What is True Vairagya?
Sri Swami Sivananda
Unnecessary torture of the body in the name of Tapas (austerities) is highly depreciable. This is Asuric Tapas (demoniac austerities) of ignorant persons. This is condemned by Lord Krishna in the Gita. Body is the moving temple of the Lord. It is an instrument for Self-realisation. You cannot do any Sadhana if the body is not kept strong and healthy. Attachment to Vairagya (dispassion) is as much an evil as attachment to sensual objects. Give up Vairagya-Abhimana (ego-centred dispassion). This Abhimana of Sadhus and Sannyasins is more dangerous and inveterate than the Abhimana of worldly persons.
Vairagya-Abhimana is a deadly canker. It is difficult to get rid of the Vairagya-Abhimana as long as there is the body-idea. The feeling, ‘I am a great Vairagi or Tyagi’ is Vairagya-Abhimana. The body of a Sannyasin who has dedicated it unto the service of humanity, is a public property. He has no claim on it because he denies the existence of body and tries to feel always: ‘I am Shiva (Sivoham).’ The public will take care of his body.
Lord Buddha tortured the body, did severe austerities, gave up food and yet he was not able to attain the goal. He heard the song:
“Fair goes the dancing when the Sitar’s tuned,
Tune us the Sitar neither low nor high,
And we will dance away the hearts of men.
The string o’erstretched breaks and the music flies,
The string o’erslack is dumb and music dies,
Tune us the Sitar neither low nor high.”
Then he ate food, adopted the middle path and succeeded in achieving Nirvana. Extreme asceticism is not at all necessary for attaining perfection. What is wanted is strong mental Vairagya born of strong discrimination. All bodies are not fit for the practice of severe austerities. The body will drop down if you tax it too much by way of rigid Tapas. Do not spoil your health and body in the name of Tapas. Have a strong, healthy body, but have no attachment for the body. Be prepared to give it up at any time for a noble cause.
The care-taker of the horse feeds it with proper nutrition when it is over-worked, when it is ailing. Then only it is ready for further work. Even so, this body should be injected with proper nutrition. Then only it will turn out good work. Then only it will soon regain its lost vitality on account of over work or ailment. Work will suffer if the body is not well attended to. When the body grows old it must be well protected against cold and well-looked after. If hard Titiksha (endurance) is practised now it will give way soon. Consequently the other shore of immortality and fearlessness cannot be reached.
O Ram, neglect not this body. The society and Prakriti will extract and continue to extract as much work as possible from those selfless workers who have dedicated their lives to the service of humanity. They are yoked to service till the last breath leaves their bodies. Lord Vishnu instructs Prahlada, “My dear Prahlada! enough of your Tapas. Take care of your body. Rise from your Samadhi. Serve people now. Disseminate Bhakti far and wide.” Yoga Vasishtha speaks of one as a ‘Maha Tyagi’ (great renunciate) and ‘Maha Bhogi’ (great enjoyer), who has renounced the idea of ‘I am a Tyagi’ and ‘I am a Vairagi’, who neither accepts nor rejects things that come by themselves by identifying himself with the silent witness, the Immortal Atman, who feels always ‘I am Akarta (non-doer)’, ‘I am Abhokta (non-enjoyer)’ even while moving amidst objects. The Gita says, “But the disciplined self, moving among sense-objects, with senses free form attraction and repulsion mastered by the Self goeth to Peace.” Chapter II-64.
Some neophytes and raw aspirants pose themselves for ‘Maha Tyagis’ or ‘Maha Bhogis’ and quote scriptures also: ‘We eat without tongues; we see without eyes.’ The thief or the hypocrite will be found out soon. They are just like the people who catch fishes from the Ganges to satisfy their palates and quote Gita:–‘Nainam Chindanti Sastrani Nainam Dahati Pavakah; Na chainam kledayantyapo na soshayati marutah–Weapons cleave him not, nor fire burneth him, nor waters wet him, nor wind drieth him away.’ Sublime philosophy indeed of perverted people with perverted intellects! The gilted ornaments cannot shine for a long time. The crow that shines under borrowed feathers of the peacock will be found out soon. Their Trishnas (sense-hankering) and Vasanas (subtle desires) will burst out and any lay bystander can detect the hypocrite without any difficulty.
A Maha Tyagi or Maha Bhogi will not refuse to accept some mangoes or a cup of milk when they come by themselves. But he will not crave for them. He will not say, ‘I have enjoyed today good mangoes or good milk.’ If an aspirant is seriously ailing, if he is not able to eat solid food-stuffs, if there is a feeling of want in him for milk, if he has no money with him to purchase milk, if any devotee casually offers of his own accord some milk, he should not refuse it. God works mysteriously. He takes care of his devotees by working through the minds of various persons.
The child sometimes eats food at night while he is sleeping. If the mother asks the child in the morning, ‘Baby, you took food last night,’ he replies, ‘I have not taken anything last night. You are playing and joking with me.’ Such is the condition of a Jivanmukta, or a Maha Tyagi or Maha Bhogi. He eats and yet he does not eat. He eats without a mouth and smells without a nose. Sometimes a man talks at night when he dreams. If you ask him when he comes to waking consciousness, ‘O Prema, do you know that you talked last night when you were dreaming?’ He replies, ‘I do not remember anything.’ Such is the state of a Jivanmukta or a Maha Tyagi and a Maha Bhogi.
Durvasa ate a sumptuous meal and yet he said, ‘I am a Nitya Upavasi. I do not eat anything. I take grass juice only’ because he identified himself with the Atman who is always the witness and the non-enjoyer. Lord Krishna is regarded as a Nitya Brahmachari (eternal celibate) though he was with Radha, Rukmini and Satyabhama. Sage Tiruvalluvar said to his wife, ‘My beloved! say unto the river that my huaband, a Nitya Brahmachari, has commanded you to give path of way. She will at once yield and you can cross it without a boat.’ She repeated the words of her husband and crossed the river immediately. She was quite amazed at the words of her husband and asked him, ‘My Lord! you are living with me and yet you say that you are a Nitya Brahmachari. I am struck with wonder. I am puzzled. Kindly explain this philosophy’. Tiruvalluvar replied, ‘I am immortal Atman. I have realised this through direct cognition (Anubhava). I do not do anything. I am the silent witness. The senses, body, mind and intellect are my instruments. I am entirely distinct from them.’ Tiruvalluvar’s wife understood the nature of the soul and then she became silent.
Ordinary aspirants with delicate health should not take recourse to the practice of drastic austerities. He who has attained Kaya Siddhi (bodily perfection) can do any kind of Tapas because his body is adamantine. If an aspirant with delicate health gives up food and tries to live on Neem leaves alone, the obvious result is that he will get various sorts of gastro-intestinal diseases and pass away soon. This is the fruit obtained by persons who practise Tamasic Tapas.
If you have mastery over the pair of opposites, viz., heat and cold, if you can bear intense heat and intense cold, if you can remain without clothing in the icy Gangotri, this is highly creditable indeed. But if your frame is delicate, if you attempt to stand before the sun in summer for some hours, if you throw off your clothing in the Gangotri all at once, you will die immediately of sunstroke or pneumonia. You should not attempt to take recourse to these hard practices. What little you will gain by Japa and meditation in this birth will be lost and you have lost one chance given by the Lord in this birth to reach him, by your foolish practices or Tamasic Tapas.
An aspirant gave up his clothing all at once. He developed rheumatism, malaria, enlarged spleen and died within a short time. During the period of sickness all cravings that were temporarily suppressed asserted themselves with re-doubled force. He be came a slave of the tongue. He craved for many varieties of food. He could not suppress them. He ate indiscriminately and died of acute diarrhoea.
An aspirant said, “I have not realised the Self though I did meditation for some years. I am going to commit suicide with the Bhava (feeling) I am immortal Atman. I have got full Vairagya. No sin will cling to me, because my motive is pure. I will attain Self realisation.” He actually committed the abominable act. Do you think that he realised his Self by this act? Do you find such a statement anywhere in the scriptures? Certainly not. This is extreme foolishness. Some aspirants who have no idea of the nature of true Vairagya, who have not lived under the guidance of their masters for some time, commit such ignoble acts. They can never get salvation by taking to wrong Tapas though their Bhava may be pure. They cannot entertain the Bhava ‘I am Atman’ just at the time of committing the act. Horrible thoughts will crowd at the critical juncture. They will have to share obviously the fate of Pretas (ghosts).
The mind should gradually be weaned off its old habits and cravings. If you cut off all at once its pleasure centres, it will get puzzled. That is the reason why young aspirants who take to too much Vairagya commit the ignoble act of committing suicide. You should train the mind in meditation gradually and make it taste the inner bliss. Gradually it will leave off its old habits and old cravings and you can get yourself established in true Vairagya.
The more the Viveka (discrimination), the more the true Vairagya. The flower of Vairagya gradually grows in the garden of Antahkarana (inner faculties, i.e. mind, intellect, ego and the subconscious mind), from the understanding that the world is a mere appearance and full of miseries and that Brahman alone is the only reality full of knowledge and bliss, and through continued practice of meditation and association with the realised souls for a protracted period. Eventually all objects of the world appear before the dispassionate soul as trifling or worthless things. He will not give up his new spiritual life even if the wealth of the whole world is offered to him.
Aspirants should give up those articles of food which they like best for some time. They should discipline all the Indriyas (senses) in a perfect manner. They should always lead a simple life. They should always eat simple food. But they should not become slaves of Vairagya Abhimana. Vairagya is a mental state. The Lord infuses this in his devotees in order to get rid of the clinging to sensual objects.
May you all become Maha Tyagis and Maha Bhogis! May you all be free from the canker of Vairagya Abhimana! May you all possess true lasting Para Vairagya (intense dispassion)! May you all attain Kaivalya or Perfection!