One of the greatest adepts, teachers, writers, and humanitarians of the 20th century, Swami Rama (1925-1996) is the founder of the Himalayan Institute. Born in Northern India, he was raised from early childhood by the Himalayan sage, Bengali Baba. Under the guidance of his master, he traveled from monastery to monastery and studied with a variety of Himalayan saints and sages, including his grandmaster who was living in a remote region of Tibet. In addition to this intense spiritual training, Swami Rama received higher education in both India and Europe. From 1949 to 1952, he held the prestigious position of Shankaracharya of Karvirpitham in South India. Thereafter, he returned to his master to receive further training at his cave monastery, and finally in 1969, came to the United States where he founded the Himalayan Institute. His best known work, Living With the Himalayan Masters, reveals the many facets of this singular adept and demonstrates his embodiment of the living tradition of the East.
This is an excerpt from Sacred Journey, by Swami Rama, Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust, 2002, pages 60 – 61.
Vairagya is translated variously as nonattachment, detachment, or dispassion. It should not be confused with indifference, lack of emotion, lifelessness, numbness, or anything of that sort. Vairagya is hardly indifference or numbness. Vairagya is a vibrant, open, expansive way of living. It would more accurately be described as love, as a wonderful energy of openness, freedom, joy, giving, selflessness, and fearlessness.
That is vairagya.
The Vedantic philosophy of vairagya says you own nothing, so there is nothing to fear. Everything you need for the purpose of life is there in abundance. There is no reason to be possessive and selfish. There is no reason to worry. Just live life as fully as possible with what you have. Jesus said it clearly: “Take no thought of your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than meat, and the body more than raiment?
“Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
“And why take you thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Therefore, if God so clothed the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast in the oven, shall he not more clothe you, oh you of little faith?
“Therefore, take no thought saying what shall we eat? Or, what shall we drink? Or, wherewithal shall we be clothed? Your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things.
“But first seek the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all things shall be added unto you.”
Don’t fret over the things of the world. They are not there to be acquired and hoarded. They were meant to meet spiritual needs. If spiritual progress is the focus of life, everything you need, whether it is a lot or a little, will be there. Vairagya is an expression of this faith.
Technically the word vairagya means control over desires. As Buddha explained, desires are the cause of suffering in the world. Buddha meant desires in a broader sense of attachment as well. Desires hook and attach people to things and to others, making them dependent and defining the meaning of life. Suffering is the only result. Therefore, to rise above suffering, according to Buddha, rise above desires. To rise above desires sounds impossible, or not even healthy or human, but it is possible to control and transcend desires.
In the Vedantic philosophy there is only One, pure consciousness, Atman, Brahman, or however It is defined. If that is true, then desires are irrelevant, because there is nothing to desire that isn’t already there. The one who desires is also what is desired.
The reality of human existence is that as long as we don’t fully identify ourselves with Atman, we will have desires. The route to Atman is through overcoming these desires. That requires vairagya, which has two paths, the path of renunciation or the path of fulfillment and selfless action. There is also a third, or middle path, which is to balance renunciation and fulfillment.
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