by Swami Krishnananda
Dispassion has been regarded as an indispensable prerequisite of yoga. A spirit of renunciation and a feeling of a final worthlessness of all things may sometimes take possession of us either with our understanding – by a careful observation of the nature of things – or by a sudden kick that we receive from nature. Either way, a spirit of renunciation can arise in our minds.
Very intelligent, scientific analysis will reveal that there is something wrong with the world, and it is not as it appears on the surface. Also, when there is a catastrophe and a loss of everything that one holds as dear and worthwhile in life – then also there is a feeling that everything is useless. Something becomes useless only in comparison with something else which we regard as useful. There cannot be a total uselessness of everything, because such a feeling is comparative.
Whatever be the nature of the renunciation which takes possession of us, yoga insists that it should be positive; and the idea of positivity is that it should not be capable of reversion into the old groove of thinking. If there is a catastrophic revolution and a loss of everything material, there can be a sudden urge for religious devotions. This urge cannot be regarded as a positive aspiration, because it can cease to operate when conditions favourable for the comfortable life on Earth are provided a little later. When those things, the loss of which became the cause of a spirit of renunciation within, come back to us after some time, the renunciation which is the effect thereof may come to an end, so that is not a genuine spirit of renunciation.
There are, as elderly people tell us, three kinds of dispassion. The disgust for everything that we feel when a man is dead and is cremated – we feel that something is horrible in this world that a man has gone like that suddenly, and we do not know where he has gone. He has gone to the winds, most unexpectedly. He is cremated, he is buried, he is thrown away, cast aside as if he is nothing. “What a pity! This is life. This may be my fate too.” This kind of feeling is a sort of vairagya arising in the mind when it sees such things. It is called smasana vairagya. Smasana is cremation ground. When we see a cremation ground, we feel a sense of disgust. But when we come back to our house, fifty percent of that feeling goes. We have forgotten what we have seen in the cremation ground – the ashes and the flames are out of sight – and we are once again in a cosy homely atmosphere which tells us, “My dear friend, after all, things are not so bad.” And after few days we are once again in the same old pleasurable, comfortable, happy way of thinking. The smasana vairagya has gone. This is not vairagya; this is not dispassion. It is not spiritual. It is not going to help us in the practice of yoga.
The other is called abhava vairagya. Because we cannot get a thing, we have a dispassion for it. On Mount Everest, we may not get milk, so we say, “Well, I don’t take milk.” This is a great renunciation indeed when it is because we cannot get it. But when we get it, naturally we will want it. Therefore, this is also not positive, not spiritual. It cannot be called renunciation, dispassion, or vairagya. It is abhava vairagya.
The third is called prasava vairagya. A woman feels disgust when she bears a child. “Oh, horror it is!” Life itself is meaningless for her due to the agony of the travail, and she makes up her mind that such a sorry state of affairs may not be repeated. But it is temporary, like the other vairagyas, because when the pain goes, the idea that there has been pain also goes, and once again the mind gets into the earlier ways of thinking of those conditions of life which provide the usual comforts, pleasures, etc.
These are all quite different from what yoga requires of us. Dispassion, which is the great requisite of yoga, is not any one of these, but something different altogether. Drsta anusravika visaya vitrsnasya vasikarasamjna vairagyam (Y.S. 1.15), says Patanjali in his famous aphorism. Vairagya is not abhava vairagya, smasana vairagya or prasava vairagya. What is it that we are required to practice and make our own? It is an entirely spiritual attitude towards things. Vitrishna is the word used in this aphorism. Trishna is craving, a lust for pleasure, a hunger for satisfaction, a thirst that we feel inside due to the lack of comfortable objects; this is called trishna. The object itself is not of primary importance here. The attitude towards the object is of greater importance. The greed for gold may be present in the mind of a thief or a miser, but a child has no greed for gold even if it sees a gold ornament, because it cannot perceive the value of gold. The gold is gold whether it is in the presence of a child, a monkey, a miser or a thief. It is the same object; it has not changed its character. Its value is the same. The value of the gold is not diminished merely because it is placed in front of a baby, but the attitude of the baby is different from that of a miser, a thief, etc.
While the nature of the object exerts an influence upon the mind, no doubt, and it is necessary that we are free from atmospheres which are infested with such objects of attraction, it is more important to remember that yoga is an internal adjustment with the existing condition of things. Yoga does not aim at transformation of the world, because such a thing is not necessary. What is necessary is a self-adjustment with the order of things. In a famous mantra of the Isavasya Upanishad it is said, yathatathyato’rthan vyadadhac chasvatibhyas samabhyah (Isa 8): The great wisdom of the creator projected the universe in the manner in which it ought to be, and it does not need a modification or an amendment of the act. The act of God is not subject to amendment. It has been very wisely constituted by Him, and it is futile on the part of any human being or group of people to think that the acts of God can be amended by our little efforts. He has permanently fixed the order of things, and if we accept the wisdom of God, we have also to accept the correctness of this order with which He has manifested this universe.
So, what is wrong with the world then, about which we are so much complaining? The wrong is that we are not able to recognise this order that is present in things. The order is trans-empirical; it is beyond the perception of the senses. The organisation of the universe instituted by God is not capable of human understanding and, therefore, we misconstrue the whole order and imagine that there is a chaos, that God has created confusion and a tremendous ugliness, a resource of evil, pain, suffering and anything that is unwanted. This is all the wisdom of God; we could not find anything better. We are complaining against the very discomfiture of God that is unwarrantedly imagined by us. But the Upanishad has proclaimed that everything is perfectly in order and our like or dislike for a thing does not affect the thing very seriously, but it affects us.
To reiterate, yoga aims at an individual transformation necessary for an adjustment with the cosmic order of things. The cosmic order will not change. The cosmos is the body of the Virat, as the Vedanta tells us; there is no need for a change in it. But there is a need for change somewhere else, in what is called jiva srishti, not in Ishvara srishti. These are all technical jargons of Vedanta. The creation of God needs no change, but the creation of the individual needs change; that is the meaning. The creation of God does not need change because God is omniscient, and He has wisely construed everything in the manner it ought to be. He has placed everything in the very place where it ought to be, in the condition in which it has to be; but the individual cannot comprehend this mystery, because no individual can be omniscient; and no one who is not omniscient can understand the perfection of God’s creation.
If the ugliness, the stupidity and the evil of this world is really there as we imagine it, it should be there always. But we have this epic illustration of the Virat-svarupa, for example, described in the Bhagavadgita, and no ugliness was seen when the Virat was manifest. Arjuna could not see faecal matter or cow dung or bathrooms and drains and sewage; nothing was there. Where has it gone? Has it vanished altogether? All this stupidity of the world is not there in that perfection, but that perfection is inclusive of this stupidity, this ugliness. It is not somewhere far away. What Arjuna was made to visualise was the very same thing that we are seeing with our eyes. He was not seeing something else, far off in the distant heavens. The same drains and dustbins that we detest so much were there; but they were not dustbins. They were something else, because they were arranged in the pattern of universal perfection which could be seen with a new eye altogether, not the fleshy eyes. The eye of perfection saw only perfection. But if this stupidity of the world is really there, then even after we reach God, we will see that horror. Then there will be no point in practicing yoga or even God-realisation, because the horror will continue for all time. The point is that this is a mistake in perception.