vairāgya or vairaagya (Sanskrit: वैराग्य, "dispassion; detachment; or renunciation") — desire and ability to give up all transitory enjoyments. In particular renunciation from the pains and pleasures in the material world. Vairāgya is a compound word joining vai meaning "to dry, be dried" + rāga meaning "color, passion, feeling, emotion, interest" (and a range of other usages). This sense of "drying up of the passions" gives vairāgya a general meaning of ascetic disinterest in things that would cause attachment in most people. It is a "dis-passionate" stance on life. An ascetic who has subdued all passions and desires is called a vairāgika.

What Vairagya is Not

Vairagya does not mean abandoning social duties and responsibilities of life. It does not mean detachment from the world. It does not mean a life in the solitary caves of the Himalayas or in the crematorium. It does not mean living on neem leaves, cow's urine and dung. It does not mean wearing of matted hair and a kamandalu made of fence-gourd or cocoanut shell in the hand. It dose not mean shaving of head and throwing off clothes.

What Vairagya Is

Vairagya is mental detachment from all connections with the world. That is all. A man may live in the world and discharge all the duties of his order and stage of life with perfect detachment. He :may be a householder. What if? He may live with family and children. But at the same time he may have perfect mental detachment. He can do his spiritual sadhana. That man who has perfect mental detachment while remaining in the world is a hero indeed. He is much better than a sadhu living in the Himalayan caves, ,because the former has to face the innumerable temptations of life every moment.

Wherever a man may go, he carries with him his fickle, restless mind, his vasanas and samskaras. Even if he lives in solitude, still he is the same worldly man if he is engaged in building castles in the air and thinking of the objects of the world. In such case even the cave becomes a big city to him. If the mind remains quiet, if it is free from attachments, one can be a perfect vairagi even while living in a mansion in the busiest part of a city like Calcutta or Bombay. Such a mansion will be converted into a dense jungle for him.

A dispassionate, man has a different mind altogether. He has a different experience altogether. He is a past master in the art or science of separating himself from the impermanent, perishable objects of the world. He has absolutely no attraction for them. He constantly dwells on the Eternal or the Absolute. He identifies himself every moment of his life with the witnessing consciousness that is present in pleasure and in pain, in joy and in sorrow, in censure and in praise, in honour and in dishonour, in all states of life. He stands adamantine as a peak amid a turbulent storm, as a spectator of this wonderful world show. He is not a bit affected by these pleasant and painful experiences.. He learns several valuable lessons from them. He has, in other words, no attraction for pleasant objects and repulsion for painful ones. Nor is he afraid of pain. He knows quite well that pain helps a lot in his spiritual progress and evolution, in his long journey towards the Goal. He stands convinced that pain is the best teacher in the world.

Let me sound a note of warning here. Dear aspirants! vairagya also may come and go, if you are careless and mix promiscuously with all sorts of worldly-minded people. You should develop vairagya, therefore, to a maximum degree. The mind will be waiting for golden opportunities to get back the things once renounced. Whenever and wherever the mind hisses or raises its hood (for the mind is verily like a serpent), you should take refuge in viveka and in the imperishable fortress of wise, dispassionate mahatmas. There are different degrees in vairagya. Supreme dispassion comes when one gets himself established in Brahman. Now the vairagya becomes perfectly habitual.

A man can develop inner mental detachment from pleasure and pain while living in the world, He should see that he is not carried away by the pleasant experiences of the world. He should not cling to them. He should simply remain as a silent spectator. If he thus practises for some years, every experience will be a positive step in his ascent of the spiritual ladder. Eventually he will be crowned with sanguine success. He will then have an unruffled mind. He will have a poised mind also, A dispassionate man is the happiest and the richest man in all the three worlds. He is also the most powerful man. How can Maya tempt him now?

Varieties of Vairagya

Vairagya is of two kinds, viz., karana-vairagya (on account of some miseries) and viveka-purvakvairagya (on account of discrimination between the real and the unreal).

The mind of a man who has got the former type of vairagya is simply waiting for a chance to get back the things that have been given up or lost. As soon as the first opportunity occurs, the man gets a downfall and goes back to, his former state. Vishaya (sensual object) does havoc in him with a vengeance and redoubled force from reaction. But the other man who has given up objects on account of deep enquiry and viveka, on account of the illusory nature of objects, will have spiritual advancement. He will not have any downfall.

drishtaanursravika vishaya vidrishnasya vasi-karasamyaa vairagyam
“That particular state of mind which manifests in one who does not hanker after objects seen or heard and in which one is conscious of having controlled or mastered those objects is non-attachment.”
(Patanjali Yoga-Sutras 1:15)

It is only when the mind is absolutely free from the attachment of all sorts that true knowledge begins to dawn and samadhi supervenes. Secret powers, attainment of heaven, states of videha and prakritilaya, etc., are all temptations. One should be perfectly free from all sorts of temptations. Samadhi comes by itself when the yogic student is fully established in perfect vairagya. Paravairagya is the means to asamprajnata samadhi.

Stages in Vairagya

There are four stages in vairagya:

  1. Yatamanam. This is an attempt not to allow the mind to run into sensual grooves.
  2. Vyatirekam. In this stage some objects are attracting you and you are endeavoring to cut off the attachment and attraction. Slowly vairagya develops for these objects also. Then the vairagya matures. When some objects tempt and delude you, you should ruthlessly avoid them. You will have to develop vairagya for these tempting objects and it must also mature. In this stage you are conscious of your degree of vairagya towards different objects.
  3. Ekendriyam. The indriyas stand still and subdued, but the mind has either raga or dwesha for objects. Mind is, in other words, the only indriya that functions independently.
  4. Vasikaran. In this highest stage of vairagya, the objects no longer tempt you. They cause no attraction. The indriyas are perfectly quiet. Mind also is free from likes and dislikes (raga and dwesha). Then you get supremacy or independence. Now you are conscious of your supremacy. Without vairagya no spiritual progress is possible.

Vairagya is of three kinds, viz., mandha (dull), theevira (intense) and theeviratara (very intense). Dull vairagya cannot help you much in the attainment of your goal.

Vairagya is the opposite of raga. It is dispassion or non-attachment. It is indifference to sensual objects herein and hereafter. Vairagya thins out the fatty sensual mind. It turns the mind inward (antarmukh vritti) This is the most important qualification for an aspirant. It is the one and the only means to enter into nirvikalpa samadhi.

Vairagya that is born of vikalpa is lasting and steady. If you seriously think of the various kinds of pain in this samsara such as birth, death, worries, depression, suffering, disease, loss, hostility, disappointment, fear, etc., if you understand intelligently the defects of dosha drishti (sensual life) and the transitory and perishable nature of all objects of the world, vairagya will immediately dawn.


1. What is Vairagya?, by Swami Sivananda Saraswati, Atma Jyoti Ashram

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