दृष्टानुश्रविकविषयवितृष्णस्य वशीकारसंज्ञा वैराग्यम्॥१५॥
Mastering (vasikara-samjna) detachment (vairagya) occurs when we have no desire or thirst (vitrsnyasa) for objects we can perceive (drsta) and for concepts or objects that we have heard of but never experienced (anusravika).
PRACTICAL LIVING In the previous two sutras (Sutra I.13 and I.14) we discussed the importance of practice (abhyasa). In this sutra, the other side of the coin is discussed: detachment (vairagya). Let’s remind ourselves that the aim of yoga is to cultivate more self-awareness so that we can make the appropriate changes in our lives to reduce suffering and increase inner peace (Sutra I.2 and I.3). In order to experience this inner peace, Patanjali suggests we commit to practice and practice detachment. It does not say one or the other. We need a balance of both to be calm, peaceful and joyful.
The word vairagya comes from “vi” = without, and “raga” = desire/attachment. Vairagya therefore means without attachment. In the second chapter of the sutras, we will learn (I am giving you a sneak preview) that one of the sources of suffering is over-identifying with external objects, ideas, belief systems. The ego (asmita) needs to attach/cling to something to feel safe. This sutra is telling us that whenever we grab onto an object, it inevitably leads to suffering. Here we are being told we need to detach from 2 different types of things:
(i) Objects we can see (drsta), for example: people, food, alcohol, clothes, advanced asana, specific diets, belief systems…and the list goes and on and on. All of these objects which can be perceived by the 5 senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell) distract us, making us believe that happiness or fulfillment is outside of us. A common thought process is “Whenever I: get married, lose 10 lbs, travel to India, become a yoga teacher, win the lottery, move to a better city, have children, change jobs…”, then I will be happy. Patanjali teaches us to practice the art of letting go, of giving these thoughts some space, observing them without grabbing them, detaching from the drama these thoughts create. What drama do you have in your life today that you could step away from and just observe, look at it without attaching to it. Visualize yourself holding in your hand a bird who has been hurt. Give it both support by holding it, and give it enough space to be able to go away when it’s well again. Let’s treat our emotions and thoughts like that as well: observe (that’s the practice), and be willing to make space and let it go…
(ii) Objects we cannot see but only have heard of in ancient scriptures or from other people (anusravika). Often we hear from others concepts that we cannot see: Heaven, enlightenment, higher planes, higher powers…Though there is nothing wrong with believing in these, Patanjali warns us not to attach to these either. Just like the objects which can be seen, desiring these can also lead to suffering. If I grasp on to the idea of experiencing samadhi (the ultimate goal of yoga), I will be frustrated and an unhappy person throughout my journey and that journey will likely be longer. Patanjali suggests: practice, do the work, and then allow space and time for the results to happen in their own time.
IN THE YOGA WORLD For those of us studying yoga, Patanjali warns us to practice detachment throughout our journeys. It is especially important to become aware when we begin to master certain asana, pranayama, meditation techniques, or lifestyle changes. Observe the achievement, smile 🙂 and let it go. Remember the ego (asmita) wants to scream out “Look what I know that you don’t!”. Detachment applies to everything in our lives: family, friends, career, hobbies, mundane interactions…
Vairagya can be divided into two levels: (a) aparavairagya (detachment from worldy objects); and (b) paravairagya (supreme detachment). The process of developing aparavairagya can be illustrated in four stages:
(i) First, we develop the desire to cultivate detachment (vairagya). Here, as we remind ourselves on a daily basis to detach in certain situations, attachment is reduced. This process begins with external objects that we see ourselves desiring to an extent that if we don’t have them, we become agitated (watching too much television, eating too much chocolate, needing a person all the time…).
(ii) With this continuous effort (practice/abhyasa), gradually the attitude of detachment grows – some things will be easy to detach from, others will take more time. Here, we become aware of more subtle things we attach to (judging others, opinions on education, parenting, yoga styles…).
(iii) In this stage the person has mastered all the senses except for one. The last sense to master depends on the nature of the individual. In this stage, we may have mastered almost all of our desires, but the deep rooted ones, which we may have acquired during childhood or even as a fetus, still influence our thoughts and behaviors.
(iv) The last stage is when there is perfect mastery or complete subjugation of all the desires. One is aware of desire and has the ability to observe it and not be tempted by any previous desires, and can prevent being hooked on new ones. This is a very advanced state.
Please note that vairagya does not mean indifference. It means being aware of the “coloring” (see Sutra I.4) that is either happening or may happen to the mind. Every desire/attachment creates its own color in the mind. The moment the mind is colored, a ripple is formed, just as when a stone is thrown into a calm lake, creating waves. Just like the lake, the mind is no longer at peace, and that prevents steady practice (see Sutra I.14) from happening. When you want to do something constantly, your mind cannot be distracted by others desires.
In summary, we are being asked to:
– change what we need to change to move into a calmer, more peaceful direction (practice/abhyasa)
– allow the results to unfold, let go, make space, breathe and enjoy the ride 🙂 (detach, vairagya). This requires a lot of trust/faith in yourself, others and in life (more on this in a few weeks).
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON For such a profound sutra, I could only think of Patanjali: the brilliant composer of
this transformative text. We don’t know whether he was one person, or many. We are not exactly sure when he lived. But we do know that this text has had immense power to influence the lives of many throughout millennia. I can only speak from my own experience: for the past 9 years, I have been enjoying the wonderful life lessons this text offers. An amazing teacher, Robert Birnberg (see Sutra I.6) has been interpreting these teachings in very practical, clear and profound ways. I must admit that I need to detach from the belief that these teachings can help everyone 🙂 I am practicing holding onto the sutras, as opposed to grabbing on to them. This will help me offer these teachings to those who want them or will benefit from them, allowing others to continue on their own beautiful journeys. Thank you Patanjali for offering the sutras, which I have been studying with vigor, and for the concept of detachment, of which I practice everyday!
Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!
Thanks and we will look at the results of practicing detachment (vairagyam) next week!