Recently I got a chance to read 'Gita' where the central paradigm is 'Detachment', which goes absolutely against my intuition which I explain below. Let's take example of Feynman, who was so passionate about physics that he used to do physics at almost every possible time of the day even when laying in bed before sleeping. So my question is : can no exceptional thing can be done without extreme passion ? But if that's so, it goes absolutely against the idea of detachment : if one is detached from an activity, how can one have the drive to work hard in it?
It may help to view detachment as the absence of selfish attachment. Feynman's passion could be viewed as a selfless attachment.
For more on this see volume one of Eknath Easwaran's three volume commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. In particular, consider the following verse: (4.10, page 226)
Delivered from selfish attachment, fear, and anger, filled with Me, surrendering themselves to Me, purified in the fire of my being, many have reached the state of unity in Me.
His commentary contains the following (page 228):
If only I can extinguish all that is selfish in me, erase every desire for personal profit, personal pleasure, personal prestige, and personal power, which is often at the expense of others, then the Lord will be free to fill me with his own love, his own wisdom, his own beauty.
I imagine this being filled with the Lord is a state of "extreme passion", but not "selfish attachment" from which one is detached.
There is no paradox. You are conflating the use of the word detachment. In the case of the Gita the term detachment means dispassion to worldly desires; it is used in a spiritual context. The Gita is a guide to the attainment of Liberation, Moksha, or Nirvana. It is not a psychological guide on how to attain worldly goals. It warns against too much passion for the things of this world (including physics). The Gita says in verses 2.62-3 (Bhagavad Gita with the Commentary of Sankaracharya, Swami Gambhirananda translator):
In the case of a person who dwells on objects, there arises attachment for them. From attachment grows hankering, from hankering springs anger.
From anger follows delusion; from delusion, failure of memory; from failure of memory, the loss of understanding; from the loss of understanding, he perishes.
The meaning of these verses is that from attachment to worldly pursuits you forget your spiritual ways, you lose your understanding of spiritual things, you lose your understanding of spiritual matters, and by perish it means you do not attain the Goal (Liberation, Nirvana).
An easier understanding of the above is given in the Uddhava Gita XVI.19-21 (Uddhava Gita, The Last Message of Shri Krishna, Swami Madhavananda translator):
- By ascribing worth to sense-objects a man comes to be attached to them; from attachment arises the desire for them, and desire leads to dispute among men.
Dispute engenders vehement anger, which is followed by infatuation. Infatuation quickly overpowers his hitherto abiding consciousness of right and wrong.
O noble soul, when a man is deprived of this consciousness. he becomes almost a zero. Like a man is stupor or half-dead, he then misses the end of his life. [again, meaning the Goal, Liberation, Nirvana]
Pursuits like Feynman, no matter how noble scientifically, are still worldly pursuits. Krishna (the Bhagavad Gita is the lesson given by Krishna to Arjuna) says in the Uddhava Gita verse 9.11:
The results attained by these means, being the outcome of work, have a beginning and an end, produce misery, and end in infatuation. They give but transient joy and are attended with grief.
Now people have their work (including physics) in the world. Krishna does not say to not do your work. What he says is to pursue it with evenness of mind, without a hankering for results always remembering that it is not the final means of satisfaction (Liberation being the only means). Arjuna in the first chapter thinks that he must not go into battle, but in the 2nd chapter of the Gita Krishna shows that he cannot stop his actions, but to rather do them in an unattached way. He says in Gita 2.48:
Being established in yoga [and he does not mean hatha yoga as the word is understood presently by many in the West], Oh Dhananjaya [another name for Arjuna], perform your actions, casting off attachment and remaining even-minded both in success and failure. This evenness is called yoga.
No, in fact, it seems to me to be the opposite case, where cessation of grasping and just doing things as they unfold before you, is actually what allows one to do exceptional things. I'm thinking here of Cook Ting's knack.
While my perspective is definitely more informed by the ancient Indian Buddhist philosophical tradition, I have read and considered the Upanishads in considerable depth, and I don't think the varying notions of detachment (as 'fuel' or as 'substrate' etc) are sufficiently different to matter much in the context of your question. But maybe minds finer than mine will see something I don't.
Now, to specifically answer your question: yes, drive and detachment are mutually exclusive states, as I understand the terms.
If you study physics manically because you are grasping for an answer or ultimate truth or whatever, if you do so because you are driven by passion (or anything else, really) then, yes, I think this goes against the notion of detachment as I understand it described in the Mahayana (and perhaps also the Vedic) traditions.
One way to save the 'exceptional' deeds or discoveries or what-have-you is to take a Daoist approach, as illustrated beautifully in the link above, and just approach the problems of physics spontaneously. Some might even argue that upon cessation of grasping for truth, for self, for even detachment itself, we actually move past the problems of physics, rather than solving them.
No, an exceptional thing cannot be done without passion (maybe only by accident as an exception). I disagree with another answer's statement that "passion could be viewed as a selfless attachment." No, it cannot. I explained this subject in one of my articles (Star Wars Universe related, you can read it here).
‘There is no passion, there is serenity‘ is a pretty complex matter to study. First of all, what does passion got to do with serenity ? Well, nothing. Doesn’t the lack of passion lead to ignorance ? I think it does. While we can pick now on the exact definition of passion, it is clear that without it you have little to no interest in a subject, therefore you are very likely to ignore it. Jedi seem to consider passion something chaotic instead of what it really is: something that gives you motivation, which is a positive constructive thing. So they view passion as dangerous. Again we can find various contradictions here. Take Anakin as example: passion was one of the main contributors that would lead Anakin to become a Jedi in the first place (just like it happened to many other Jedi), but then he talks about it as being a bad thing: ‘The Sith rely on their passion for their strength. They think inwards, only about themselves’. And after all, isn’t the passion of the Jedi for being Jedi what’s motivating Apprentices to become Knights and then Knights to become Masters in the Order ? Every single Jedi demonstrates a depth of feeling about something at some point. Consider Obi-Wan’s anguished cries after he mutilated Anakin, just as one well known basic example.
Serenity problems: Aren’t the Jedi supposed to see the worth in all living things ?
Why then does (in Phantom Menace) Obi-Wan refers to Jar-Jar Binks as a ‘pathetic life form’ ? Fact is, the Jedi place no value on non-Jedi lives whatsoever. The Jedi systematically prove they really couldn’t care less who they endanger or kill. Just watch the number of actions the Jedi take that might or actually will result in the deaths of non combatants or involve them killing someone in ‘self-defense’ who poses no actual credible threat to them. This is constantly proven by their action starting with endangering civilian lives and ending with the more genocidal actions. Now take a look at this even by them detected Jedi arrogance: Obi-Wan: But he still has much to learn, Master. His abilities have made him… well, arrogant. Yoda: Yes. Yes. A flaw more and more common among Jedi. Too sure of themselves they are. Even the older, more experienced ones. Where’s the Serenity ? Seems to be missing. But there’s plenty of arrogance in the Jedi Order, that’s for sure.
If you play Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic you will find several references of Jedi that use deception, that cheat and lie, that have no regard for human life (one even had a Soylent-Green-Type plant to make weapons of of dead body substances on Taris) or that pursue their own purposes.
There are also dozens of references of brainwashing and propaganda used on them by the Council Masters, the higher ranks. If you play light side as a Sith Warrior when you encounted them, they will be very amazed that you are not ‘pure evil’ as they were lead / programmed to believe. Many will be left very unbalanced because they are unable to process that you are not actually evil. In their brainwashed minds, The Sith and The Empire equal evil, so doing a good did in front of them will actually cause a lockdown in their brain and they will answer with something like ‘you gave me a lot to keep thinking about’.
The conclusion is quite clear: the Jedi have a lot of passion about many things
So true detachment, true serenity is more of a philosophical concept rather than something that can be use in practice. Of course, one could argue that a serial killer can be detached and very efficiently kill all it's victims. But the drive to do it comes from a different place.