Indifference and dispassion have been taught as a practice for enlightenment since ancient times. However, indifference itself is not the same as enlightenment. Teaching indifference and dispassion to achieve enlightenment probably came about because the enlightened are non-attached. The enlightened seemed indifferent or dispassionate (in comparison to other people) and so someone thought it would be a good idea to imitate this to get enlightenment. Kind of trying to get the tail to wag the dog.
Indifference, as defined by a couple dictionaries I looked in online, is the lack of interest or concern…or seeing things as not important. Let me start with the last – unimportance. There is nothing superior, nor inferior, nor the same. So how could there be something important and something unimportant? There is no such thing as importance or unimportance. There is nothing unimportant, nor important.
The lack of interest or concern is also misleading when it comes to enlightenment. If you see a child run into a street who did not see a car coming, an enlightened being may very well rescue the child. There is compassion…there is a caring for others. Love, truth, harmony, and unity is the way…so the enlightened tend to care about increasing the love, truth, harmony, and unity in the world. If there were absolutely no concern or interest, why rescue the child at all or be concerned about anyone or anything? This is a trap some fall into, but it is not the way. Enlightenment is not about a lack of concern or interest.
As I said earlier, the enlightened are non-attached. This may be misunderstood as a lack of concern or interest. For example, a friend or family member could die and an enlightened being might not cry. It may be deeply understood and accepted that death comes to us all. Everything changes. Everything is temporary. We often have little to no control over when and how things leave our lives. We may realize there is no point in resisting this temporal change. So there may be caring/love and appreciation of the person while they are alive, but his or her death might be immediately accepted (not resisted or denied in any way). If one does not cry when a friend or family member dies, some may interpret this as not caring, lack of concern, lack of interest, etc. in the person who died. This is not the case at all. He or she died, so there is no point in trying to hold on. Also, there is no need for things to continue in your life…so when things go you let them go. This could be misunderstood as indifference to the person. No one truly can understand the inner workings of another. They can only interpret what they see based upon their own understanding.
Another reason enlightened beings are mistakenly called indifference is because they no longer take the game of life so seriously. You might know some people who take the games they play very seriously. They must win…or they are not happy. However, there is another way to play games. That is to know it is just a game and the joy is in playing the game…not in winning the game. Likewise, it is the journey that brings joy…not the destination.
A profound understanding of this other way of playing the game of life would result in not being really upset or disgruntled when things do not go your way or you lose a round. You do what you can…and leave the rest to fate (so to speak). We don’t control how things turn out…so the enlightened are not attached to the fruits of action or the results of the game being played. The enlightened may be interested in a certain outcome and so will do what he or she can towards that outcome. But the outcome itself is left to God (so to speak). If it turns out that the outcome does not come to pass…so be it. This can be misunderstood as disinterest or lack of concern. However, if there truly was no interest or concern in any way, why act in such a way to get any outcome? This is a trap some fall into, but it is not the way. Enlightenment is not about a lack of concern or interest.
It could appear to some that the enlightened are indifferent, but I don’t think indifference is quite the right word to use. There could be interest and concern, but the enlightened are simply not attached to it.