4.1.2 Dispassion – Vairagya

This sub-module is based on the teachings of Swami Viditatmananda.
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In this sub-module we’ll look at the 2nd qualification which is “Dispassion” or “Vairagya”. There’s a reason why dispassion is mentioned after discrimination. It’s because dispassion arises naturally when you have the right discrimination (Viveka).

When we inquire into what has finally been achieved by us or others, we find that no achievement is enough to provide permanent or lasting satisfaction. When we acquire some insight into the Self, we realize that there is something permanent. There arises Vairagya or dispassion towards everything impermanent, which is explained in this sub-module.

We’ll deal with the following topics in this sub-module:

1. What is Vairagya or Dispassion?

2. How acquired happiness from the world is always limited?

3. How happiness does not come from objects?

4. How happiness is actually freedom from desire?

5. How discrimination leads to dispassion?

6. How dispassion leads to an objective and balanced mind?

Understanding Dispassion

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Vairagya comes from the word Viragah; the state of Viragah is called Vairagya. Viragah is that state where the Raga has gone away. Raga means passion or attachment and Viragah is dispassion or non-attachment; it is freedom from passion.

We should also know that wherever there is Raga or attachment there is a corresponding Dvesha or aversion; they are the two sides of the same coin. There cannot be attraction or attachment somewhere unless there is an aversion somewhere else; or, there cannot be aversion in one place unless there is an attachment elsewhere.

Attachment involves gravitating towards one thing or the other. Thus, a person under the hold of Raga and Dvesha, likes and dislikes, is always gravitating in one direction or the other like a swinging pendulum. The opposite forces of likes and dislikes keep tugging at his or her mind.

It is important to mention here that whenever we mention “likes and dislikes” or “attachments and aversions” in this sub-module, it means binding likes and dislikes and binding attachments and aversions.

What do we mean by binding? Any like or dislike is binding when it agitates our mind, or if it controls our actions.

For e.g. a smoker who cannot stop his smoking habit is said to have a binding attachment to smoking. A person who prefers chocolate ice cream over vanilla ice cream, but is okay even when only vanilla ice cream is available, is said to have a non-binding attachment to chocolate ice cream.

Enlightenment does not mean a total absence of likes and dislikes; it means total absence of biding likes and dislikes. Even an enlightened person has desires, but the desires do not control his or her actions.

Dispassion Is Freedom From Both Attachments And Aversions

Viragah means freedom from both attachment and aversion and Vairagya is the corresponding state of dispassion. It is important to understand that Vairagya or dispassion not only means freedom from attachment, but also freedom from aversion.

Often, this is not understood properly and, therefore, freedom from attachment is very often interpreted as aversion and an aversion for life is often mistaken to be dispassion.

It should be noted that aversion is just as undesirable since it also keeps my mind away from myself. My likes and dislikes have the ability to pull my mind away from myself and focus it onto external objects.

The result is that I cannot be at peace with myself.

Thus, it is necessary that I should be free from likes and dislikes to gain a peaceful or contemplative mind. We can make our minds free from likes and dislikes through Viveka or discrimination.

Why is there an attachment towards external objects and achievements?

There is always a fascination in our minds for physical pleasures, achievements, and accomplishments. We have this fascination because of our upbringing. We find the entire world placing a great deal of importance on external achievements and accomplishments.

Therefore, we also begin to associate success or fulfillment in life with external achievements. It requires discriminative analysis to understand the limitation of external achievements

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Every Form of Acquired Happiness Is Limited

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The scriptures point out that the nature of happiness provided by worldly achievements, pleasures, and sensations is transient because it is conditional.

It is not that I am happy at any time or place. Rather, I am happy only when a certain condition is satisfied such as when I am in the presence of a certain person, object or situation; not otherwise.

Therefore, the presence of that person, situation, or object has to be created. Something has to be acquired or arranged as a result of effort. Thus, I find that the happiness I acquire today is the result of an effort, Karma.

Whatever is generated or created as a result of an effort is limited because every effort is limited. Not only that, everything in the world is limited and its ability to give me happiness is also limited.

It does not mean that I hate things or dislike them because they are limited. We can love limited things as long as we understand that they are limited and transient and, therefore, do not expect anything permanent from them.

Swami Paramarthananda likes to give the “channel” example. We have 2 channels available to us; the “world” channel and the “Self” channel.

When I need entertainment or education or I need to transact in the world, I use the “world” channel. When I need psychological security and support, I change to the “Self” channel.

This changing of channels is called dispassion. This reduction of dependence on the world is born out of discrimination.

This understanding will enable us to set our priorities right and recognize the place that these things enjoy in our lives. At present, we make unreasonable demands of life, ourselves, and others. However, what we are seeking is the limitless and we expect the limited things of the world to give us that.

We expect the objects of our love to give us limitless happiness. Thus, there is disappointment and frustration in spite of so much achievement because of our unrealistic expectations or demands.

Happiness Cannot Be Created

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We make unreasonable demands of objects and persons, and repeatedly keep getting frustrated and disappointed. A famous verse from the Mundaka Upanishad says:

Having analyzed the worldly experiences and achievements acquired through karma, a mature person gains dispassion by discerning that the uncreated (Limitless) cannot be produced by action.

Presently, we make an effort to create happiness by creating certain conditions. We must understand that happiness cannot be created. Happiness is already there, it is simply to be manifested.

When we think that we are creating happiness, what we are doing, in effect, is only manifesting the happiness, which is already there.

It is comparable to the sun hidden behind clouds; when the clouds go away, the sun shines again. When a given object, person, or situation makes me happy, it is not that the happiness comes from the object, person, or situation; rather, the happiness, which is my very nature, becomes manifest at that time.

Thus, in any experience of happiness, the objects, persons, or situations only become instrumental in manifesting the happiness that is already my nature. The happiness, which is the Self, momentarily becomes manifest when the mind becomes clear, non-demanding, and quiet.

However, any demand that enters the mind acts as a cloud in veiling that happiness. We think happiness has gone away when all that happens is that the happiness remains unmanifest.

Happiness is not something that comes from the outside. When we analyze our experiences of happiness, we find that happiness wells up from within and every external object or situation is merely instrumental in revealing that which is our own nature.

When we understand the nature of happiness, we realize that any happiness that we can possibly acquire from a source other than ourselves is bound to be limited in time, measure, and situation.

When I understand that happiness is something to be made manifest, there is Vairagya or dispassion towards acquiring happiness from transitory or limited sources rather than from myself.

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The Pleasures Of The World Cannot Satisfy Us

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This hunger for happiness is comparable to a fire that grows fiercer as butter is poured into it. Similarly, the hunger for pleasure only increases as I enjoy more pleasures in life. The hunger for recognition is greater as more and more recognition comes my way, and the hunger for success continues to grow even as more and more success is gained.

All these achievements serve to increase our hunger, rather than appease it. This is what one has to see for
oneself: the hunger or beggarliness does not diminish and the beggar remains intact.

Usually, we don’t pay attention to what we are seeking; we simply do what everyone else does. We follow the values the world has imposed upon us and don’t stop to think or examine what we are seeking.

Vedanta tells us that what we are seeking is permanent and advises us to analyze our own urges and then decide for ourselves whether worldly achievements have the capability to satisfy our hunger or not.

Over time, dispassion arises towards qualified happiness; when we realize that there is unqualified happiness to be gained, we no longer want qualified or conditional happiness.

We don’t want happiness that is dependent upon the acquisition of an object having particular attributes. We don’t want happiness that is available only at a given time, place, or only in a given thing.

When we understand that our need is for something permanent and lasting, we cannot settle for anything less.

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Dispassion Is Cessation Of Running After Objects

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Dispassion focuses my mind upon myself. It is natural that a person seeks happiness outwardly because nature has created the mind and sense organs to be extroverted, says the Katha Upanishad:

The Lord created the sense organs (by making them) extroverted. Therefore, everyone looks outside oneself, not at the inner Self. Desiring immortality, a rare discriminative one turns away his eyes (and) sees the inner Self.

The idea is that the immortality we seek is the very nature of the Self; it is not to be acquired from the non-Self. As this understanding arises, the mind and senses naturally withdraw from their external preoccupations and become focused upon the Self.

Thus, when discrimination matures and becomes a fact of life, the immediate result is dispassion. There is a total cessation of pleasure-seeking.

Dispassion does not mean not enjoying objects; it only means not running after objects. It means a cessation of the effort to seek happiness from things other than the Self. This cessation of effort arises from having discrimination.

Happiness Is The Freedom From Desire

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Adi Shankara discusses the nature of happiness in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. When I feel happy,what is it that makes me happy? Has that happiness come from an object that I crave?

In fact, happiness comes when the tremendous burden of craving goes away. When I acquire an object of my desire, that burden goes away momentarily and I experience a relief or a freedom from that craving.

A desire in my head is like a big burden and I experience happiness when I fulfill that desire; it is the happiness of freedom from that craving or that desire.

Happiness is ultimately nothing but freedom from desire. It is not freedom from desire in the sense of denying desire or suppressing desire, but a resolving of desire as a result of Viveka, discrimination.

As Swami Dayananda points out, behind all desire is the desire to be free from desire. It is freedom from desire alone that makes one happy. The happiness that is the result of freedom from desire cannot be compared to any other happiness that one can gain in this world or the hereafter.

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Dispassion Arises Out Of An Understanding Of The Nature Of Things

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It is the understanding of what one is seeking and the understanding of the nature of happiness, objects, and achievements that slowly creates Vairagya, dispassion. This understanding leads to a freedom from the false fascination that we have for objects or achievements.

We have a fascination for wealth, honour, recognition, and power. We have an inherent fascination and innate
patterns of thinking, which guide our lives.

We should analyze these fascinations and understand that they are born of a lack of understanding of the real nature of things. They are born of a lack of understanding of our own desires and of what life can offer.

As our understanding grows, the mind slowly becomes free from that fascination, Raga. Correspondingly, the mind also becomes free from aversion, Dvesha.

In the Bhagavad Gita , Lord Krishna describes a person whose mind is free from fascinations or aversions
as a renunciate:

The person who neither hates nor longs (for anything) should be known as always a renunciate, Oh Arjuna, because one who is free from the opposites (likes and dislikes) is effortlessly released from bondage.

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Dispassion Implies The Acquiring Of An Objective Mind

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Dispassion is often misunderstood as suppression, aversion, disgust, or hatred. When there is disgust for the world, the mind gets disturbed as it thinks of the world.

Therefore, we don’t want disgust; we don’t want attraction or aversion, either; what we want is an objective or balanced mind.

These attractions and aversions distort our perceptions. They prevent us from seeing and knowing things as they are. Everyone lives in their own world of likes and dislikes, and the result is that our perceptions are invariably distorted.

Dispassion implies getting rid of these distortions from the mind and acquiring an undistorted and objective mind, a free mind.

Distortions and aversions are a big burden; they make us sad and create reactions in us. When the mind becomes free from reactions, it becomes free, happy, cheerful, and objective.

Thus, dispassion means freedom, happiness, cheerfulness, and objectivity. This is a prerequisite for a student of Vedanta.

To gain any knowledge, the mind must be objective and, to gain Self-Knowledge,the mind must be similarly objective and available.

Viveka or discrimination fulfills itself only when it results in Vairagya or dispassion. When the mind has a fascination or attraction for something, we must know it is bound to be a distraction sooner or later.

It will be a distraction, particularly when we want to apply ourselves to meditation or contemplation. The ability to make the mind free from these distractions intelligently and with discrimination is Vairagya, dispassion.

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1. Vairagya or dispassion is freedom from binding likes and dislikes. Binding likes and dislikes cause us to focus our attention onto external objects. So to gain a peaceful and contemplative mind, we need to cultivate dispassion through Viveka or discrimination.
2. Happiness provided by worldly objects is limited and transient because it is conditional. Such happiness depends upon the presence of certain people, objects and situations.
3. We have 2 channels available to us: the “world” channel and the “Self” channel. For a dispassionate person, psychological security comes from the “Self” channel.
4. Happiness is never created by external objects; it is manifested out of our real nature when the mind temporarily becomes clear, non-demanding and quiet.
5. Indulging in worldly pleasures only causes to increase our attachment to them.
6. Dispassion arises when one understands what one is really seeking, and recognizes the nature of happiness gained form worldly objects. As understanding grows the mind slowly becomes free from binding likes and dislikes.
7. Likes and dislikes distort our perception. We need an objective mind to study Vedanta and gain Self-Knowledge. Dispassion through right discrimination helps us to develop an objective mind which is conducive for Vedantic study.
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