The word vairagya is a commonly used Sanskrit word. It is used by people, who do not even know Sanskrit, as it is present in almost every Indian language. The widely used meaning of the word vairagya is dispassion or renunciation. However, it is necessary to see the other meanings and the origins of this Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin, and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from a stem or root.  


The word vairagya is derived from the word viraga, which in turn is derived from the root word ranj by adding a vi prefix and a ghain suffix. Viraga means change or loss of colour, excitement, irritation, aversion, dislike, indifference, indifference to external things or worldly objects, the faulty suppression of a sound in pronunciation, or a particular high number. Vairagya is the state of having viraga. Thus vairagya means change or loss of colour, growing pale, disgust, aversion, distaste for, loathing of, freedom from all worldly desires, indifference to worldly objects and to life, or asceticism.


Vairagya is considered to be one of the four qualities necessary for a spiritual aspirant. The quartet of these qualities are called sadhana-chatushtaya, the quartet of sadhana. The other three qualities are viveka, discernment; shama-adi-shatka-sampattih, the sextet of the wealth of virtues beginning with shama, calming of the mind; and mumukshutva, the desire for moksha. The quality of vairagya has been emphasised as very important, particularly at the beginning of a spiritual or religious life.


All major texts of the Sanatana Dharma, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism emphasise the quality of vairagya. Intense vairagya leads to one’s progressing faster on the path to attain spiritual liberation, moksha. Such a person is freed from the cycle of transmigratory existence or repeated births and deaths and becomes one with the ultimate reality, Brahman. Vairagya can be practised by any one, irrespective of one’s station in life and irrespective of whether that person is a householder or a monastic. The goal is to develop vairagya towards the world and all sense-objects and to develop an affinity to God and spiritual life.


In the Bhagavadgita, Sri Krishna asserts that the mind can be controlled only by vairagya and abhyasa, regular practice. Patanjali in his Yoga Sutra stresses the importance of vairagya, non-attachment, as integral to the control of the mind or to the achievement of the cessation of thought-vibrations in the mind. The king-turned-sage Bhartrihari wrote one hundred verses on vairagya titled Vairagya Shatakam. There is hardly any treatise on spirituality in Sanatana Dharma that does not talk about vairagya.


There are different kinds of vairagya. Shmashana vairagya, cremation-ground dispassion or markata vairagya, monkey dispassion are examples of a disinterestedness in worldly affairs arising out of some suffering in life. Once the effect of suffering dissipates or when a solution out of that suffering appears, this dispassion vanishes. Then there is tivra vairagya, strong dispassion that is characterised by a severe discomfort with worldly dealings and involvement with sense objects. Para vairagya, supreme dispassion comes as a result of the realisation of one’s true reality, Brahman.


Author is Editor Prabuddha Bharata. The Balabodha series as written is a glossary of words and not an article.


To read all articles by the Author

This article was first published in the April 2019 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To subscribe https://shop.advaitaashrama.org/subscribe/

Also read

1 How to get VAIRAGYA by Sri Swami Sivananda – Divine Life Society 

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