1.15 दृष्टानुस्रविकविषयवितृष्णस्य वशीकारसंज्ञा वैराग्यम्
ḍṛṣṭānuśravika-viṣaya-vitṛṣṇasya vaśīkāra-saṁjñā vairāgyam
ḍṛṣṭa – seen; anuśravika – heard from the Veda; viṣaya – objects, subject matter; vitṛṣṇasya – free from desire; vaśīkāra – mastery; saṁjñā – awareness, consciousness; vairāgyam – detachment:
Detachment is described as that state where the mind is controlled and tranquil and one loses all desire for both the material sense objects/enjoyment found in this world and the heavenly enjoyments described in the Vedas.
1.15 ḍṛṣṭanuśravika-viṣaya-vitṛṣṇa vaśīkāra-saṁjñā vairāgyam
Detachment is described as that state where the mind is controlled and tranquil, and one loses all desire for both material sense objects or enjoyment found in this world, and the heavenly enjoyments described in the Vedas.
So this is the second of the two items which Patañjali mentioned that are necessary to succeed: first of course been practice, and now this word ‘vairāgyam’. Vairāgyam is a very special word in Sanskrit. I’m translating it as detachment; some people use renunciation. But I think the term detachment or dispassion, is probably a lot closer to the actual meaning of the word. And as we go through the discussion on this particular verse, then I think it may become apparent… or you’ll more clearly be able to appreciate what it actually means. So vairāgyam is defined as the absence of desire for sense objects, or ‘viṣaya’ – the absence of the desire for these things.
So immediately what we’re seeing from that is, there is… it’s not the same as having a burning desire for something and then not giving in to it, as it were, but actually coming to the point where one loses the attraction for things that are considered painful, or things that bind us to material existence. Vyāsa states that one who is actually renounced, understands the great flaws of sensuality, and they understand those flaws by considering its consequence. So, this is almost like yogic mindfulness.
When the mind becomes drawn to something and dictates, “Let’s go enjoy that, let’s go do that,” the yogi considers, “If I go down this path, what’s actually going to be the consequence; what’s actually going to be the result?” Yes, there may be some momentary pleasurable sensation, but all the nature of pleasure… sensual pleasure, is that it has a beginning and it comes to an end. And it often involves me doing so many other things, in order to be able to get that thing that I want to try and enjoy. And then the experience is, that it does not actually fulfill me; it does not actually provide me with what I’m looking for.
It’s not like my heart becomes completely full, and I’m overwhelmed with calm blissfulness. The example is given that in catering to the desires of the senses, what we end up doing is quite often, as they say, “Pouring gasoline on the fire.” We feel this burning agitation; this desire to go do something, or to engage in something or to experience something. And then I do it with the hope that the desire will become fulfilled, and I will be peaceful and satiated afterwards. But I am not satiated. It won’t be too long before that same desire arises again, and every time I cater to the idea of sensual enjoyment, what I’m doing is making it so that fire within my heart burns actually brighter and stronger. So, in thinking things through; in considering things… I mean I teach this in the prison programs that we do. You know the need to, in life… one of the things I tell these guys is, in life you should never engage in an act, speak, or make a decision in a moment of heightened passions – whether they are negative things like fears or anger, or things, or out of desire, or whatever… one should not, in that state, be making decisions that will alter and affect my life. I need to be able to make decisions in the calmest possible state and consider, “What would be the actual benefit to me and to others from those actions?”
So, this process of thoughtfulness – of yogic mindfulness, it actually leads to freedom, and it really helps us in our life, in making better choices that deliver more desirable outcomes. So, based on taking things to their logical conclusion, this is called viveka, or discriminative knowledge. Before engaging in something, I really think about, “Okay, what would be the consequences; where is this going to go; how are things going to be down the road?” We often jump into things with our eyes closed, with a hope that it will turn out perfectly wonderfully well, and that’s often not the case at all. And then by exercising our discrimination, we will come to the understanding that sensual pleasure and happiness are not the same things.
I frequently use Russell Brand, the English comedian, as my ‘go-to’ example here, and he talked about overcoming addictions. This guy is incredibly thoughtful and very very intelligent, and he talked about how… you know…he had fame, he had good looks, he had money; he could… you know …he had a massive appetite for cocaine and for heroin, and for alcohol – which he drank… you know… in copious amounts. And anytime that he wanted to engage in any sexual activity, it was readily available to him. But, in spite of all of this highly magnified sensual stimulation; the senses going… you know… getting blasted with all these experiences, and that are considered pleasurable, he became incredibly depressed and even suicidal. And it took him some time, but then he came to actually realize that there was a vast difference between sensual pleasure – the pleasures that you can experience, which are very temporary in nature – and happiness. And quite often there is no connection between them – they’re two completely different things. And so this idea of discriminative examination of things is really an important part of yoga also. Rather than just accepting things in a very shallow way, we actually put a bit of thought into these things.
One of the well-known commentators…very old commentators on the Yoga Sutra… his name was Vācaspati Miśra … he stated that the strength of renunciation does not come from being free from desires, but rather, from being indifferent to them. So, what happens is… part of this process of growing realization, is that I begin to increasingly experience my individuality and identity as a spiritual being, separate from my body and mind. And my body and mind can be dictating all kinds of things, and desiring all kinds of things, and I can become…or come gradually, to this point of being increasingly more and more in control of my life, and being less and less affected – not feeling like I must immediately respond to these things. So, desires may come and they may go, and being… or becoming indifferent to them, is really what vairagyam is really about.
To be in a strong… to have a strong practice of what we might call renunciation, really lies in this growing indifference that will develop as part of my spiritual practice. The result of all pleasurable sensual stimulation… we really have to understand and then constantly reflect on it… is that it is fleeting and temporary, it does not satiate or satisfy the self, and what it does is, it lays the groundwork for future or further desires through saṁskāras or latent impressions, that these experiences leave upon the mind. And this in turn, binds the eternal spiritual being – the puruṣa; you or I – to the endless cycle of material existence.
So another thing to remember, or to become aware of, is that the loss of desire stated in this verse, does not mean the elimination of saṁskāras. These saṁskāras – these latent impressions that are… you know… imprinted upon our consciousness, are capable of resurfacing at at any time. And even if one comes to an advanced spiritual state, where they are actually not being bothered by many of these things, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have completely overcome them. And I think a good example of this is in the life of a great rishi – his name was Saubhari Muni. He was an intense practitioner of this process …of this Ashtanga process… and he had such tremendous strength of will, and had practiced so diligently for so long, he had mastered prāṇāyāma in an incredible way, where the inward breath is merged into the outward breath and becomes completely suspended. And because of this, he took to meditating underwater in a river. And he did this so that he would be freed from the distraction. There is not much to distract you when you are in the waters of the river. And the way in which the meditation would be performed by these yogi’s is that there would be a very soft gaze towards the tip of the nose, the eyes would be somewhat closed but not tightly closed. And of course, this meant that there was some small vision right in front of you. And one day, while sitting under the water in meditation for a considerable period of time, Saubhari Muni saw two fishes copulating, and of course the fishes copulating… it’s not like dogs or anything… I mean one of them lays the eggs the other one fertilizes them. And it is just kind of like you know… it’s not like something particularly startling. But because that caught his attention…he noticed it…then he immediately began this latent impression of sexual activity, which was imprinted in his mind, now rose to the surface. And contemplating or considering it, even for a brief moment, meant that he broke his concentration and had to come out of the water quite quickly. And that set off now a whole series of events, where he ended up breaking his vows of celibacy… doing it in a proper way…he got married and everything. And it just descended into this whole other experience for him, which he later very much regretted. But it is an example of how we should appreciate that until we come to the highest spiritual platform, latent impressions that are stamped upon our consciousness – our mind…or consciousness rather…by sensual activity of any type, doesn’t just immediately vanish, even when one is living a life great control and focus, and experiencing great happiness in that. It’s not until a person comes to the full realization of their spiritual being, that one is able to escape from the influence of these latent impressions.
I did just want to make one final comment, that in this verse he mentions… you know… material sense objects, or enjoyment found in this world; he also references heavenly enjoyment. And the Vedas is full of stories of different personalities who engaged, or were drawn towards these heavenly dimensions, where they describe sensual enjoyment that is ten thousand times greater, or more intense, than anything that a person can experience on this particular planet. And so that attraction is going to be there if one reads these types of things. And so Patañjali is speaking about… you know …when, after gaining knowledge of the ātmā or the puruṣa through self-realization, that they become indifferent, or they become untouched by the desire for enjoyment – sensual enjoyment of this world, or in the heavenly planets.