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Perceiving Defects In The Object Of Attachment To Overcome It

It is perhaps when we start trying to meditate that we first become aware of this habit of thinking in the same old lines, and hence begin to feel the need for detachment. But the mind is like a spoiled dog! Suppose one spoils a dog, letting it jump up into one’s lap whenever it likes, fondling it when it does so, and feeding it scraps from the table when it begs for them. If one has a change of heart and decides the dog should no longer be permitted to do so, it won’t at first obey. It will continue to try to jump into one’s lap, continue to beg for scraps. Only after repeated scolding and a few good slaps will it learn the new rules. We have allowed our minds to think all kinds of unhealthy thoughts. If we now tell it to give up those thoughts, it won’t at first obey. We shall have to give it a few slaps!

One method for giving such slaps, described in the Gita, is doshanudarshna, perceiving the defects in the object of attachment. When we can convince ourselves that attachment to a particular thing or emotion or idea is useless or harmful, that such attachment stands as a bar to our spiritual progress and thus brings great misery to us, detachment naturally arises and we gain a zeal for giving it up, detaching ourselves from it. This is, in effect, what we do through discernment between the permanent and the impermanent — everything is found to have the defect of impermanence.

The poet-sage Bhartrihari, in his hundred-verse Vairagya Shataka, follows this method of finding the defects in attachment to sense-enjoyment. Bhartrihari finds that everything gives rise to bhaya, fear, and that only vairagya (detachment) is fearless:

In enjoyment is the fear of disease; in social position, the fear of falling-off; in wealth, the fear of (hostile) kings; In honour, the fear of humiliation; in power, the fear of enemies; in beauty, the fear of old age; In scriptural erudition, the fear of opponents; in virtue, the fear of scandal; in the body, the fear of death. In this life, all is fraught with fear; vairagya alone is fearless.

When we first resolve to practise detachment, it is difficult, painful — the slaps we give to the dog sometimes sting. But it finally leads to great joy. The Gita explains this in a wonderful pair of verses. Such joy, it says, is sattvic joy; it tastes like poison at first, but like nectar at the end. Rajasic joy, on the other hand, is joy in the senses, which tastes like nectar at the outset, but like poison at the end.

Source excerpts from article titled 'Vairagya - Path To Freedom' by Swami Mahayogananda published in the Prabuddha Bharata Magazine January 2010 issue.