“Many a mystic has found the perfection of detachment to be consistent with a far less drastic renunciation of things. … The test, as we have seen, does not lie in the nature of the things retained, but in the reaction which they stimulate in the self. ‘Absolute poverty is thine,’ says Tauler, ‘when thou canst not remember whether anybody has ever owed thee or been indebted to thee for anything. …’ . Poverty, in this sense, may be consistent with the habitual and automatic use of luxuries which the abstracted self never even perceives.
“Thus we are told that St. Bernard was reproached by his enemies with the inconsistency of preaching evangelical poverty while making his journeys … on a magnificent mule left to him by the Cluniac monks.” ~Evelyn Underhill
Perfection of Detachment
The first thing we have to realize is that perfection is not going to happen while we are in the material world and in a material body. That doesn’t mean we should give up and not even try. The closer we get to spiritual perfection now, the better off we are.
Renunciation of Things
Detachment doesn’t mean we can’t have things, we just shouldn’t get attached to them. For some people, that just isn’t possible. They will get attached to things if they have them. Those people should rid themselves of unnecessary material possessions if they wish to grow spiritually. If spiritual growth doesn’t matter to you, then go ahead and get attached. Then when the powers of Nature and darkness take those things away from you, you will suffer greatly from the loss.
We are seeing examples of this on the news with reporters interviewing people who have lost homes and property to the California wildfires. The person who is not attached will say that t least they escaped alive and well. The attached person is weeping that they have lost everything. Even just on a material level, which of those two people do you think will recover and get on with their life the soonest?
Absolute Poverty in Detachment
Spiritual poverty isn’t about doing without. It’s about staying detached from material things and the world of matter in general. You can eat meals regularly and live in a comfortable house. You just don’t place much value on those things. Letting them become important to you clips the wings of your spiritual flight.
I’m writing this a few days before Thanksgiving in the United States. Judging from many of the ads we are seeing now, Thanksgiving has become little more than Black Friday Eve. Instead of a time for family and being grateful, it is a time for getting more stuff. Sad.
On one thing I have to disagree with Underhill. While we can have good food, clothing, homes, and so on, luxuries are different. While it is reasonable easy for most of us to not get attached to a $90 wrist watch, it is not so easy when it is a $5,000 Rolex. It is easy to treat an average car as simple transportation. Not so easy with a very expensive luxury car. If you are wealthy and $5,000 is pocket change to you, a Rolex may be just fine. For most of us, it would likely become an attachment and an anchor to the physical.
One thing we can see in today’s religious environment is that there are many preachers who do not practice detachment. They don’t even come close. In fact, some seem to think that the more material goods they accumulate, the more “blessed” they are. They have become so totally lost that they don’t realize that what they think are blessings are actually the jail cell Satan is keeping them locked up in. Those who seek their rewards in the material will find nothing waiting for them on the spiritual side. Since the physical is temporary and the spiritual is permanent, doesn’t it make more sense to concentrate on the spiritual? But these preachers have become so lost, they don’t even see that.