What is Vairagya (Dispassion)

When we hear the word vairagya (dispassion), we immediately associate it with indifference or tastelessness or unenthusiasm. Most people who claim that they are dispassionate are usually unclean and unhygienic; they wear old dirty clothes and are unbathed. That’s not the true meaning of vairagya.

Adi Shankaracharya has explained in Bhaja Govindam: kasya sukham na karoti viraaga Vairagya brings all happiness. Usually there is feverishness even in our happiness; that is why we cannot enjoy our happiness.

Vairagya is happiness devoid of the feverishness.

Ananda = sukha – jwara

Bliss = happiness – feverishness

A few months ago, a popular western actress won an Emmy award. She couldn’t accept the award because she was so sick with happiness! She was dizzy and trembling, unable to stand, and unable to bear her own happiness!

There is a story. Once there was a heart patient. He bought a lottery ticket for Rs.10 lakhs. Usually he never won at the lotteries. This time, after buying the ticket he went to the church and prayed sincerely that he might win. God was moved by his prayer and he won the lottery. His wife heard the news of his win first. She was concerned about how to tell him because of his heart problem.

She asked the Father at the church to help her break the good news to her husband. The Father agreed and came over to their house and proceeded to break the news gently. He told the man, “You prayed sincerely for your lottery. If God grants you your prayer and you win one lakh rupees, what will you do with it?” he man unhesitatingly said that he would give half the amount to the church. On hearing this, the Father had a heart attack!

Feverishness in joy creates misery. Jesus said that “Whoever has, shall be given more and whoever doesn’t have, whatever is given will be taken away from him.” It’s an old Mysorean tradition that one must never say no or `I don’t have.’ I remember, my grandmother used to say “It is full” instead of saying “We’re out of stock”. So if I asked for chocolates and there were no chocolates at home, she wouldn’t say that there were no chocolates at home. Instead she would say “We’re full. Let’s go to the shop and buy some.” People hearing this would be really puzzled!

A sign of vairagya is contentment. If you deny ice-cream to a child, the child feels devastated. For you it may be a thing, but to the child it feels like the entire sky has fallen on its head!  How much can you enjoy? Our senses have a limited capacity to enjoy but our mind has unlimited desires. How long can you keep seeing a beautiful sunset? After some time, your eyes get tired and you either close them or look away.

This Vishalakshi Mantap itself is so beautiful, especially at night with all the lights on. But how long can you keep looking at it? How long can you keep listening to beautiful music? It is only when we experience silence and stillness that we can truly appreciate the madhurya (sweetness) in music.

But we rarely spend moments of silence. In most homes, as soon as people wake up, they switch on the radio. Whether they listen to it or not, the radio keeps blaring all day long. It’s like a background music to our daily drama of life!

Same with food. How much can you enjoy? In ancient Rome, this disease was prevalent. They used to have orgies. They had large dining halls with huge tanks built adjacent to the halls. People used to stuff themselves with food and then go out and vomit all their food, and come back again to stuff themselves with more food. Because the mind wants unlimited enjoyment but the senses cannot keep pace. Bulimia, I think it is called. We don’t have that disease in our country, at least not to that extent.

Bhoga (excessive enjoyment) leads to Roga (disease).

Similarly, touch. How much can you enjoy touch? Once a 70 year old man came to me. He had a lot of lust in his mind, but no strength in his body! We are not even aware of our prana shakti. That’s why we get these diseases.

The cure for all this is vairagya. We earn money, fame and status and keep it all in the bank and finally die. Then the person’s children and siblings fight for it in long-drawn court cases that go on for years. Most of the civil cases you see in courts are related to inheritance disputes.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t accumulate money. Do it, but don’t be obsessed with it. Don’t do it for one-upmanship over others. If you want to earn money, you earn it; but not because someone else is also doing it. Doing it for competition is sheer stupidity. Earning wealth for display is stupidity.

So what if you become famous? So what if everyone knows your name? You will just get mobbed and you will lose your own peace of mind. Besides, it’s impossible to gain a name for ever. How long will people remember you? A few years. And after that, people will simply forget you!  It just breeds insecurity. Artists have this tension all the time. They’re always on the watch to see if someone more talented comes onto the scene. Even in spirituality this tension is there. When you go beyond all these cravings and aversions, you get peace.

Once a retired Chief Justice of India came to me. He said, “Guruji, I have retired from the highest post in my profession in this country. I have only one little wish left. With your blessings I’m sure even that will come true. I want to be appointed to the International Court of Justice at Hague.”  I told him that there’s a limit to desire! If, even after getting the highest post in the country you are not satisfied, just imagine what the state of the municipal court judge must be!

Desires should be tempered with awareness. Otherwise even happiness leads to misery. Before you get a title, you struggle to get it. Once you get it, you struggle to keep it. When you lose it, you become depressed. The eyes and ears shut down in old age, but desire for titles never goes away!  Even if a person is in coma, he wants to rule the country! In ancient days, there used to be a Rajguru in each kingdom. The king was answerable to the Rajguru. Now no one listens to anyone.

When you have vairagya, no one can steal your happiness. It is full of contentment, joy and rasa.

~ H.H.Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

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3 Responses to What is Vairagya (Dispassion)

  1. Hello Dushayantji,

    Thank you so much for sharing such a nice article. It is good to have vairagya in life. I learned a lot and have questions. But for the time being, I think I should wonder more. … :) Thank you

    Jai Guru Dev!
    Bhavik

  2. naleen says:

    superb …..thanx

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