Disgust with the world, the shrinking from the phenomenal life and the desire to escape from it to the Eternal, is called, in our terminology, vairagya. Vairagya is the turning of the soul to its salvation; but we must be on our guard against the false shows and imitations of it to which our minds are subject. “I am continually battered with the siege of sorrows & miseries;I cannot cope with the world; let me therefore get away from the world, put on the saffron robe and be at peace from anxiety and grief”; that is not the language of real vairagya. Just as you recognize a genuine article from the imitation by its trademark,so there is a mark by which you recognize the true Sannyasin. Not weariness of the phenomenal world by itself, but this world weariness accompanied by a thirst for the Eternal, that is the real vairagya. The thirst for the Eternal is the trademark; look for it always and see that it is the real trademark, not an imperfect& fraudulent reproduction. The saffron robe nowadays covers a great deal of selfishness, a great deal of idleness, a great deal of hypocrisy. It is not the robe which is the trademark, but the longing for the Eternal. Nor is it the talk and the outward action which is the trademark, for that may be a mere imitation. Look in the eyes, watch the slighter, less observed habits, wait for alight on the face; then you will find the trademark. Apply the same test to yourself. When you think you have vairagya, ask yourself, “Is this mere weariness & disgust, a weak fainting of the soul, or can I detect in it even in a slight degree an awakening of the Self and a desire for that which is not transient but eternal,not bound to sin and chequered with sorrow, but pure and free?”If after severe self-examination, you can detect this desire inyourself, know that your salvation has begun.
There are many kinds of vairagya, some true, some false.There is one vairagya, deep, intense & energetic,when the strongman having tasted the sweets of the world finds that there is in them no permanent and abiding sweetness; they are not the true and immortal joy which his true and immortal self demands, so he turns from them to something in his being which is deeper and holier, the joy of the inexhaustible and imperishable spirit within. Then there is the vairagya, false or transient, of the hypocrite or weakling, who has lusted and panted and thirsted for the world’s sweets, but has been pushed and hustled from the board by Fate or by stronger men than himself, and seeks in the outward life of the Sannyasin a slothful and thornless road to honour and ease and the satisfaction of greed, or else would use Yoga and Sannyas as the drunkard uses his bottle or the slave of opium his pill or his daily draught. Not for such ignoble purpose were these great things meant by the Rishis who disclosed them to the world. Beware of such weakness. क्लैब्यं मा स्म गमः पार्थ नैतत्त्वय्युपपद्यते । Truly is such base weakness unworthy of one who is no other than Brahman, the Eternal, the Creator, Protector and Destroyer of worlds. But on the other hand there is a true vairagya of sorrow and disappointment; sometimes men have tried in their ignorance for ignoble things and failed, not from weakness but because these things were not in their nature, were unfit for them and below their true greatness and high destiny.The sorrow and disappointment were necessary to open their eyes to their true selves; then they seek solitude, meditation & Samadhi, not as a dram to drown their sorrow and yet unsated longing, but because their yearning is no longer for unworthy things but for the love of God or the knowledge of the Eternal.Sometimes great spirits enter the way of the Sannyasin, because in the solitude alone with the Eternal they can best develop their divine strength (Brahmatej) to use it for divine purposes.Once attained they pour it in a stream of divine knowledge or divine love over the world; such were Shankaracharya and Ramakrishna. Sometimes it is the sorrows & miseries of the world that find them in ease & felicity and drive them out, as Buddha & Christ were driven out, to seek light for the ignorant and help for sufferers in the depths of their own being. True Sannyasins are the greatest of all workers, because they have the most unalloyed & inexhaustible strength and are the mightiest in God to do the works of God.
Whatever be the precise nature of the vairagya or its immediate & exciting cause, if the thirst for the Eternal mingle in it, know that it is real vairagya and the necessary impulse towards your salvation. You must pass through this stage if you are to reach the Eternal at all. For if you do not get weary of the phenomenal, your mind cannot turn to the Eternal; the attraction of the phenomenal, keeps your eyes turned downward& not upward, outward & not inward. Welcome therefore the first inrush of vairagya into your life, but remember it is a first stage on the road, not the goal. Swami Bhaskarananda was driven into Sannyas by a keen & overmastering disgust of life in the world, but when he had attained mukti, the state of his mind so changed that if his wife had been living, he would have lived with her in the world as one in the world; an idea shocking to priestly & learn`ed orthodoxy, but natural to the Jivanmukta. Sri Ramakrishna, when he had attained identity with the Lord,could not indeed return to the world as a householder or bear the touch of worldly things,—for he was the incarnation of utter Bhakti,—but he took as much delight in the Eternal manifested in phenomena & especially in man as in the pureactionless Brahman with whom he became one in Samadhi. The Karmamargin must pass through the condition of Vairagya, but he will not abide in it. Or to speak more accurately he will retain the spiritual element in it and reject the physical. The spiritual element of vairagya is the turning away from the selfish desire for phenomenal objects and actions; the physical element is the fear of and shrinking from the objects&actions themselves. The retention of the spiritual element is necessary to all Yogins; the retention of the physical element, though often a sign of great physical purity and saintliness, is not essential to salvation.
Do not be shaken by the high authority of many who say that to leave the world is necessary to the seeker after Brahman and that salvation cannot come by works. For we have a greater authority than any to set against them, the teachin gof Sri krishna himself. He tells Sanjay in the Mahabharata that as between the gospel of action and the gospel of inaction, it is the former that is to his mind and the latter strikes him as the idle talk of a weakling. So too, in the Gita, while laying stress on Jnana & Bhakti, he will by no means banish Karma nor relegate it to an inferior place; the most significant portion of the Gita is its eulogy of Karmayoga and inspired exposition of its nature & principles. Jnana, of course, is indispensable; Jnana is first & best. Works without knowledge will not save a man but only plunge him deeper & deeper into bondage. The Upanishad, before it speaks of the necessity of works, takes care first to insist that you must realise the presence of the Lord enveloping this universe & each object that it contains. When you have got this Jnana that all is the One Brahman and your actions are but the dramatic illusions unrolled by Prakriti for the delight of the Purusha, you will then be able to do works without desire or illusion, abandoning the world that you may enjoy it, as the Upanishad tells you, or as Sri Krishna advises,giving up all hankering for the fruits of your work. You will devote all your actions to the Lord; not to the lower false self,which feels pleasure & pain in the results of your actions, but to the Brahman in you which works लोकसंग्रहार्थं for the keeping together of the peoples, so that instead of the uninstructed multitudes being bewildered and led astray by your inactivity,the world may be rather helped, strengthened and maintained by the godlike character of your works. And your works must be godlike if they are done without desire or attachment to their fruits. For this is how God works. The world is His lila, His play & sport, not a purposeful stir and struggle out of which He is to gain something and be benefited. The great empire in which you glory & think it is to be eternal, is to Him no more than the house of sand which a child has built in his play. He has made it and He will break it, and, one day, it will be as if it had never been. The very Sun and its glorious wheeling planets are but momentary toys in His hands. Once they were not, now they are, a day will come & they will no longer be. Yet while He works on these things, He works like the boy when he is building his castle of sand, as if the work were to be permanent and for all time.
न च मां तानि कर्माणि निवध्नन्ति धनंजय । उदासीनवदासीनमसक्तं तेषु कर्मसु ॥
“And yet these actions bind Me not, Dhanunjay, for I sit as one unconcerned and I have no attachment to these My works. ”Actions performed after renunciation, actions devoted to God,these only do not cling to a man nor bind him in their invisible chains, but rather fall from him as water from the wings of a swan. They cannot bind him because he is free from the woven net of causality. Cause and effect exist only in the idea of duality which has its root in Avidya; the Yogin when he has renounced desire and experienced unity, rises above Avidya & her children,and bondage has no farther meaning for him. This is the goal of the Karmayogin as of all Yoga, but the path for him is through spiritual Vairagya, the renunciation of desire, not through physical separation from the objects of desire. This the Upanishad emphasizes in the second line of the verse. “Thus to thee; and there is no other way than this, action clingeth not to a man.”
एवं त्वयि नान्यधेतोsस्ति न कर्म लिप्यते नर |
This is conclusive and beyond appeal.
Sri Aurobindo. [Ishavasyopanishad]