more than anything else, it numbs my soul to the glories around me.

  1. Hadith, or tradition of Islám