Vairāgya (Detachment)

Vairāgya (Detachment)

Sri Sri Hari dasa ThakuraŚrī Śrī Hari Dāsa Ṭhākura
Impersonal Spirituality and Transcendental SpiritualityImpersonal Spirituality and Transcendental Spirituality (Ādhyātmika u Aprākṛta)


Vairāgya (Detachment) was first published in Sajjana Toṣaṇī Vol.11, issue 6 in 1899. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura describes in detail the two kinds of renunciation and how they relate to viṣaya, material sense-objects.

(translated by Swami B.V. Giri)

Being averse towards the objects of the senses is called vairāgya. Those things that are enjoyed by the senses can be called viṣaya. The eyes, ears, nose, hands, feet, etc. are the jīva’s senses. Through the eyes we perceive form, through the ears we hear sound, and sense-objects are enjoyed by the other senses. As long as the bound jīva is present within the body, it is his natural propensity to enjoy viṣaya. Vairāgya is twofold – dry or phalgu-vairāgya, and yukta-vairāgya. Dry vairāgya is the unnatural attempt to try and put an end to anarthas stemming from viṣaya by using knowledge. Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī has written about this vairāgya in his Rasāmṛta-sindhu:

prāpañcikatayā buddhyā hari-sambandhi-vastunaḥ
mumukṣubhiḥ parityāgo vairāgyaṁ phalgu kathyate
(Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.256)

Those who strive to be free from material sorrow are called mumukṣu. The mumukṣus are mundane, therefore they abandon subjects related to Hari as useless. This is known as phalgu (useless) or dry vairāgya. Devotees striving for bhajana never accept dry vairāgya. This is because if we resort to unnatural methods to negate viṣaya, our hearts become dry and unsuitable for bhakti-sādhana. A jīva who has accepted a material body naturally endeavours for viṣaya. Even if one tries to put an end to viṣaya, he will again enjoy them due to the influence of the material modes. Therefore, the Lord says in the Gītā:

na hi deha-bhṛtā śakyaṁ tyaktuṁ karmāṇy aśeṣataḥ
yas tu karma-phala-tyāgī sa tyāgīty abhidhīyate

(“It is impossible for those who have accepted a material body to totally renounce all activities. However, one who renounces the results of his actions is known as a true renunciate.” – Bhagavad-gītā 18.11)

kāryate hy avaśaḥ karma sarvaḥ prakṛti-jair guṇaiḥ

(“One cannot abstain from activities even for a moment. Indeed, all living beings are forced to engage in activities due to the influence of the modes of material nature.” – Bhagavad-gītā 3.5)

Rejecting viṣaya doesn’t mean that the viṣaya leaves the jīva. Until the jīva attains a higher taste (rasa), then the thirst for viṣaya is inevitable. Even if after many endeavours one abandons viṣaya, still one will enjoy them in the mind. Śrī Bhagavān says:

karmendriyāṇi saṁyamya ya āste manasā smaran
indriyārthān vimūḍhātmā mithyācāraḥ sa ucyate

(Bhagavad-gītā 3.6)

The foolish person who restrains the working senses but meditates upon them in his mind is a hypocrite. Śrī Bhagavān also says:

viṣayā vinivartante nirāhārasya dehinaḥ
rasa-varjaṁ raso ’py asya paraṁ dṛṣṭvā nivartate
(Bhagavad-gītā 2.59)

By fasting or restraint, the senses may become weak, in order that a persons greed for viṣaya may decline. However the desire for viṣaya has not gone away. His mind is still contemplating all those viṣaya. But when the viṣaya-rasa (the rasa for sense-objects) is ignored, and the rasa of the Supreme Lord is achieved, then the happiness and distress of viṣaya cease on their own, which is why one does not have to endeavour. Devotees do not reject viṣaya, but they do not enjoy them as viṣaya – rather, they establish them in relation to Kṛṣṇa, and through this they cultivate their service to Bhagavān. The eyes want to see form – let us see the beauty of a great Deity or the form of a Vaiṣṇava. One can make similar arrangements in relation to the other senses. This is called yukta-vairāgya. Therefore, Śrī Rūpa has discussed the characteristics of yukta-vairāgya as follows:

anāsaktasya viṣayān yathārham upayuñjataḥ
nirbandhaḥ kṛṣṇa-sambandhe yuktaṁ vairāgyam ucyate

(Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.255)

Even if one accepts appropriate viṣaya in a detached manner, it becomes yukta-vairāgya when it is seen in relation to Śrī Kṛṣṇa. To advise completely rejecting all viṣaya and then engage in exclusive bhagavat-bhajana is like an ākāśa-kusuma.*

* Translators Note: Ākāśa-kusuma means ‘a flower in the sky.’ Flowers cannot grow in the sky, so this metaphor refers to something that is imaginary or impossible.

This is the instruction of Śrīman Mahāprabhu:

markaṭa-vairāgya nā kara loka dekhāñā
yathā-yogya viṣaya bhuñja’ anāsakta hañā

antare niṣṭhā kara, bāhye loka-vyavahāra
acirāt kṛṣṇa tomāya karibe uddhāra

(“Do not show off to the public by becoming a monkey-like renunciant. For now, enjoy viṣaya in a proper way but do not become attached to them. Develop determination internally, but externally behave like an ordinary man. Very soon Kṛṣṇa will liberate you.” – Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 16.238)

Bhakti gradually arises by cultivating service to Kṛṣṇa in a favorable way with all the senses, while maintaining one’s body during life by accepting appropriate viṣaya without attachment. Knowledge and renunciation comes to with bhakti, as is said in the Bhāgavata:

vāsudeve bhagavati bhakti-yogaḥ samāhitaḥ
sadhrīcīnena vairāgyaṁ jñānaṁ ca janayiṣyati
(Śrīmad Bhāgatavam 4.29.37)

Devotees show vairāgya towards those material things that are unfavorable to kṛṣṇa-bhakti, otherwise bhakti-sādhana cannot be improved. With great care, they reject those activities that are unfavorable to bhakti such as associating with those who are averse (to bhakti), overeating, sleeping too much etc. but they don’t practice jñāna or vairāgya independently. This is because the instruction of Śrī Mahāprabhu is:

jñāna-vairāgyādi bhaktira kabhu nahe aṅga

(“Jñāna, vairāgya etc. are never divisions of bhakti.” – Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 22.145)

This is Śrīman Mahāprabhu’s advice on following dry jñāna, karma and vairāgya. Reject them and cultivate service to Kṛṣna at all times. Always take care that such cultivation is completely pure. Abandoning all those activities that are averse to the cultivation of bhakti, accept those things that are favourable to bhakti. Gradually, when pure bhakti appears in the heart, then the divisions of jñāna and vairāgya such as ahiṁsā (non-violence), yama (restraint), niyama (regulations) etc. will become present. When Śrīman Mahāprabhu empowered Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī, the main ācārya of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, to go to Śrī Vṛndāvana, He specifically forbade dry vairāgya and ordered the practice and propagation of yukta-vairāgya. Thus, we find in the Caritāmṛta:

yukta-vairāgya-sthiti saba śikhāila
śuṣka-vairāgya-jñāna saba niṣedhila

(“The Lord taught him to apply yukta-vairāgya in all situations, and forbade all types of dry vairāgya and jñāna.”– Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 23.105)

Based upon His holy character, we will discuss a little about what kind of disdain Śrīman Mahāprabhu used to show towards dry vairāgya. After Śrī Gaurāṅga had travelled South and returned to Nīlācala, Vaiṣṇavas from various places came to the Lord’s divine feet. One day, Śrī Mukunda Datta told Śrīman Mahāprabhu, “Brahmānanda Bhāratī has come for Your darśana. If ordered, he will be brought to this place.” The Lord replied, “He is worshippable like My guru, so I will go to him.” Śrī Gaurāṅga came in front of Bhāratī, but:

brahmānanda pariyāche mṛga-carmāmbara
tāhā dekhi’ prabhu duḥkha pāilā antara

dekhiyā ta’ chadma kaila yena dekhe nāi

(“Brahmānanda was wearing a deerskin, and seeing that, the Lord became unhappy internally. Seeing this, He pretended not to notice him.”– Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 10.154-155)

The Lord did not even look at Bhāratī. He asked Mukunda, “Where is Bhāratī Gosāi? Mukunda indicated Bhāratī to Him. Śrī Gaurāṅga, the Supreme rasika, said, “Mukunda, you are mistaken.”

anyere anya kaha nāhi tomāra jñāna
bhāratī-gosāi kene paribena cāma

(“You must be talking of someone else. You have no understanding – why would Bhāratī Gosāi wear a skin?” Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 10.157)

Hearing Śrī Gaurāṅga’s statement, Bhāratī felt extremely ashamed. He thought, “I think the Lord does not feel good about my wearing this skin.”

bhāla kahena carmāmbara dambha lāgi’ pari
carmāmbara-paridhāne saṁsāra nā tari

(“He has spoken correctly. I wore this deerskin out of pride. I cannot cross beyond saṁsāra simply by wearing a skin.” Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 10.159)

As the indwelling monitor of all, Lord Gauracandra knew the inner mind of Bhāratī and brought one piece of outer cloth. Bhāratī abandoned the skin and wore the outer cloth. Then:

prabhu āsi kaila tāṅra caraṇa vandana

(“The Lord came and offered respects at his feet.”– Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 10.161)

Śrīman Mahāprabhu has shown such disdain for dry vairāgya in many places, yet we will not quote them for fear of redundancy. Accordingly, it is our wish that the devotees of Śrī Gaura should abandon dry vairāgya and perform bhajana on the basis of yukta-vairāgya.

(‘Vairāgya (Detachment)’ by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was first published in Sajjana Toṣaṇī Vol.11, issue 6 in 1899 and translated into English by Swami B.V. Giri)
Sri Sri Hari dasa ThakuraŚrī Śrī Hari Dāsa Ṭhākura
Impersonal Spirituality and Transcendental SpiritualityImpersonal Spirituality and Transcendental Spirituality (Ādhyātmika u Aprākṛta)

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