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More About Vairagya (Non-Attachment)

6 February 2014

To continue where the last article (Abhyasa & Vairagya – the Two Pillars) left off…

*To review – Patanjali’s definition of non-attachment (vairagya) Sutra 1.15 – drista anushravika vishaya vitrishnasya vashikara sanjna vairagyam – “When the mind is free from the desire even for objects seen, heard or described in a tradition (or in scriptures), it acquires a state desirelessness which is called non-attachment (vairagya).”

This word “drishta” (seen) in Sutra 1.15 (above) is also meant to include the attraction that we feel through all of our five senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste). Whenever we have a pleasurable experience using these senses, we tend to develop a strong attachment for those objects, along with a strong desire to experience the same pleasure repeatedly. Then, when that pleasure isn’t available or for some reason or other we’re denied access, we become very unhappy, stressed out or even completely miserable and pain and suffering are the result.

In this sutra, “vishaya” represents the material objects which produce attraction and the attachment that follows. Desires and cravings may basically be classified in two ways. The first type result from our direct perception through the five senses. “Drishta’ (seen) refers to this kind. The second type are those that many orthodox Hindus expect to gain after being reincarnated, including the desire to go to heaven after death. But, according to most Hindu scriptures, this heaven is only a temporary abode and it is necessary to return to a human birth after spending karmically pre-determined time in heaven. In order to achieve Moksha (final liberation), even these desires must be transcended. Vairagya doesn’t mean the dropping of desires because of sickness or old age or some other dysfunction. Old men often lose their sex drive (for the time-being), but this is not vairagya. Vairagya implies a conscious, deliberate elimination of all desires which would lead to attachment. Contrary to popular beliefs, true vairagya cannot be attained by cutting yourself off from object (of the material world) and living in a cave. Real, true vairagya occurs as a direct result of conscious, spiritual evolution, which leads to the dawning of “viveka” (discrimination). Therefore, the consciousness of someone who has attained this degree of mastery over their senses has been termed as “vashikara samjna.”

It is extremely helpful to keep the concept of vairagya in your mind even while doing your own asana practice. For example, perhaps you are not quite able to touch your toes in Uttanasana (the standing forward-bending pose). But you don’t give up and one of the objectives of your asana practice may be to touch your toes in the near future so you set a goal of doing just that in one month’s time. When you are attached to the outcome, you will likely be severely disappointed and/or disheartened if you still aren’t able to touch your toes in the allotted time. Alternatively, if you are not attached to any specific outcome, you will continue to practice, free of any sort of judgment that would give rise to these negative feelings and you’ll then stand a much better chance of achieving your goal in a timely manner.

This concept of non-attachment has been dealt with in great depth in most of the Eastern religions. In one of the most often quoted shlokas from the Bhagavad Gita (2.47), Lord Krishna tells Ajuna: “You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.” All too often our actions (or non-actions) are motivated by some desired (or expected) outcome. Non-attachment doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t set any goals in our life, it simply means that we are not attached to the desired (expected) result of our actions. We only have full control over the actions that we engage, not over the outcome of these actions. Realizing this is where the value of non-attachment becomes apparent, we now can accept the results of our actions without any emotional turmoil. This attitude of non-attachment will help us greatly in our efforts to remain calm and peaceful in even when presented with life’s most difficult situations.

Of related interest, click on: The Wisdom of Patanjali

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500.

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