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Vairagya – Renunciaton – And Yoga

Vairagya (renunciation or detachment) plays a role in all the four yogas, the paths of knowledge, meditation, work, and devotion. Swami Vivekananda calls it ‘the basis of all the yogas’. We have mentioned the path of jnana, of knowledge, at the outset. The jnana-yogi must have strong vairagya to succeed in piercing the veil of maya by the force of philosophical analysis. In the path of meditation, of raja yoga, we need detachment from the thoughts and desires that distract us when we try to meditate. The path of work, karma yoga, is all about detachment, not detachment from action but from the fruits of action, from the results of our work. In the path of devotion, bhakti yoga, we are to give our hearts to God. We cannot do so if we still have attachments; if the heart longs for name and fame or ice cream sundaes, can it be fully given to Bhagavan?

For success in meditation vairagya is indispensable. We are to direct the meditating mind, like an unbroken stream of oil poured from one pitcher into another, to the Divine. If while pouring oil we stick a finger in the stream, it will break up, and we will make a mess. Our samskaras stick their finger in the stream of our meditation, and the mind is distracted. That is why both Patanjali and Sri Krishna emphasize two tools for improving our meditation: abhyasa and vairagya, repeated practice and detachment. As often as it strays do we bring the mind back into focus. It is constantly drawn outwards, constantly distracted, and we persevere in dragging it back. But, if the mind is to settle firmly on the object of meditation, we must detach ourselves from the thoughts, desires, and emotions that distract us; hence vairagya.

Why do we face so much difficulty in meditation? Simply put, we are more interested in things other than God. The stronger attachment wins out. True vairagya must thus be a twofold movement: a turning away from temporal things and a turning towards the Eternal.

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