The Sanskrit word alobha is often translated into English as detachment or non-attachment. In English, we tend to misunderstand this as the kind of detachment one feels when one is depressed or like the dissociation of someone that has PTSD. Because of this, I prefer to use the term disinterest.
It turns out that Alobha has a special meaning in Buddhism. It means lack of greed or disinterest in worldly things. In this way, it is much like the word mudita, which means joy in Sanskit, but has the special meaning of finding joy in the good fortune of others in Buddhism.
Alobha is considered to be the antidote of the poison of raga (greed). Furthermore, Alobha is associated with dana (generosity, which also considered an antidote to greed).
You learn to be disinterested in worldly things because they are a trap. If you pursue them, you will always desire more and not be truly happy. The desire for them can lead you to immoral acts.
Disinterest must be balanced with right action and right livelihood. For example, if you are making money to give to charity, that is a meritorious act.
Buddhism is primarily about developing compassion. To be compassionate, you must be disinterested in worldly things, but still act in the world.
I would go further and say that the definition of success for a Buddhist or anyone on a spiritual path is different than the person who chases after material success.
Personally, I try to focus of the cultivation of equanimity, compassion, loving-kindness and mudita to name a few. If I increase my capacity of any of these, I will consider myself to have lived a successful life. As a Buddhist, I consider myself passionate in the pursuit of the personal qualities.
To see why I consider compassion the highest goal in Buddhism, read: Do Buddhists live their whole life with the one goal of avoiding suffering until they die?
©2016 Stephen L. Martin
Painting: Prince Vessantara Gives Away His White Elephant, a scene from the Vessantara Jataka on generosity