Vairāgya (वैराग्य)

This article was written by Srivatsa Ramaswami and is reproduced here with his kind permission:

Everything is reduced to a cittavritti for one to have any experience. Patanjali deals with cittavrittis, how to manage them, how to avoid vrittis that cause pain and ultimately make it completely free of the citta of all vrittis. This leads to the absolute quietude of the mind. Since everything takes pace in the mind, the citta, it is essential to understand the functioning of citta which yogasutras do admirably. For the yogabhyasi with uncontrolled painful vrittis Patanjali has Kriya Yoga to offer so that the mind is brought under control with the elimination the multitude of short span and distracting (vikshepa) vrittis. Then one may practice classical Ashtangayoga (including but not limited to asanas) to make the mind one pointed or one continuous vritti for a length of time as in dhyana and samadhi. And ultimately, with the direct realization of the Self with nirodha Samadhi, all the vrittis cease from the citta resulting in absolute quietude of the mind.

Due to God’s Grace and/or the result of very hard, sustained yoga work in the previous lives, some born yogis are able to get into a state of samadhi at the drop of a hat. There are others who, after diligently practicing all the eight angas of ashtanga yoga (again, including but not limited to asanas) acquire the ability to go into samadhi a la the born yogi. Both these yogis are ready for the ultimate state of citta-vritti nirodha provided they could put the unique yogic skill of going into samadhi to the right use. Some such outstanding yogis, however, do lose sight of the goal. Just as there are sensual distractions for ordinary mortals like us, even the born yogi could be distracted. While the ordinary individual is overwhelmed by the bewitching charm of sense objects and gets entangled, the samadhi yogi may also be lured by the various extra ordinary sidhhis prakriti keeps hiding from the ordinary mortals but makes it possible for these yogis to enjoy. So how to overcome these impediments, these road blocks?

Abhyasa Vairagyabhyam tannirodhaH

Chittavritti nirodha can be achieved by abhyasa and vairagya. The term “abhyas- vairagyahyam” would mean abhyasa, or practice, and vairagya, or dispassion. Abhyasa of what? Vairgaya from what? Vyasa seems to suggest “practice of vairagya” . Many contemporary yogis indicate abhyasa or practice of yoga, and to many yoga is synonymous with asana practice. While asana is an important anga, cittavritti nirodha may not take place by this practice alone. If one is an ashtangayogi one should do abhyas of all the angas of the ashtanga yoga in the proper order and proportion

The sutra referred to above appears in the first chapter and Patanjali says that is the way to achieve the Kaivalya goal of yoga so one has to be clear about what is indicated by ahyasa. Since nirodha appears in the Samadhi pada it could very well mean samadhi abbhyasa or the practice and use of the samadhi capability of the mind. As I have mentioned on earlier occasions, Yoga is not a stand alone darsana. It belongs to the family of vedic philosophies. Samkhya and vedanta are its closer siblings.

Abhyasa and vairagya are to be found in Samkhya also and it may give a direction about what the principles are on which the yogi would do Samadhi. Samkhyas refer to tatva abbhyasa or the 25 tatvas they enunciate. What are they? They are the 24 tatvas or principles of the prakriti and then the purusha which is independent of prakriti. The 24 prakritic principles are well known. The mula-prakriti, buddhi, ahamkara, 11 indriyas, five tanmatras and the five bhutas form the 24 tatvas. Contemplating on these 24 tatvas in succession (krama) using the samadhi skill, the yogi then develops dispassion or vairagya towards each and every one of the tatvas. Why develop dispassion? Because none of them is the real self even as the ordinary mortal considers it to be so. These tatvas are part of the physical self. Patanjali indicates that the physical self, or drisya atma, is made up of the three gunas, the five hhutas, the eleven indriyas,whereas the real inner self, purusa, is none of these. Having this clear distinction in mind the Yogi would contemplate in samadhi, on each end every one of them, from the gross to the subtle,the mulaprakriti. The Yogi starts with the gross principles and finally ends up with the chain of contemplative samadhi in mulaprakriti (visesha avisesha lingamatra alingani guna parvani)

This is abhyasa, or yoga-abhyasa, or more specifically samadhi abhyasa on the prakriti tatvas. Then what? The Yogi is said to develop vairagya on each and every one of those tatvas, because none of it is the Self.

Vairagya is a state of mind, of desireless-ness or dispassion. Vairagya is derived from the word viraga which itself is raga with the prefix ‘vi’. Vi in this context would indicate ‘without’ or ‘vigata’. Raga is a word yogis are familiar with. It is considered a ‘klesa’ or pain-creator. Raga means intense attachment like a glue.,— very difficult to tear away from the object with which one is glued to, one has raga for. Vairagya (viraga bhava) is an attitude of dispassion. The yogi has to have it or should develop that. Vyasa seems to indicate that one should practice or observe vairagya. Ordinary mortals, or the starter yogi, along with practice of asanas, will also consciously practice vairagya. He/She may practice vairagy and develop dispassion gradually towards the worldly sense objects. Whereas the evolved yogi or the born yogi who can get into samadhi would have to be careful not to be distracted by the allurement of siddhis lest one does not attain kaivalya. Yogabhyasis who have a tamasic disposition when starting Yoga practice will find themselves attached to sense objects overtly, Rajasic starters on the other hand will find power and possessions alluring. Satvic starters may be inclined to be sticklers to rules and dharma bent on leading an orderly life.

The Yogahyasi has to keep an eye on observing vairagya throughout. Vairagya itself is graded as para or higher vairagya and apara or the lower level vairagya. The apara vairagta is something everyone can relate to and observe as part of yogabhyasa. It is easier written than done. One may start with an object of one of the senses and try to overcome the attachment to that object. If I am addicted to coffee, I may make a conscious effort to get over my dependence on coffee. By slowly reducing the amount and frequency of coffee breaks I may be able to overcome my dependence on it. Once I am able to overcome this addiction, I may attempt to identify other objects that enslave me through my tongue or taste. By conscious effort over a period of time I will be able to have a great control over what I eat and thus bring one sense under my complete control. This is the first stage . Once I am able to slowly bring my tongue under control then the first stage of apara-vairagya also known as yatamana samgna vairagya takes place. I am now a vairagi but of the first stage.

Then I maintain it for some time and develop the vairagya habit or samskara. I will possibly develop a sense of well being and also develop a healthy disposition towards renunciation or vairagya itself. Enthused I may attempt to bring the other senses under control slowly, deliberately. When I am able to completely control all the senses and wean them away from their slavish tendency to go after unwholesome objects I would have reached the second stage of apara vairagya known as vyatireka samgnya vairagya.

By improving the vairagya practice, now the attachment to the objects remain in a subdued state in the mind or citta alone, the 11th indriya, and does not manifest through the senses. This stage is called ekendriya samnja because raga is hidden in the one indriya, the mind/citta (eka=one indriya+sense).

Then we come to the fourth state of apara vairagya which Patanjali calls the vasikara samjna vairagya. That is total vairagya. In this state the yogi develops complete vairagya to the out of the world experiences, apart from the sensual pleasures the world offers. Human beings are enamored by several religious karmas which, when performed diligently, will enable them to reach different heavens where happiness multiply by hundreds of thousand times as per the scriptures. Then there are yogis who have inborn samadhi capability or who have acquired it with diligent yoga practice. These outstanding individuals may however develop attachments to heavens or various siddhis mentioned in the yoga texts and spend the life time in the pursuit of such achievements. Developing dispassion or vairagya on heavenly bliss or jaw dropping yogic siddhis is the fourth stage of vairagya called vasikara vairagya.

Yogis who are able to master this vasikara vairagya may end up as those existing in an out of body state (videha) or merge in some subtle aspect of prakriti (prakriti-laya). Patanjali refers to this state of vairagya arising out of eschewing passion towards or obsession with worldly and other worldly objects (drishta-anusravika) as vasikara stage of apara-vairagya. Mahabharata the great epic, which also contains the gem Bhagavat Gita as part of it, refers to the state of mind in vairagya as immensely more satisfying than the fulfillment of desires.

yecca kamasukham loke

yecca divyam mahat sukha

trishna kshaya sukhasyete

naarhati shodasim kalaam

The happiness arising out of fulfillment of worldly and other worldly desires is not even a sixteenth part of the good feeling (sukha) one gets by eschewing the very desires.

Patanjali goes on to talk about another vairagya which he calls as superior vairagya or para vairagya. Many vedic disciplines like saamkhya, yoga vedanta explain rather convincingly, in their own way, and establish that the physical person that one considers as oneself is not the real self but the real self is pure consciousness unaffected by time, place or experiences. Knowledge of this truth about oneself would satisfy the citta, the mind, so completely that its vrittis come to a full stop. Patanjali calls this state the nirodha of citta-vrittis on one hand and the Kaivalya of the self or Purusha on the other.

Discriminative knowledge (viveka-jnana) followed by vairagya or dispassion is the means by which the Yogi reaches the goal of Kaivalya. Knowing all the principle (24 tatvas) of prakriti or non-Self through intense samaddhi (abhyasa) and developing dispassion (vairagya) towards them in all forms and knowing the 25th princiiple, purusha, as the real self is the way to attain chitta-vritti-nirodha.

Yoga is a great gift of God to human beings. Anyone can benefit from it.

(c) Srivatsa Ramaswami

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