Hermit or Non-Hermit?
Q: To be a good Buddhist, is it necessary to live life as a hermit? I'm confused because I read that Buddhists should give up worldly attachments including attachments to family members, but this seems kind of emotionally cold.
A: What you are describing is one of the most common misconceptions about Buddhism. When we speak of giving up attachments we're talking about letting go of our egoistic attachments to things. One may live one's life in the world as a Buddhist. This doesn't necessarily mean you can't have a family or drive a car, but we should try not to become to obsessed with what we perceive as our "egoistic ownership" of these things.
For instance, if we're really attached to owning cars we might want a new car practically as soon as we've purchased our current car, not realizing that the car we have is just fine. This prevents us from being satisfied with a car that works perfectly fine and so does not allow our mind to be at peace. We can also become possessive of our very families, to their detriment; so as Buddhists we try to love and honor our families while at the same time allowing them to be who they are and to grow instead of forcing or influencing them to be as we want them to be just because we want them to be that way. The Buddha taught that our families are to be honored because they, especially our parents, are direct karmic causes of our very existence.
Remember that in Buddhist terms, "non-attachment" does not mean "detachment." It means setting your ego aside and accepting people and things for what they are, including yourself, not becoming so firmly attached to externals that we become subject to the Three Poisons of craving, anger and ignorance. So one need not be a hermit to be a bood Buddhist. The Buddha himself was not a hermit; he walked the highways and byways of northern India for 45 years teaching all his Path to liberation. This is not the action of a recluse, but rather the action of an enlightened being who is in and of the world.