Vairagya Prakarana (On Dispassion)
SRI YOGA VASISHTHA
I. VAIRAGYA PRAKARANA
When Sutikshna approached his preceptor Sri Agasti Muni for guidance and to get his doubts cleared, he asked, “Sir, how does a jiva attain liberation (moksha) ? Is it through actions (karma) or knowledge (gyan) or both ?”
The enlightened master replied, “Both, actions (karma) and knowledge (gyan) are necessary for attaining liberation. Either alone does not lead to liberation.”
“Sir, in what way is a jiva benefited by actions (karma) ?” asked Sutikshna.
Agasti Muni replied, “Actions (karma) promote the purity of mind. Thereafter, the jiva becomes detached, is able to discriminate between the Truth and the untruth, realises the subtle aspects of knowledge (gyan) and attains liberation. Actions help in the sharpening of intelligence and facilitate deep thinking whereafter Atmagyan (knowledge of the Self) is easily assimilated.”
“Sir, should not one devote oneself more to Atmagyan to attain liberation ?”
“For a seeker, both actions (karma) and knowledge (gyan) are as necessary as the two wings are for a bird.”
Continuing with his explanation, Agasti Muni referred to the dialogue between King Arishtnemi and Rishi Valmiki wherein Rishi Valmiki had narrated Sri Yoga Vasishtha. King Arishtnemi had asked Rishi Valmiki, “My Lord, kindly explain to me how to obtain freedom from the bondage of the world and attain liberation ?”
“Just as Sri Ramchandra, after listening to the teachings of Sri Vasishtha Muni, realised the Self, you too follow that”, replied Rishi Valmiki.
“Sir, who was Sri Ramchandra and how did he attain liberation ? ” asked King Arishtnemi.
Rishi Valmiki replied, “Lord Vishnu, the infinite source of knowledge, was incarnated as a finite human being, under the influence of certain curses, and he accepted ignorance. The incarnation was Sri Ramchandra, who later obtained gyan from Sri Vasishtha Muni and lived as a liberated being.”
Rishi Valmiki had first narrated Sri Yoga Vasishtha to his disciple Bharadwaj who assimilated the essence and attained liberation. Quoting various examples, Rishi Valmiki helped Bharadwaj to realise the transitory character of the universe and made him understand that the phenomenon vanishes on contemplation. Bharadwaj also accepted that unless a seeker realises in practice the illusory character of the universe, he cannot enjoy bliss and should not consider himself liberated. When all objects cease out of experience, all that remains thereafter is Atma. Desire is the root cause of bondage and when desire vanishes, liberation is attained. Until then, a jiva keeps wandering. Sri Ramchandra lost desire for worldly objects and renounced everything. Distaste for worldly pleasures grows only when one has realised that all objects are illusory and transitory. This faith is developed as a result of long and continued practice. In the absence of faith and devotion, bliss cannot be enjoyed nor can liberation be attained. To reinforce his spirit of vairagya, Sri Ramchandra tried to examine every object and rejected it as an illusion.*
When Bharadwaj requested Rishi Valmiki to narrate to him the dialogue between Sri Ramchandra and Sri Vasishtha which helped Sri Ramchandra to live as a liberated being, Rishi Valmiki first gave him an account of how Sri Ramchandra developed, at a very early age, the spirit of vairagya. He then narrated to Bharadwaj the detailed dialogue between Sri Ramchandra and his preceptor Sri Vasishtha Muni.
Rishi Valmiki first told Bharadwaj some important happenings in the life of Sri Ramchandra. While he was still at school, Sri Ramchandra was possessed by some serious ideas and he developed an urge to go on a pilgrimage. Obtaining permission of his father, King Dasaratha, he spent a year on pilgrimage. On return he would remain mostly withdrawn. An attitude of vairagya developed in him and he used to be deeply absorbed in his thoughts. Everything seemed transitory, illusory and of little interest to him. When the king learnt of this, he felt greatly concerned and sought the advice of Sri Vasishtha who told him (the king) that Sri Ramchandra was engrossed in some serious ideas that would bring him great satisfaction and that there was no reason for anxiety. Just at that time, Rishi Vishwamitra happened to arrive there to secure some help from the king. The king received the rishi with deep reverence and enquired how he could serve him. The rishi told the king that a yajna (sacrificial ritual) arranged by him was being desecrated by two demons (asuras) named Khar and Dushan and that he wanted the help of the princes Ram and Lakshaman for the protection of the yajna. This unexpected request put the king in a fix, but on the persuasion of Sri Vasishtha he gave his assent and called Ram and Lakshaman to the court.
When the messengers from the court approached Sri Ramchandra, they found him absorbed in serious thoughts, occasionally muttering words of vairagya. When the king received such a report, he felt greatly alarmed. But Rishi Vishwamitra told him that if such was the attitude or mood of Sri Ramchandra, he might be called before him so that he (Rishi Vishwamitra) could help him solve his difficulties and lead him to the supreme state. King Dasaratha, accordingly, ordered the princes to be called to the court.
When Prince Ram entered the court, the king said to him, “My boy, neither by abstaining from work nor by renouncing material possessions does one attain salvation. It is only when you are able to obtain precepts from a perfect master like Sri Vasishtha and practise in the right manner that you can attain the supreme state.”
After King Dasaratha had spoken, Sri Vasishtha Muni praised Sri Ramchandra for controlling desires for material pleasures. Rishi Vishwamitra then asked Sri Ramchandra to calmly place before them his problems so that they could help him and he could be relieved of his sufferings. Sri Ramchandra then made the following submission.
*This also is a kind of yoga by which a seeker can advance in vairagya.
SRI RAMCHANDRA’S NARRATION OF
HIS FEELINGS OF VAIRAGYA
“My lord, I had my birth and upbringing here in the house of King Dasaratha. When I returned from pilgrimage, my mind was constantly directed to the transitory and illusory character of this universe. I felt that when the entire universe is illusory (mithya) and all pleasures and kingship, etc are unreal, it is no use seeking material gratifications. I am convinced that all this is an illusion of the mind. Therefore, what should I desire in this illusory universe ? Whatever is seen or perceived is a creation of the mind. When the mind itself is illusory, how can its products be real ? What is not real must be transitory and hence a cause of misery. I am convinced that all creation is like a mirage. It appears attractive, but on scrutiny it is found to be without any substance. Why should one run after such material satisfaction ? To me all this is like a serpent and he who is bitten by it, wanders in the cycle of birth and death. All objects of pleasure and comfort are sources of misery ; the moment they vanish, calamities follow. It is after severe struggles that material goods are acquired and when they are lost, one is consumed by desires. Such has been my experience. Gradually and very quietly, desire consumes a jiva and, therefore, it is foolish to desire.
“Man incurs innumerable sins to acquire wealth; it cannot be acquired otherwise. When it is acquired, all virtues like introspection, courage, righteousness, peace, conscientiousness etc are lost, and as this happens the jiva is subjected to great calamities. When wealth is lost, the jiva is consumed by desires and then he wanders in the cycle of birth and death. Only fools desire wealth; it does not stay for too long with anybody, and while parting it leaves behind a trail of misery. Knowing this, I have renounced wealth.
“My lord, ego itself is a terrible enemy of man. A creation of ignorance, it is a great sinner. It is the cause of all miseries. As long as it is there, sorrows and sufferings cannot be eliminated. Actions such as charity, pilgrimage, yajna, worship, etc performed with ego, are all in vain. The ultimate cannot be attained with these. Ego is the root cause of all miseries in the universe. A jiva attains salvation only when his ego vanishes. Kindly suggest to me ways and means for the annihilation of my ego, so that I may attain salvation.
“My lord, the chitta is unstable like the tail of a dog or a peacock; it can never stay still. Just as a dog keeps wagging its tail ever in search of food, so also is the chitta wandering after the gratification of desires. On account of passions, anger, avarice and ego, the chitta is debilitated and is incapable of assimilating virtues. Hence, vairagya, vichar* (reflection) and fortitude are lost. The chitta is engaged in the pursuit of the transient, and this leads us nowhere. The velocity of chitta is stupendous and one cannot foresee when it is drifted towards pleasures. Even a stable mind is apt to lose its stability. Hence I am sick of my chitta that is oppressed by desires and keeps me away from spiritual attainment. Therefore, I feel extremely miserable. On account of ignorance, I am not able to attain liberation. No sooner do I direct my thoughts to Atma than the chitta is drifted into the whirlwind of desires; I lose my strength and cannot progress towards Atma. The chitta is a great obstruction in my spiritual progress. Kindly guide me how to conquer this enemy so that I may attain liberation.
* Vichar is another important concept. It connotes introspection, deep thinking, reflection and contemplation.
“Sir, when desire arises, then passions, anger, avarice and ego too are aroused. But when gyan (knowledge of the Truth) is attained, then desires vanish automatically and passions, anger, etc also disappear quietly. Gyan is like a fire in which everything except Atma is burnt. When firm faith in Atma is established, one realises the universality of Atma. Desire generates queer thoughts in a jiva and this keeps him wandering constantly. The moment I decide to dwell upon Atma, desire dispels the thought. Desire is too strong to permit one’s progress towards Atma. The family is a trap laid by desire, and being caught in that, I have become totally oblivious of Atma. In spite of my best efforts, I cannot do anything. Desire never leads to happiness, it only results in misery; it deprives one of Atmagyan and then one loses the discrimination of the real and the unreal. Kindly suggest to me the way to obtain freedom from desire. Desire cannot be killed except by vairagya and discrimination (vivek).
“O the supreme sage, this body made of five elements is also very troublesome. It is stuffed with bones, flesh and disease, and serves no purpose. I am no longer interested in it and do not need it. It is neither insentient nor sentient. Since it functions on the support of something else, it cannot be said to be sentient. The moment that power (Atmic potency) is withdrawn, it (the body) becomes impotent; hence it is said to be insentient or gross. Such a body is the cause of great misery and it does not last for ever. Therefore, I do not aspire for this body. It exists on account of ignorance and is the cause of all sorrows. Ego, too, is associated with this body and, therefore, the body is involved in innumerable sins. For these reasons, I have given up attachment to this body. It matters very little to me whether this body is sustained or not. A jiva tries hard to get pleasures for this body, yet the body does not last for ever. I do not need such an unstable body and have lost interest in it. Just as a dew drop does not stay for long on a leaf, so also this body does not stay for too long. It is, therefore, futile to be attached to this body. Physical comforts and luxuries do not lead to satisfaction. Knowing that this body is a cause of misery, I have renounced it. On a very careful scrutiny, I find that I am neither the body, nor does the body belong to me. Ever since I have developed detachment and have lost interest in this body, which has a name and a form, I feel desireless and happy. Shame to him who has the body-ego! He is subject to all calamities. He who has lost his body-ego is bestowed with all pleasures and comforts. Kindly suggest to me the way to shun ego and attain the supreme state. He who believes in the reality of the universe weaves a web of bondage around himself and remains bound within the cycle of birth and death. Having realised all this, I feel uninterested in this body and am very keen to strive for the supreme state.
“Sir, from birth a jiva lives as a child. This stage is very painful, because it is afflicted with many deficiencies such as low intelligence, fickle-mindedness, attachments, futile desires and physical debility. It is subjected to innumerable sufferings and miseries. A major defect of this stage is the absence of introspection and discrimination. Because of its defects, I do not aspire for childhood.
“Childhood is followed by youth, which too is not beneficial and is a cause of misery. This is a period of passions which misguide and degrade the chitta and cause expansion of desires. Passion is a fierce demon that casts a jiva into the fire that is woman. Here he is fully consumed and undergoes great sufferings. During his youth a jiva is constantly craving and striving for many physical pleasures, and in this process he faces great many sufferings. During youth passions, anger, greed, attachment and ego are generated in a large measure; hence a jiva suffers immensely. I am, therefore, not interested in this painful youth stage. The true purpose of youth is stabilisation of the chitta, because at this stage a jiva has abundant physical strength and stamina, and he can, with effort, control his mind. He is a fool who, under the influence of his mind, believes that the attainment of objects will bring relief from desires. It is because of desires that a jiva wanders in the cycle of birth and death. Therefore, I am not interested in such painful youth. It is a powerful enemy of a jiva and he who succeeds in saving himself from this enemy, is really lucky. This stage, which does not permit vairagya, vichar and contentment is a cause of misery and hence I am little interested in it. Youth is blind; a jiva does not discriminate between good and evil and is, therefore, constantly consumed by anxiety. I do not need youth. During this period man suffers because of woman; his mind dwells constantly on her and he does not enjoy peace and tranquillity. Human birth is very precious. They are unfortunate whose minds are constantly engaged in the fulfilment of desires; they do not attain the supreme state. I, therefore, pray to you to kindly suggest to me the way to guard against the evils of this stage so that I may attain the Atmic state.
“The woman whom man seeks is nothing but a casket of flesh, blood and excreta. Just as a machine functions with the aid of energy, so does this body of flesh and blood function because of Consciousness (Brahm). On account of her costumes and make-up, a woman appears very beautiful and charming to a man who does not look at her thoughtfully. But when we properly examine the parts of her body, we find no substance in them. Attracted by her charm, when a man touches her, she destroys him instantly. Because of ignorance, man is seized with this great illusion. It is only when he undergoes constant discipline under the instructions of a master, that he is able to attain liberation. Therefore, I rightly understand that woman is the cause of all misery and I do not desire her. Just as a moth jumps into a flame for its destruction, so does a passionate person jump into this flame-like woman for his own destruction. When this serpent-like woman hisses at a man, his tendency for vairagya is destroyed and when she bites (touches) him, he is dead, i.e. he is distracted from Atma. Therefore, I do not desire such a source of misery. Kindly guide me how to save myself against dotage and death.
“My lord, childhood is characterised by weakness and lack of wisdom; youth is followed by old age which is characterised by decline in intelligence and physical capacity. Then follows death. No stage lasts for long. Various physical ailments are manifested in old age, causing a lot of suffering. There is also the loss of physical charm and grace. The body looks ugly. Friends, relatives, wife and children desert an old man during that critical period. He is ridiculed as a lunatic by all the members of his family. Whereas desires and attachments increase in old age, there is a decline in physical charm, physical abilities and in the functioning of sense organs; and there is an increased dependence on others. I, therefore, do not like this old age. Kindly suggest to me how I may save myself from all these calamities and attain the supreme state and enjoy peace and bliss. This old age is the cause of decline of even great ones. The entire universe is in the claws of death. How to save oneself from this?
“Sir, all that is perceived and experienced in the universe is perishable. Only fools struggle for these perishable objects and meet with their end. Death is most powerful and spares none. Though unseen, it overpowers everybody. Even Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (three demi-gods) are not spared by death in course of time. Time is experienced in the form of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years etc. It is formless and does not allow anything to stay. Day and night are its sharp teeth with which it continuously keeps cutting everything — creatures of all kinds, demons and gods. Time is merciless and spares none. But he who is wise and lives in peace and harmony can save himself from time. Time is responsible for creation, existence and exitinction. It is so powerful that it can turn a pauper into a prince and vice versa. It is the king of kings. The truly wise have no attachment with the perishable and, therefore, they are beyond the influence of death. All the attributes of nature are also under the influence of time. I am always scared of time and pray for your guidance how to escape the claws of time and obtain Atmananda. Time permits nothing to stay. How shall I depend upon such transitory objects? To me the entire universe appears transitory and illusory and hence I have renounced everything.
“My lord, all comforts and pleasures of the world are the various forms of calamities that draw a jiva towards his destruction. The wife, children, friends and all other objects that one treats so dearly are in reality the source of bondage. The senses that give feelings of pleasure are great enemies. The mind that is one’s constant companion is extremely unstable and a source of anxiety. Hence I am not interested in all these vices. Ego, that is the root cause of all these, reduces a jiva to a useless state. Ego is vain, and I am not inerested in all such vices. All objects appear charming, but how can I seek recourse to these when none of them is lasting and cannot give lasting pleasures. So I have given up dependence on all these objects and seek refuge under thee. Pray, suggest to me the way to attain stability of the chitta, so that being absorbed in Atmananda, I may be relieved of ego — the source of all miseries. He who does not think and live in this manner is seeking his own destruction. But he, whose mind is fixed on the Truth (Sat) and lives according to that faith, attains the supreme state. Such a being is above pain and pleasure, sorrow and happiness. When desire arises in a jiva, it destroys patience and peace within him. Kindly guide me how the illusion of the universe may be dispelled and the supreme state attained. It is impossible to establish this illusory world as real. The sufferings and pleasures that are providentially ordained for a jiva cannot be avoided, or what is due to happen will certainly happen, and it is foolish to strive for all these. Realising so, he who is not perturbed by all these, will easily attain bliss. Hence, my lord, examine my state closely and guide me how I may attain the highest pleasure.
“The diverse attractive objects in the universe will vanish in course of time. Only fools seek dependence on them. These objects are the creation of the mind and it is futile to have faith in them. Death is preferable to a life of ignorance, because nothing worthwhile can be gained in a life of ignorance.
“As a child a jiva is unwise, and during his youth he is subject to various vices such as passions and anger, because of which his sense of discrimination is clouded and there is no understanding of the Truth. After youth the body becomes feeble, and during old age it is subjected to miseries and destruction. With the onset of old age, the charm of youth disappears. It is a great wonder that though a jiva is very feeble in old age, his desires expand! These desires are the source of misery for a jiva. He who runs after all these desires meets with many calamities and perishes, but he who saves himself by renouncing desires is truly heroic. The gratification of desires leads to their manifold expansion and hence the mind never comes to equilibrium. There are two ways of protection against desire, viz vairagya and vichar. As a result of constant practice, when vairagya and vichar are developed in a jiva, then he is in a position to save himself from the demon of desire and attain Atmananda. Desires lead to attachments — a deadly poison that destroys mental faculties (antahkaran). A jiva undergoes numerous sufferings and then dies like an animal. As long as this mortal body is there, a jiva is tied to worldly objects all around, but when the body perishes, none knows what he was and wherefrom he had come. Likewise, when the objects of pleasure are attained, attachments are formed and desires expand, and when these objects disappear, sufferings follow and one does not know wherefrom these objects had appeared and where they disappeared. Hence I do not aspire for such objects and have renounced them.
“My lord, when a jiva is oblivious of Atma, he is possessed with the illusions of the universe. When he seeks Atma, the universe appears uninteresting to him. All the objects of the world are perishable; therefore, how could I seek dependence on them or direct my chitta (consciousness) to them? Kindly name an object that is not perishable. Everything that is perceived is perishable and subject to change, so I cannot depend on such objects. What pleasures can an object yield when it is perishable? The chief characteristic of the world is change and instability, and I too must face death in due course. The wise (gyani) have renounced such an illusory world. How can I be thoughtless and seek dependence on the transient? Those who have a sharp understanding and foresight, find the worldly objects to be insipid, transitory and perishable and, therefore, they do not desire them. He who knows how long he is to live, does not desire any object, and knowing full well that death is around him all the time, renounces everything. He who does not know the true nature of the world, feels the world very charming and attractive, develops innumerable attachments and involvements and ultimately suffers in the web of anxieties. Those who chase material objects are unwise. The wise know very well the essence of the universe and recognise all objects as illusory. How could I then aspire for these dream-like objects? I have, therefore, renounced everything. Neither I desire kingship and family life, nor do I want to run away into a forest. Neither I fear death, nor do I have a desire to live. All that I wish is to attain Atmagyan and salvation. Kindly guide me how I should cut off all attachments and be established ever in Atma. Desire and pleasure are the cause of misery, so kindly free me from all desires. I cannot bear such sufferings. Kindly tell me how the darkness within me can be dispelled.
“Sir, the universe is a swamp of attachments and the mind of the ignorant persons gets stuck in it, whereafter they undergo severe sufferings and do not get peace of mind. As they enter old age, their desires expand further and they suffer more and more. Relying on their sense organs, they who run after pleasures, are great fools. The intelligence gets debased when it is constantly directed to the world, and then immense sufferings arise. Kindly tell me how my intelligence may be stabilised so that it may be fixed in the supreme state of ananda, and I may have no cognition of the world.
“My lord, kindly tell me how sages live unattached in the world, how their minds are fixed inwards and how living in the world they remain distinct from the world. Kindly divulge this secret to me. What is that acquiring which the material desires vanish, sufferings end and the peace of mind is attained?
“Sir, I desire nothing except Atmagyan. Only fools trust their lives that diminish every moment and end in death. An increase in ignorance is accompanied by an increase in avarice that is followed by expansion in sufferings, and the result is that a jiva is swamped with desires and undergoes sufferings. He never attains peace. I, too, am a victim of this illusory world. Kindly guide me how I may be saved. To a fool, the world is very attractive, but to a wise man it is not. My chitta is afflicted with passions and, therefore, it is impure. Kindly advise me how this fault may be removed so that my chitta may become pure. The chitta is extremely unstable and runs after pleasures very swiftly. Pray, tell me how I may gain the stability of chitta. All actions in the world are loaded with pains and pleasures. Kindly tell me how, living in the world, one may not experience pain and pleasure. I have a firm conviction of the reality of the world. How to counter this conviction? How do the wise obtain peace and tranquillity within? If you do not have the solution, I shall then renounce everything and abandon my ego. I have nothing to do with this body. When I abandon all actions, my breath will naturally stop and my body will become inert (will die).”
Continuing the discourse, Rishi Valmiki told Bharadwaj that Sri Ramchandra thus concluded his narration. And then there was a hush in the court. All those present there — including also angels and gods — became still and absorbed as the narration made their hair stand on end. Rishi Vasishtha, Vamdeva, Vishwamitra, and other rishis, King Dasaratha, Mother Kaushalya, the courtiers, the entire entourage, and even birds and animals became quiet. The astral beings who had assembled there to listen to the words of Sri Ramchandra and Rishi Vasishtha showered petals, expressed gratitude and hailed Raghu Dynasty wherein Sri Ramchandra had taken birth. Then Rishi Vyasa, Narada and others present there eagerly awaited what Rishi Vishwamitra and Rishi Vasishtha would say in reply to Sri Ramchandra. All took their seats with eager expectations.
Hailing Sri Ramchandra, Rishi Narada said, “O Ramji,* you are fortunate because you have attained such wisdom and enlightenment. Rarely could anyone utter words like you. He who works for the ultimate is truly a man. The rest are caskets of flesh and blood. Innumerable beings with body and form are called human beings, but rarely is there a seeker of the Truth. Your intelligence is pure and enlightened and you are fit for gyan. You can attain gyan with brief instructions, and if this does not happen, presume that fools have assembled here”.