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Essence of Vairagya

by Swami Sivananda


Vairagya is the opposite of Raga (attachment). Vairagya is dispassion. Vairagya is detachment. Vairagya is indifference to sensual enjoyment here and hereafter. It is the second item in Sadhana Chatushtaya-Viveka, Vairagya, Shadsampat and Mumukshutwa.

Vairagya is born of Viveka, or discrimination between Nitya and Anitya (Eternal and non-eternal), Sat and Asat (Real and unreal), Tattwa and Atattwa (Essence and non-essence). Viveka comes through selfless service done in several births and through Puja and Aradhana (worship and adoration of God), and through the Grace of the Lord. From Viveka is born Vairagya. It gives spiritual strength.

A man of Vairagya has no attraction for the material world. So Vairagya is a supreme, inexhaustible wealth for spiritual aspirants. Vairagya aids concentration of mind (Samadhana) and generates burning Mumukshutwa, or strong yearning for Liberation or Emancipation, or Release.

Raga is attachment to objects. Wherever there is a little pleasure, there is Raga. Wherever there is pain, there is dislike. Like and dislike are inter-related. Raga-Dwesha is also one of the important afflictions, according to Patanjali Maharshi. The five afflictions are Avidya (ignorance), Asmita (egoism), Raga-Dwesha (like and dislike) and Abhinivesha (clinging to life). First, there is ignorance, the original Avidya. From this is born egoism, Asmita, and from Asmita is born Raga-Dwesha, and from Raga-Dwesha, Abhinivesha, or clinging to this life.

Types of Vairagya

Vairagya is of different types or degrees-Mridu, Madhyama and Teevra (mild, moderate and intense). Intense Vairagya only will help the aspirant to stick to the spiritual path. If it is of a dull type like Smasana Vairagya, the mind will simply be waiting to get back the objects that were renounced previously, and the aspirant will get a downfall. He will not be able to climb again to the heights he formerly reached. So, the aspirants should be careful. Even though their Vairagya is of a mild type, they should try to make it moderate and then intense.

Vairagya comes through looking into the defects of sensual life. Sensual pleasure is not real happiness. It is illusory, transient, impermanent. It is mixed with pain. So, again and again by looking into the defects of sensual life, Vairagya dawns. It should be strengthened through the study of spiritual books, Satsanga, Vichara (discrimination) and enquiry.

Need for Enquiry

Vairagya should be born of discrimination, enquiry and analysis. By these, the mind is weaned from sensual enjoyments and rendered thin like a thread (Tanumanasi) and only then is Vairagya lasting. Again and again you will have to make enquiry. Physical nudity and external penance do not constitute real Vairagya. Real Vairagya should come from enquiry, Vichara. All these material objects do not give us lasting happiness. They lead us unto pain and sorrow. Such deep enquiry, again and again persisted in for a very long time, produces lasting Vairagya.

Vairagya is the real wealth for an aspirant. It helps him to do real Sadhana. It makes the mind introvert. Vairagya puts a brake to the extrovert tendency of the mind. Even if the mind runs towards objects, at once Vairagya will point out that there is pain there, that sensual enjoyment is the cause for rebirth and intense suffering. So the mind is bridled, and gradually through intense practice, it is established in real, lasting, sustained, intense Vairagya.

Vairagya is of two grades: Para (supreme) Vairagya and Apara (relative) Vairagya. Para Vairagya comes after one attains Self-realisation. The whole world then appears like a straw. This gives intense spiritual strength.

An Essential Pre-Requisite

Without Vairagya there cannot be any real spiritual progress. In Vedanta it is the only vital, fundamental Sadhana. If you have Vairagya, all other virtues will come by themselves. Patanjali Maharshi says: Abhyasavairagyabhyam tannirodhah-"the mind is controlled by meditation or Sadhana and Vairagya." They are the two wings of the aspirant to soar high into the realm of Immortal Abode. The same thing Lord Krishna also says:

Abhyasena tu Kaunteya, vairagyena cha grihyate-"the mind is controlled by practice and dispassion and intense detachment." By Vairagya, the mind is detached. He who works in a detached way is not bound by Karma (action). So it is the aspirants' duty to cultivate this one virtue, or Sadhana-anka-Vairagya.

Mental Disposition

Vairagya is, doubtless, a mental state whereby the mind does not run into sensual grooves. It moves towards Atman, towards God. Queen Chudalai ruled a kingdom, and yet she had absolute (Para) Vairagya. Even amidst the temptations of the world, she had mental Vairagya, through Vichara and wisdom. So she was not affected in the least by the attractive objects of the world, whereas her husband, Sikhidhwaja, went to the forest, renouncing his kingdom, and yet he was not established in Vairagya. He was attached to the body; he was attached to his Kamandalu (water-bowl). A man may get attached to any object.

You see a Vairagi, the common type one comes across. His whole body is smeared with ash, but he will fight for a rupee if he finds you giving a rupee to another Vairagi. This is his mental state. So by external appearance you cannot tell that one has Vairagya. Vairagya is a mental disposition. Sri Ramanuja does not belong to this extreme type of Vairagya-wearing only a rope loin cloth. He lived amidst luxurious things, but his mind was not polluted. He had that mental state of Vairagya, detachment, indifference, born of Viveka.

'Golden Medium'

Lord Krishna says that He is not in favour of extreme asceticism: Karshayantah sareerastham bhootagramamachetasah, Mam chaivantahsareerastham tanvidhyasuranischayan-"They torture all the elements in the body and Me also who dwells in the body". Lord Buddha also tortured his body in the beginning but later on he found out that there was not much spiritual progress, and then he came to the golden medium, the middle path. So we should go by the middle path always. The body is an instrument for attaining Self-realisation. So you should not torture the body. Whatever is needed for the body, you should have.

You should not expose the body to chill. God has given commonsense. So you should practise commonsense Sadhana. There is no harm in taking good, nutritious food, especially if the constitution requires it. You should use commonsense. If you are weak and if you cannot sit for a long time in one Asana, there is no harm in taking a little Chyavanaprash or some fruits.

Generally aspirants say, "I have given up umbrella," "I take only one meal." Their whole Sadhana is, "I have given up shirt, I have given up sweater, I have given up shoes, I live only on bread and dal." Their Sadhana consists in "giving up"-give up this, give up that. Real spiritual life does not involve any giving up or taking. The only thing is that you should not give too much leniency to the mind. It will hurl you down. Always be watchful. Be eternally vigilant.

Some Noted Vairagis

Swami Krishnashram of Gangotri was a great Vairagi. For many years he was living without clothing in the icy region, and he used to sleep over the ice sometimes.

Avadhoota Kesavananda was another Vairagi. He was living in Rishikesh. He was very much liked by Malaviyaji. He always slept on grass. Malaviyaji once took him to Mussoorie. He refused to sleep on a blanket. It was raining, and Malaviyaji had to bring grass for him to sleep on. He was a Vairagi,

Viragi is a cult. They smear ash all over the body and make the hair look golden, and they wear a very thick rope as a waist-cord. They do Panchagni Tapas. They have a good and strong constitution.

There was another great Vairagi, the Sendamagalam Brahmendra Swami. He was an Avadhoota or one who does not wear any clothing. He lived a very austere life.

A real Avadhoota is one who has shaved his mind of all Vasanas (desires). When all Vasanas are destroyed, you will have Manolaya (dissolution of the mind).

Each one will have to do Sadhana according to one's constitution and strength. What one does may not suit another.

Another renowned Vairagi was Swami Narayana who lived in Swargashram. For some time he would take only milk, and for some time only Dal (pulse soup). His blanket was only two layers of grass specially arranged for him. He would not use woollen blanket.

Commonsense Approach

Vairagya is necessary, but too much of it will produce a dilapidated constitution. You will then have no progress in Sadhana. So use your commonsense and take whatever you require. This is my doctrine. Train the stomach in different ways. Lord Krishna says clearly that the food should be Snigdha. One should take wholesome food. One should not get attached to food, nor should one be particular about select dishes. You should eat to live, not live to eat. The stomach should not be made sensitive by continuous bland diet. Occasional fasting is good. Impure, intoxicating and non-vegetarian food should be avoided. Whatever you take, it must be digested. Thus, you will have no difficulties. Wherever you go, you will have perfect balance and your constitution can function under different climatic conditions and on different kinds of food. That is called commonsense discipline.

How To Develop Vairagya?

By looking into the defects of sensual life and reading books on Vairagya, lives of saints, Bhartrihari's Vairagya Sataka, and 'Vairagya-prakarana' in Yoga Vasishtha, dispassion should be cultivated. These will increase your desire for liberation and your conviction in spiritual life. Advanced students should not think that they have attained Self-realisation, and that they need not study these books. These books are important to neophytes, middle students and advanced students, too. You should study my books How to get Vairagya and Vairagya Mala. If you are established in Vairagya, the super-structure of Samadhi, Ritambharaprajna (Truth-consciousness), will be duly attained. Some of the important Slokas, if you can remember daily, will be a great help to you.

In the Gita there are the verses: "Anityam, asukham ...." "Duhkhalayam, Asaswatam ...." this beautiful body, which we worship and adore, is subject to so many diseases. Sareeram vyadhi mandiram-"the body is the abode of diseases." Anityam, asukham, duhkhalayam, asaswatam; ye hi samsparsaja bhoga duhkha yonaya eva te. In the early morning you should repeat these Slokas. Then you can start your meditation. Indriyartheshu vairagyam, anahamkara eva cha, janma mrityu jara vyadhi duhkha doshanudarshanam. "Birth is painful. Death is painful. Old age is painful. Disease is painful." Again and again you should meditate on these verses. If you have Vairagya your Sadhana is over. Yattadagre amritopamam pariname vishamiva. "In the beginning sensual pleasures are like nectar, but in the end they are like poison." Too much sugar produces diabetes. Too much meat produces albumen in urine. Seeing too many pictures leads to defective vision. Too much indulgence produces debility and impotency.

Asaya badhyate loko, karmana bahuchintaya,
Ayuksheenam na janati, tasmat jagrata, jagrata

"Man is tied by thousand ties, thousand desires and expectations and hopes and anxieties. But he does not know that he is advancing in age."

"Vairagya Dindima" of Sankaracharya is a very great help to aspirants.

Way To Immortal Abode

Patanjali says, Sarvam duhkham vivekinah-"everything is only pain for the wise." Even Rasaswad (blissful experience in Sadhana) is a hindrance. One gets false satisfaction and stops his Sadhana, thinking that he has attained Self-realisation. Only in Nirvikalpa Samadhi there is the greatest happiness. All others are productive of pain. So let us remember all these points, and cultivate Para-Vairagya, real Vairagya, born of Viveka, Vichara and enquiry. Otherwise, you will only remain half-baked aspirants.

May Lord grant you all Para-Vairagya. May you all be established in Vairagya. It is the only vital, fundamental Sadhana for all people to get themselves established in their own Satchidananda Swaroopa, whose Swaroopa is Vairagya, whose Swaroopa is Sannyasa, whose Swaroopa is Nivritti.

Behold! Listen! Come! There is a way to the immortal abode. There is a way to supreme happiness. There is a way to the fourth state. There is a way to the fourth dimension. Follow the way. That way is Vairagya. Serve, love, give, purify, meditate, realise, be kind and be compassionate.

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