Non-attachment, caring, and motivation

September 11, 2012 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Freedom

I’ll post today’s topic as a question. I’ve asked it of people who know more about Buddhism than me for more than ten years. No one has given me an answer I’ve found satisfactory.

Though I put it in Buddhist terms, I hope no one gets hung up on the details of one religion or philosophy. I mean the question in a general way because his actions and philosophy, while magical, have analogies in our lives. We might not believe in Buddhism, but we don’t exactly consider the concepts foreign.

Some element of being detached from outcomes seems common to personal development, whether in Buddhism or in the common advice of our times “You shouldn’t care so much what other people think,” which I don’t consider great advice, though it stems from personal philosophy I’ve found useful.

According to the story, the guy who became known as Buddha sat under a tree, thought for a while, and attained a state of complete liberation, totally detached — as in he could have just continued sitting there until he died of hunger or thirst and nothing would shake his happiness, bliss, or whatever you would call his state.

We all want to improve our lives and it doesn’t sound crazy that an endpoint to that path could exist — why not total liberation or freedom?

Anyway, as I understand, he then spent the rest of his life teaching people what he had figured out so they could attain for themselves what he had.

The Question

My question is this:

If he was totally indifferent to any outcome, why did he do what he did? Why teach? What difference would anything make to him?

While I ask it about Siddharta, we could ask the same question of ourselves. Putting it in terms I use on this page more,

If we want freedom, doesn’t that mean caring less about things? After all, caring for something attaches us to it, constraining us. But won’t caring less cause our motivation to decrease? If so, won’t becoming more free decrease our motivation? Do we want less motivation?


Most answers I get start by loading me up on foreign words, trying to teach me what seem low-level details of a religion or philosophy. Maybe I’m prejudiced, but I think any explanation about such basic human questions. I’m holding out for an answer in plain English.

If you think you have good answers to those questions, please let me know. I think even if you never satisfactorily answer the questions, thinking about them raises your awareness, so I recommend thinking about it.

The general question

At its most general

How do you balance freedom, caring, and motivation?

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5 responses on “Non-attachment, caring, and motivation

  1. Pingback: Non-attachment, caring, and motivation, part 2 » Joshua Spodek

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