On Detachment (Vairagya)
Bhagavan Patanjali says that yoga is the ability to restrain or control the whirling of our thoughts and then declared that the means to do so is through abhyasa and vairyaga, practice and detachment. I wrote about abhyasa in my last post. Now, what is vairyaga?
Vairagya is an internal mental disposition defined as dispassion, non-attachment or detachment. My teacher A. G. Mohan says that sometimes it is difficult to translate particular Sanskrit words into equivalent English words simply because there is no exact translation. In the case of vairagya, it is helpful to look at the root, which here is raga, which is desire that results in attachment. Vairagya is the opposite, absence of attachment. Therefore, it is a state of mind when desire is gone.
Vairagya happens in stages, over time, through practice. To begin, we have to make an effort to break the attachment. Only then can we move forward and become free from the bondage created through pleasure derived from sense objects, both seen (sex, food, power) and described in scriptures (heaven, the celestial realm.) We work to identify areas where there is still some attachment and intensify the practice of detachment.
The real work of vairagya is to withdraw the senses completely from external sense objects and any traces of attachment that remain in the mind. Vairagya eventually arises when all of the senses are withdrawn, even the mind itself, from all objects. It is an unchanging state of utter desirelessness, utter freedom, where the mind is completely controlled.
To experience vairayga is to have awareness of our supreme mastery, complete control, over the mind. It is our own internal experience. Nothing, no person or object, will create any thoughts or any attachments that lead to whirling in the mind.
But wait; there is an even higher state than this! It is called para (higher) vairagya and it is literally a higher state or superior state of detachment. It is typical in ancient Indian scripture for classifications to come in two categories, one lower and one higher. Without attaining or reaching state of detachment it is not possible to reach para vairagya. To restate the obvious, it is not possible to reach the higher state with out attaining the lower one first. The higher state of detachment comes through the experience of the difference between the Self (purusha) and the mind (prakriti).
It is important to make note here that Yoga philosophy goes hand in hand with Samkhya, a philosophical system that outlines human existence, and defines many of the concepts that the Sutras elucidate. Samkhya is the theory while Yoga is the practice. Bhagavan Pantanjali assumes that the student of Yoga will have already learned and mastered the concepts of Samkhya. Many concepts, such as purusha and prakriti are not defined in the Yoga Sutras. Purusha is said to be free of the three gunas, the main tendencies of behavior inherent in prakriti. The gunas are also not defined in the Yoga Sutras.
Through practice, we come to understand that objects give rise to happiness and unhappiness because of their changing nature. The yogi practices letting go of these worldly attachments, striving for a superior form of detachment. This higher state is a sustained experience of the distinction between the Self and the mind, exactly what Bhagavan Patanjali describes at the beginning of the Sutras. Yoga is to gain control over our thoughts and abide in our true nature. Our true nature is purusha, the Self, not the thoughts in the mind. This is yoga; this is peace.
Detachment and freedom are inseparable. The famous commentator of the Yoga Sutras, Vyasa, says that ultimate knowledge is vairagya. Without detachment it is not possible to reach total freedom. They are two sides of the same coin. Without one, the other is not possible.
Lisa Dawn is an Advanced Certified Jivamukti teacher, vegan food blogger, student of the Yoga Sutras, wife and mother. Lisa Dawn discovered yoga 15 years ago and has been on a journey of discovery ever since. After receiving Level 2 certification from Baron Baptiste, she discovered Jivamukti Yoga has been studying and teaching the method ever since. Lisa Dawn has over 1,500 hours of teacher training and is also certified to teach pre and post natal yoga.