Q&A with Br. Dayamrita Chaitanya
Discernment and Dispassion

Question: Swamiji, during Amma's satsang talks, one hears terms such as dispassion and discernment. Can you explain these terms with some examples?
Aum Aum Aum
Answer: Dispassion in Sanskrit is called vairagya and discernment is viveka. These two go together. If you have viveka you will have vairagya and if you have vairagya, viveka will be there. Both of them augment each other. When we have vairagya, we understand what is absolutely necessary for us. But this understanding is cultivated through viveka only.
Growing up, we were attached to different objects at different times in our lives. When we were young, we were attached to a toy. A few years later, we were attached to a video game and then to a motorbike, a car, etc. As we mature, these objects become less attractive to us and that is, in one sense, called vairagya (dispassion). Similarly, when we mature spiritually, we understand that the objects possessed by us and our worldly relationships are our attachments. The ultimate state of vairagya is the vairagya of a saint – for them nothing in the world matters. They know that all the objects are toys and are of no use to reach the goal. In fact, they are a distraction or an impediment. Vairagya is the conscious sacrifice of our pleasures and objects, understanding that they will not give us permanent happiness.
In the earlier part of spiritual life, there are many misunderstandings of vairagya. Devotees think that leaving their duty or not adhering to their dharma is dispassion. So, they escape from the world and try to renounce everything. We have to observe our dharma. If we are a householder, we have to take care of our children, our husband or wife, our parents. That is our duty and following our duty is our dharma. Vairagya does not mean that we should ignore and escape from our dharma or worldly responsibilities. However, this does not mean that you should be engaged in your worldly duties all the time. When you find time to do spiritual practices you should definitely give importance to this and do your practices, without neglecting your duty or dharma.
Amma says when you have true vairagya, you will be like the lotus flower. Though the lotus flower blooms in the water, the water does not affect it. Similarly, while living in the world, we should not be affected by the world.
While living in this world, vairagya (dispassion) is of absolute necessity and a good quality we need to cultivate. Vairagya comes from being intent on the goal, not only spiritual goals but worldly ones too. Amma says that when a student is studying for his final exams, he is tempted by his friends, calling him out for a movie or ice cream. His focus is on his studies and he firmly says no to his friends. Similarly, for a spiritual seeker, his intent on the goal is to pass the biggest exam - the exam of life. No matter what happens around him or her, she or he won’t be distracted from the goal but at the same time, will be performing other duties as well. This is true vairagya -- being neither obsessed by the objects and relationships in this world nor being repelled by them – for repulsion is another form of attachment to the object. If I say, I hate somebody, this is the opposite form of attachment. For example, you cannot hate a person whom you don’t know. Why? Because you do not love them. On the other hand, if you say that you hate somebody, that implies that there is a certain amount of attachment. It means that you are attached to that person on some level.
Love and hate are two sides of the same coin. Dispassion (vairagya) is in the middle. You are neither attached nor detached. To achieve that state requires a lot of practice. People usually have too much dispassion or too much passion and do not know how to maintain a balance. For example, if you are looking after your husband, wife or children, your attitude should be “I am not the husband/wife, nor am I the mother/father of these children. They were given to me by God and I am just looking after them.” We need to understand that they will stay with us only for a certain amount of time. Your children will grow up, mature, find a job and go away. It is the nature of life. This understanding of the nature of this world is viveka or discrimination. When they leave, you cannot cry and blame God. We have to understand that the time we spend with everyone in the world is limited and they are given to us for a short period of time only.
Amma says that living in this human body is like living in a hotel. When we go to a hotel, we stay for a day or two and must leave our room afterward. Leaving this world and the body without whining or complaining is true dispassion.
Viveka is discrimination between eternal and ephemeral. Ephemeral is something which does not last forever. The only thing that lasts forever is God or Atman, our true Self. The only thing that will follow us even after death is our own higher Self. God will be there for us. Amma will be there for us. Only the Guru will help us cross over. No one else is going to follow us. If we have this awareness, our attachment naturally will be to the Guru and not to our relatives, friends, or objects that we possess.
How should we cultivate viveka and vairagya in our daily lives? How is it helpful to us?
Suppose you go to a shop and see a beautiful watch for $1,000. It is indeed a beautiful piece and you are tempted to buy it. A person with discrimination will start to think whether having that $1,000 watch is necessary. Amma says a $10 watch also shows the right time. Should you be buying the $1000 watch which tells time accurately up to the millisecond or the $10 watch which has a half a second variation? With the $10 watch, you could then donate the $990 for charitable work. This is discernment, viveka. Similarly, in our daily lives, we need to think what is absolutely needed and necessary before we make a “purchase,” or a decision. Many people buy things and discard them after using them once or twice. Things pile up in the garage and we later lament as to why we bought so many things unnecessarily. We need the discernment before we buy things. This is how discernment translates in our daily lives but ultimately viveka is knowing what is eternal and what is ephemeral.
Lack of vairgya and viveka causes attachment to material things in this world and hence leads to false identification. Often times, we get confused as we identify with the wrong things. We identify with our body and think it is eternal. Hence, we put all our focus on the body, beautifying it, etc. When someone dies, we start to cry saying, “Why did this person die?”. If we truly understand what is eternal and what is ephemeral, then the Self alone is everlasting and our focus will be on that. Thus, the false identification naturally drops off.
Ultimately vairagya comes through knowledge – knowing what will help us to reach the goal of God realization. If we have an intense concentration on the goal and put forth the effort, vairagya and viveka will blossom from within. As with the case of the student intent on studying for his exams and not worried about other things, if we are focused on the spiritual goal and have our intention on achieving the goal, both dispassion and discernment spontaneously come forth.
May Amma give us the discrimination to know the difference between the eternal and ephemeral.
Return to Newsletter
Aum Aum Aum
Browse Q&A Archive