Yoga Sutra 12 Chapter 1, Abhyasa and Vairagya two main Practices

abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah

Yoga sutra 12 explained:

Abhyasa – continuously consistent effort of practice

Vairagyabhyam – detachment, non-attraction to material objects

Tan – of those

Nirodhah – control

After explaining the five types of modifications of the mind in the previous yoga sutras, Patanjali now, yoga sutra 12, chapter 1, begins to talk about the ways and means that are available to us in Yoga philosophy which can help us in arresting those modifications of the mind or Citta, the ultimate goal of Yoga as already elaborated in yoga sutra 2 of Chapter 1. Here, he gives two main basic techniques of abhyasa and vairagya which can help one keep one’s mind steady.

Abhyasa and Vairagya Meaning & Significance

Literally abhyasa and vairagya means efforts / perseverance and disinterest respectively. As per Patanjali all the other virtues fall under these two techniques. He has suggested these two techniques for the best students of yoga because both abhyasa and vairagya takes a strong determination and will to follow the main aim of controlling one’s mind.

Mind can be controlled by completely obscuring all other worldly temptations and desires. The strength of determination may be lacking in the lower students for whom the author has suggested Kriya Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Ashtanga Yoga for the paths to lead them to the meditative state of mind.

As per yoag sutra 12, both, abhyasa (perseverance) and vairagya (disinterest) has to be practiced together, practicing only abhyasa or vairagya will kill the purpose of each other. One may be adhering to abhyasa, practicing yoga at the set time and place everyday, but still remain entangled in the tendencies toward material pleasures.

For some of us, even deciding to sit down quietly and keep the mind away from certain tempting thought is a challenge. Perseverance with a mind which remains agitated to the worldly attractions is very much possible, killing the whole purpose of the practice.

Achieving any results is definitely possible with continuous effort, the problem is how to sustain the effort till one reaches one’s goal, one normally loses interest, or finds something else more attractive on the way and is thrown off track completely.

This is where vairagya comes in, disinterest in everything other than the set goal. If the goal is yoga, are we clear why are we pursuing yoga at the very first instance. Vairagya in everything else is a must in order to have a single minded devotion to where one wants to be, persistent effort with the goal in mind and disinterest in all else can help one achieve anything.

Making the mind dedicated on a single goal is the toughest thing to achieve. As long as mind exists thoughts will keep populating it. As per yoga, and also as per Samkhya philosophy these thoughts are the cause of all pain which seems to have no cure.

The cure to all the pain and suffering is controlling the thoughts by steadying the mind. one cannot imagine the mind not being in any of the five modifications at any given point of time. Even if some effort helps arrests it momentarily, it soon becomes busy in spinning pain of all kinds.

The solution to this is living life with complete disinterestedness towards material objects and the world. The attitude of disinterestedness needs to be developed towards life where one is not attached to, or desiring of anything material, one just does what is required to be done without any attachment to the process or the results.

One remains attached to one’s newly acquired expensive car, one has to show it around because one attaches one’s prestige to its possession. One doesn’t just buy a car and use it for what it is meant for, but one would want to talk about it, write about it, and establish one’s right over it.

As soon as the mind become active the entire web of senses, perception, and action gets woven within seconds which blurs one’s goal for which one is making the effort, or the abhyasa. Vairagya doesn’t mean running away from things but its an attitude one needs to develop.

We have to keep dealing with every elements life is composed of but still not attached to it, so that if the element isn’t present at any point of time if can easily do without it. Learning to let go our attachments is the center point of practicing vairagya.

How to inculcate Vairagya as an Attitude – Yoga Sutra 12

It is important that the quality of vairagya is inculcated regularly by adhering to simple rituals regularly. This can be as simple as observing silence, or just be uiet for some time. Such techniques if practiced for a long time can eventually generate disinterest in material world.

The subsequent yoga sutras will demonstrate how the concept of vairagya passes through different stages. Even the habit of restraining oneself, or discipling oneself is vairagya.

Such restraint brings about certain amount of self control. The idea is to restraining oneself from the immediate gratification of one’s desires and instead work towards the higher goal. Practicing lower restraints will slowly build up to the higher restraints which will help inculcate the attitude of disinterestedness in life in general.

One must push oneself towards the realization that one has experienced enough of the material world which is non permanent in nature and the cause of all suffering. Then one must generate efforts to control the modifications of the mind, create new samskaras instead.

Positive thinking, or no thinking will help arrest the fluctuations of the mind. If one would be all entangled in the material world one would not be able to control the mind, thus vairagya attitude towards life comes in play here.

All this necessitates a lot of training. Vairagya is important for the abhyasa to be fruitful. Vairagya is basically about learning to see the things from a distance in order to see them clearly. With detachment one can better perform one’s duties in life.

Nature of Vairagya in Patanjali Yoga Sutra – Yoga Sutra 12

Almost all the schools of philosophy lay stress on the cultivation of vairagya. From a close study of the definitions of vairagya as put forward by the exponents of the various schools it appears that the word vairagya has not been used in one and the same sense. I shall therefore try to explain the nature of vairagya according to the yoga sutra of Patanjali.

A good number of teachers hold that the essence of vairagya is renunciation (tyaga). It appears that Patanjali did not subscribe t this view. Renunciation, however, has its own value and it does possess some touch with vairagya as well as will be explained later.

At first, it should be noted that vairaga or vairagya is quite contrary to raga (attachment). Yoga sutra 2 of Chapter 3 designates raga as one of the kleshas, which falls under avidya which is the breeding ground (parsvabhumi) of raga.

In Patanjali school, avidya is not the absence of vidya (correct cognition), but a positive entity in the form of wrong apprehension, something that is perceived in error.

Thus, vairagya being opposite to raga falls under the domain of avidya where the element of jnana is predominant. Hence, it can be reasonably concluded that the essence of varaigya cannot be renunciation, for renunciation is a form of activity (kriya).

Yoga sutra 12 of chapter 1 states that abhyasa and vairagya are the two means for stopping the mind. These two have separate operations with distinct nature peculiar to their own. Since abhyasa is a kind of action (kriya) for it is a kind of effort (vatna), as explained in the next sutra ( yoga sutra 13, chapter 1) it is quite reasonable to hold that vairagya is of the nature of Jnana.

The word ‘vasikarasamjna’ used for defining vairagya, yoga sutra 15, chapter 1, clearly points out that in vairagya the element of ‘reflection’ plays the greatest part.

The word samjna in vasikarasamjna means jnana. When an aspirant comes to realize that every object is devoid of intrinsic value, or when he realizes that he cannot be overcome or deluded by any object – internal or external – then this firm realization, conviction is termed as vasikarasamjna, where an element of understanding, or gaining jnana is involved.

A person who is able to aquire such jnana (knowledge) cannot be disturbed or affected by objects. In the intellect (buddhi) of such a person object appear neither as upadeya (capable of being accepted) or hey (capable of being forsaken or rejected).

Abiding to the state known as madhyastha, he utilizes every kind of object in order to achieve his goal or to attain the highest perfection. Here, he accepts or rejects a thing or indulges in an action without being influenced by an external factor.

yoga sutra 12 says, by being in such a state, the aspirant gains the ability to expunge the samskaras of those actions that are being done by him. A person who possesses the mentioned vasikara jnana overcomes all craving (trsna).

To such an exalted being visayas appear tasteless, he does take the help of all kinds of objects only to serve some definite purpose. This purpose mainly remains as enhancing the sattvika guna in the society.

When a person begins to work under no compulsions by the vasanas he may rightly be called a ‘tyagin’ (renunciation). Renunciation may be the outward expression of vairagya, but presence of renunciation doesn’t guarantee the presence of vairagya as well.

Only if tyaga has its source in the afore mentioned vasikarasamjna it can maintain its character successfully, otherwise tyaga can turn into a means to unrestricted enjoyment. Such enjoyment is sometimes found to exist in the subconscious or even in the unconscious state of mind.

Vasikarasamjna gives rise to the though that the knower of the objects is greater than the knowable things (objects) in every respect. moreover, the knower is the divine entity which can never be glorified by the material objects, and without the knower all knowable things become meaningless.

Once the greatness of the knower over the knowable (objects) is realized one would naturally tread on the path of self-knowledge or knowing the knower.

As one moves up the path of self – knowledge one realizes that none of the worldly things constitute any part of the personality. The knowledge that the knower is absolutely different from the material world gives rise to extreme vitrsna, or absence of craving.

When the aspirant reaches the stage where he realizes that the knower is immutable and infinite, real vairagya endows upon him as he gains the divine knowledge of absolute awareness (citisakti). This is the state of paravairagya as explained in yoga sutra 16 of chapter 1 by Patanjali.

Such paravairagya leads one to the state of nishkarma. now, the actions being regulated by such state of vairagya can properly constitute the essence of renunciation. Mere ‘ leaving of things’ is useless and this has nothing to do with jnana or vairagya.

At the beginning I had remarked that the nature of vairagya varies in different schools of thought. In the enumeration of four sattvika bhavas of buddhi in the Samkhya Philosophy, vairagya is not mentioned under jnana, both are mentioned as two separate bhavas.

Here the essence of vairagya can be understood as renunciation. Samkhya karika 45 also establishes the nature of vairagya as tyaga (renunciation) only. Here jnana plays the least role in vairagya, and that is why it is said to lead the aspirant to the state of Prakritilaya, which is essentially different from kaivalya (consciousness absolute), the state reached by practicing the form of vairagya with the element of jnana (knowledge) in it, as mentioned in yoga philosophy.