Chapter 25: How the Senses Fool Us
We know one would not deliberately drink poison, even if one were very thirsty. But by mistakenly taking it for something else, one may drink it. The senses are like unintelligent but obstinate children who do not know what they are after. Like moths flying into the flaming fire, taking it for a source of beauty, the senses go for the objects. It is not destruction of any kind or a catastrophe that the senses want, but it is a misjudgement of values that takes them to the objects of sense, for their own repentance later on. The senses are not sufficiently wise in their analysis of the nature of the objects acting as their counterparts. The senses are bad guides for us in this world. They cannot see properly, so how can they guide us in this world? It is unfortunate that we take the senses as our guides in the world, and even a master scientist takes the senses alone as the directive agency. This is the reason why there is a relative inconclusiveness as regards scientific discoveries; and every day there is a new discovery, so that we never come to any final conclusion because we never reach the last point of our destination. The senses see the world in a way that does not really correspond to the true composition of things. The structure of the universe is of one kind, and the senses behold the world in a different way altogether.
We know very well that action is always guided by a kind of knowledge or understanding. The activity of the senses is totally dependent on the way in which they behold the things of the world. As we see, so we act, and if our seeing is not proper, our action is incorrect. Based on that incorrect perception, our action would lead us to difficulty. “Oh, I never thought it would be like this, and I have got into trouble.” This is our complaint many a time in the world. The thing is that we cannot understand the situation properly, and yet we rush headlong into it and go deeper into the mire, from which we cannot easily get out.
The senses are misdirected agencies of the human being, and they behold the world in a way which is compatible with the structure of their own internal organism—but it is not correspondent with reality. The structure of the senses need not necessarily correspond to the nature of reality outside, and there is no correspondence between the inner constitution of the senses and the nature of reality. This is why many people have thought that the world that is seen by the senses is an appearance or a phenomenon. There are many philosophers who have concluded, after a careful analysis of the situation, that the world of sense perception is phenomenal and not reality. Immanuel Kant of the West is one, and in India we have got the Vedantic philosophers who have come to a similar conclusion, namely, that the world that we see with our senses is constituted of phenomena rather than the things in themselves, or objects or realities in their own essences.
The reason why we are in a world of phenomena and not in a world of realities is that we see things in the context of a world of sensations. The world of our experiences is a world of sensations. The world of our experience is a world of senses. What reacts upon our senses is the counterpart of sensations rather than the actual objects themselves. We are generally told by materialist psychology that the objects are seen by the senses as they are in themselves. We come in contact with reality, according to behaviourist and materialist psychology. But the sensations which are responsible for our perceptions of the objects are as important a factor in our knowledge in the world as our hasty conclusion that we actually are coming into contact with the things of the world as they are in themselves.
What really happens to us seems to be that we experience a kind of reaction of sensations rather than the objects themselves. As a boomerang may turn back upon the thrower, the sensations react back upon us. For example, what impinges on the retina of our eyes in visual perception is not an actual contact of the eyes with the objects as they are in themselves, but the reaction produced by something present outside, something—we don’t know what it is—which sends our sensations back to us. This is a world of reactions set up by sensations or psychological actions. Action and reaction constitute this world. We are not in a world of objects in themselves—we are in a world of sensations which are psychological actions setting up a reaction. The reaction is brought about by the sensational activities on account of the incapacity of the sensations to contact reality.
Just as a ball may rebound back to us when it is cast against an impenetrable wall because it cannot pass through the wall, the sensations come bouncing back to us and bring with them an illusory conviction of having discovered something in its reality. They have touched something, no doubt, but they cannot tell us what it is. A blind man may touch something—he is no doubt touching something factual—but he cannot fully describe what he has touched. Likewise are the senses. They contact reality in some kind of blindfolded fashion, but they cannot describe to us what they have touched, just as we cannot know what has happened to us in a state of deep sleep. The senses are under a misapprehension in the waking condition similar to the misapprehension found in a state of deep sleep.
Misapprehension of the Senses
While rajas is the cause of our misapprehension in waking, tamas is the cause of the misapprehension in deep sleep. We are in both the conditions of waking and sleep in a comparatively similar state of misapprehension. The sensations cannot contact reality, though they seem to be floating on the surface of something which must be real. Reality should presuppose appearance. It is quite intelligible and reasonable to suppose that. If there were no reality, there could not even be phenomena. Why is it that phenomena seem to be alone the content of our experience rather then reality? ‘Phenomena’ is a name that we give to the sum total of the reactions produced by sensations of all people everywhere in creation. This understanding takes us to the difference between subjective idealism and objective idealism, but that is not our subject today. The essence of the matter is that reactions set up by sensations come upon us carrying with them a kind of erroneous message concerning the objects they have contacted. They have contacted something, but they tell us something wrong about it. They tell us, “We have touched something real,” but we know there is a difference between sensation and actual contact with the reality. Physicists would tell us that reaction is nothing but an electrical repulsion produced by the contact of two poles of electricity. The positive and the negative seem to be responsible for this electrical repulsion which is caused by sensations.
Sensations are of five kinds, as we know—visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory and gustatory. Now these can be explained in terms of a simple phenomenon of contact with objects, and are nothing but a kind of repulsion of the atoms that constitute objects—subjectively as the body, objectively as that which we seem to touch. When we touch a table, a stone, a wall or any kind of hard matter for example, what seems to be taking place, according to our physicists at least, is a kind of repulsion between the two constituents in the form of the object touched and the fingers that touch. The fingers are constituted of electrical forces, and the object touched also is constituted of a similar force. There is a kind of repulsion taking place between two sensations, and it is this repulsion that goes by the name of tactile sense. When we say, “I have touched an object,” what we mean really is that electrical repulsion has taken place in our fingers on account of its coming in contact with something which the senses cannot ultimately discern. This phenomenon of repulsion is actually our touch. Incidentally, if a particular nerve centre is stimulated in our body, we may feel the similar sensation of touch, even if our fingers are amputated. Biologists and physicists will corroborate this fact. We need not have any hand at all—it may be amputated—and yet we will have a sensation of touching something if the particular nerve centre is stimulated. It is this stimulation of the nerves that is telling us that we have touched an object—whether we have really touched an object or not.
We may feel pain after having hit our heads against a stone in the dream state—though there is no stone in the dream condition and we cannot hurt our heads by hitting against the dream stone. Yet, we can feel a sensation of trauma, bleeding and agonising pain in the dream, which is nothing but a sensation that is produced in our minds. A sensation, which is merely an abstract occurrence in the mental realm, can create an experience of a hard reality. We can appear to come in contact with it and suffer agonies as well as pleasures. If this can happen in dream, this can happen in the waking state also. This is what we learn on a very strict and impartial analysis of the process of perceiving through the senses.
The senses cannot understand all this. They are deluded creatures. They are hypnotised by the continuous action and reaction produced by sensations—continuous in the sense that they take place from birth to death. From the very time of our entering this physical realm after our birth till our passing away from this world, we are in a realm of these sensations, and we cannot know anything else. Inasmuch as we have never been initiated into any kind of knowledge different from this sensational one, we think that the sensory world is the true world, and we mistake sensations for realities.
”There are no objects,” our analytical thoughts may proclaim, but the senses cannot believe it. They say, “We touch, we taste, we see. How do you say that there is no world?” Well, what have we touched truly speaking? As I said, according to this present analysis, we do not touch anything—we have only sensations. We do not see anything—we have only visual sensations. We do not hear anything—we have only auditory sensations, and so on. A fivefold network of sensations is what we call the sensory experience. It is this that we are so attracted to in this world, and this is our so-called world experience. How can the senses understand this when they are hypnotised by this totality of sensory reactions? Yoga psychology goes deep into this analysis and tells us that we are deluded, we are madcaps, and we do not understand what is happening to us. There is a great famous verse of Bhartrihari: “Having drunk the liquor of deludedness, the whole world has gone mad.” The whole world seems to be filled with crazy people, because they do not know what is happening to them as they are so much wedded to sensations, and sensations are mistaken for contact with reality. We want this, we want that, this object, that object, this person, that person, this thing, that thing—all through an interpretation of the senses. The mind acts like a handmaid to the senses, and whatever report comes through the senses, erroneous or otherwise, is taken for granted by the mind, and we are led further into delusion.
If our ministers and our heralds misguide us, what knowledge can we truly acquire? There cannot be proper administration if the heralds we have employed in the form of the senses daily tell us things that are false. We are misguided totally and we are fooled—one could even say that we live in a fool’s paradise. The world deludes us, and we are never happy. How can we be happy in a world of misconceptions? Here commences the philosophy and the analytic psychology of pratyahara, which is our object of study. Why should we withdraw our senses? Well, the senses are fools, and it is better that we withdraw them. This is a simple answer. The senses are not proper guides for us. Why do we employ them to do our work in this world? They will try to harm us, and they have already done enough harm. Now it is high time that we draw them back.
Ambassadors in foreign countries can sometimes act wrongly, in which case they will be recalled by their governments. “That is enough—come back. We will replace you.” These ‘ambassadors’ that are the senses are unfortunately not true friends of ours, and it is high time now that we withdrew them. This is pratyahara. Now we know what pratyahara is and why we should do it. Why should we withdraw the senses? Earlier I posed the question, and now I am giving the answer. It is better that we withdraw them; otherwise, there will be more difficulties. What we have lost is gone, but at least we need not further be at a loss. The senses cannot help us because of this difficulty inherent in themselves. They are in difficulty, and how can we be helped out of a difficulty by them?
Yoga psychology is very broad, very deep and very interesting in its study. These are not things to be studied in a few days. One will drink this psychology like nectar if one comes to know it fully, and one would never leave it afterwards. The search will become very delicious if one goes very profoundly into its depths. Well, the point to understand is that the process of pratyahara is necessary as a requisite in truly understanding ourselves. Else, we will be in a fool’s paradise—which this world is. The psychology of yoga is described by Patanjali in a few aphorisms as an implication of what I have said just now. Though he doesn’t go into such detail and he uses a cryptic language, it is plain that he teaches that we mistake the unreal or the untrue for the real and the true.
Buddha, the great teacher of phenomenology in India, came to a similar conclusion. “The whole world is on fire,” said Buddha. It was a Buddha alone who could declare this. “The whole world is on fire, and I cannot step foot on it even for a few seconds. It is a burning pit of coals,” he said. Buddhist psychology is very interesting, but we cannot easily understand why he says this. I would like you to read some of the books of Rice-Davis which give very good English translations of some of the dialogues of Buddha. “The whole world is fire,” said the Buddha, which means to say, fire of sensations. Some people think that Buddha’s philosophy is a philosophy of the momentariness of things. All these are nomenclatures for a simple teaching of the transitoriness of things, as Buddha taught. So transitory, tantalising and shifting are the senses that we cannot rest on a single aspect of this experience as being permanent. “Never for two consecutive seconds can we step in the same water in a river,” said Buddha. For two consecutive seconds we cannot step into the same water in a river, because it moves.
The flame of a lamp is of a similar nature—it moves. Though there is the appearance of a steadiness in a lamp, there are countless individual events which make it look like a continuous motion. It is similar to a motion picture—so is a flowing river, and so is this world. Though we have the illusion of looking at a continuous object as it is in a cinematographic film, we never see a single picture. It is rather a continuous motion, and we cannot catch up with the speed of the frames through our mind or our eyes. We mistake motion for stability. That is what Buddha taught. “My dear friend, we are mistaking motion for a solid substance. This world is all in motion.” This is what the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclites also taught. In one sense, the Heraclitian philosophy of the Greeks is similar to the Buddhist psychology and the philosophy of the East. The fire principle came in Heraclites also. “The whole world is cosmic fire,” said Heraclites.
The whole world is fire, the fire of motion. They call it fire merely as a kind of analogy to tell us what actually is the situation. We know what a fire is—something intolerable which we cannot bear even for a second, and so undesirable when it becomes a conflagration. The momentariness of things, as Buddha taught, is not so simple a matter as to be just laughed away or ignored. It is a very serious matter. The transitoriness of things is such, says Buddha, that we cannot exist as a being even for two continuous seconds. It is all becoming—a process and a process and a process, running and running with tremendous speed. There is no fixed stable object which we can call our own, so when can we catch an object in this world?
There is another wonderful philosopher by the name of Alfred North Whitehead, who came to a similar conclusion as Buddha. What Buddha called “momentariness” or “transitoriness”, Whitehead called “process”, which means to say that the world is in a state of universal ingression. One thing enters into another like waves in the ocean—even more powerfully than waves would do. With tremendous vehemence one thing rushes into another thing, one thing moves into another. There is a flood, as it were, of the cosmic forces, and we cannot find a single static object here. In the movement of the universal flood, can you tell me where there is one static wave? Nothing is static. In a moment, a wave has rushed into another wave, and there is a dashing of the two together to form a third, and we do not know where anything is in this flood of universal force. Such is the transitoriness of things that we cannot know which thing is where. In a world of this nature, we still want an object for enjoyment. Can we get one? We are fooled again, as Buddha says, and as all the great metaphysicians of the world say. This is also what we are learning through Einstein’s theory of relativity. There is no such thing as a solid object—it is all ultimately a relativity of perception. Where there is a relatively of things, there is no solidity of an object.
Yet, the senses tell us that there are things. There is a good meal, there is a beautiful object, there is a friend, there is a bank balance, there is a house, and there is this and that—so many things are witnessed to by the senses. Well, we are not going to be wise people through this knowledge. We will be taught a lesson one day, if we are going to believe the senses when they tell us something, when it is not really there. Without saying exactly what pratyahara is, I am once again describing its preconditions. We would then understand what pratyahara entails and why it should be done. The world is deceiving us every moment, and it cannot do anything else. It cannot be our friend, because it cannot be stable. How could an unstable friend be called a true friend? Every moment he changes his mind—can we then truly call him a friend? Such is the network of objects in the world. We may say that something exists for a few seconds, for a few minutes, for a few days, sometimes for a few months and years it may be so—we may see it as a stable concrete object. Someone may ask then, “Why do you say that everything is transitory?” For this, the answer comes only from Whitehead—nobody else has given the answer to it. Why is it that we see a solid object, even if it is not there?
The reason is the comparative or relative similarity of a set of forces working within our bodies and without in the objects outside—with both forces moving in a single-pointed direction. For example, when two trains move parallel to one another with a similar speed, a passenger on one can see two trains at the same time—his own train and the one running parallel. It is similar to the way we can see an object. If, so to speak, the observer and the object are travelling at the same speed, the observer can come into contact with the object. But to continue the example, the moment one train increases its speed, or moves back or moves in a different direction, the passenger will not see the other train. Now, this happens in the world with objects. When somebody dies we call it bereavement. “Our friend has gone, and we have lost him.” These things we say when the other train moves in a different direction. The velocity of the other train in which we are not sitting, the direction of the train, and many other things of which the train is made can change. The changes can be so very instantaneous that we may not see the train at all. The discontinuity of the perception of an object by a subject can be traced back to various factors—one of them being the difference in the motion of the constitution of the object, the other thing being the complete dissolution of the constituents of the object.
In a cinema for example, we enjoy a picture only when the picture moves in a particular speed. If the speed is increased, we will not see clearly, and if we see a film where the speed is tremendously increased, we will not see any picture at all. If the speed is slowed down terribly, then also we will not know what is happening, and we will not be able to see the picture properly. We will get up and leave the theatre. The beauty comes in only when the speed is equivalent to that which is appreciable to our eyes—not more, not less. This is the case with everything in the world and in every type of satisfaction. If it is more, we do not like it, and if it is less, also it is not good.
The speed of things is something which the senses cannot see. Just as our eyes cannot see the speed of a film, the eyes cannot see the speed of the constituents of objects. This is because of the dissimilarity in the constitution of the senses and the way the objects are constituted at any given moment of time. The time factor also comes into play. At any given moment of time, when there is a conformity between the senses and their corresponding objects in the velocity of their constitution, there is perception of a so-called solidity, stability or reality of a thing. However, when the speed of things changes—it can take place without our knowledge for reasons we cannot know—then we cannot see the objects. There is a dissolution of a thing, called pralaya in Sanskrit. There can be a destruction of solar systems and stars in space and a colliding of objects into disintegration. Many other unbelievable and undesirable occurrences can take place in the world, as they often do to our surprise.
The Dawning of Dispassion
“What is happening in the world? We cannot believe it,” we say many times. Today a man is a high official; tomorrow he is a pauper. Today he is a pauper; tomorrow he is a high official. Today it is an ocean; tomorrow it is a desert. What is this wonder? We are surprised. “What is this world?” A time comes for us, for every one of us, when we exclaim with a sigh, “What sort of world is this? I cannot understand it.” Well, the world will tell us one day what it is, and this day has to come for everyone. Then it is that true vairagya (dispassion) comes. “Oh, I’m sorry. I never thought that the world is like this. I thought it to be something else.” Sometimes we tell people, “I never knew you were like this,” and now we will have to say to the whole world, “I never knew you were like this.” As I said, a day for this comes to everyone in his life. Everyone—you and I included. This time comes when we truly see the world as it is, and only then do we become a Buddha, a Christ, a Sankara or a sage—and not before. Otherwise, without this realisation, we are Mr. So-and-so, this and that, and so on. A time has to come for us to become a Buddha and see things as he saw; then we will also exclaim as the Buddha exclaimed, “Oh, fire is everywhere!” The eyes are on fire, said Buddha, the ears are on fire, the sensations are on fire, and the world is on fire, which means to say that they are all vehemently throbbing, pulsating and moving in a direction which they themselves cannot know. There is at the same time a mutual reactionary movement of one thing moving towards another. This is why many people say the world is an organism, where one thing moves into another thing like the cellular action of our own physical body.
Such is this world, says yoga psychology and philosophy. Do we understand where we stand, and do we know now what we are asking for? We are asking for death and destruction when we are asking for objects of sense. We are asking for our own doom when we say, “I want satisfaction through the senses.” Do we want our own doom? Withdraw the senses, says yoga. Pratyahara is a necessary condition of our knowing our true nature—knowing the true nature of things, knowing the Absolute, and knowing the Atma. It is the senses that drag the mind to the reactionary centres called objects, which entangle the mind and make the mind believe in their reality. The mind then goes for these objects to achieve a so-called satisfaction, then gets reactions of various unpleasant types, and then repents later on—not knowing what has happened.
We are likely to complain in regard to causes whose nature we cannot know. Something is happening, and we complain of something else. This is what the senses tell us, and the mind believes the senses. Hence, in pratyahara there is not merely an exercise of will, by the force of which we try to block the avenues of the senses, but also an intelligent blossoming of our understanding. The understanding helps us in knowing where to exercise the will and why it should be exercised. The will is nothing but the determination of the understanding, and when the understanding becomes firm, it takes the form of what we call volitional activity or will. When the understanding decides something, it is supposed to be the will working. It is understanding alone taking a decisive step when there is an action of what we call will or volition.
There is no such thing as will apart from understanding. “I am determined to do this,” may be the intent of the will, but this is nothing but an expression of a type of understanding gained through either the sensory activities or by a natural process. In pratyahara, understanding and will come together. We cannot make a determination unless we understand a thing properly. We should not have misconceptions about things. A good student of yoga who is in this stage of pratyahara should be a good philosopher having insight into the structure of things in their essence, along with a deep conviction as to the veracity of this insight. After a very subtle and acute penetrating analysis into the nature of things through understanding, the understanding has to settle itself. “Well, now I have seen that this is so. I understand, and now the mind will not go to objects again.”
Here comes what yoga calls vairagya or dispassion for things. “Ah yes, poison has been mixed in my meal today. I have seen it. I am not going to take my food.” When we have seen poison being mixed in our meal, will we eat it? Only without knowing about the poison would we eat the food. The senses swallow things without knowing what is truly happening. A child may touch a cobra coiled up in the corner of the room, not knowing what it is. But knowingly will we touch a coiled-up serpent? The objects are comparable to the cobra, and when we apprehend their true nature, we will not go to them. “Oh yes, this is so, I am sorry, I will not go to them again.”
Vairagya or dispassion automatically comes upon us when understanding dawns. Philosophical dispassion is a general spontaneous outcome of a philosophical wisdom that arises in us. We can only then call ourselves true philosophers, and not before. We do not become philosophers by reading a few books on metaphysics. A philosopher is one who has woken up to the wisdom of life and has understood the nature of things. Here one becomes a true philosopher, and then dispassion should arise automatically. Vairagya is not something that comes merely by being taught about it or by a mandate from someone else. It is an understanding of what the world is in itself, and the senses will not go to the objects after that. We need not tell them, “Don’t go.” We will not go and fall into a pit once we have clearly seen a pit in front of us; we will not deliberately drown in a river; we will not fall into burning flames, and we will not drink poison wantonly. So also the senses will not go to objects deliberately for their own destruction.
They do not understand, because they are stupid children. They are to be educated and taught the lessons of life by psychological means, which is a better and easier way than being taught by nature’s whip or by way of repentance. When we do not honourably learn the lesson of life, we are taught by the kicks that nature gives and the blows that we receive from the world some time or the other. Yoga psychology does not want us to receive kicks from nature. It is better we do not go near a violent man, and it is wisdom for us to keep him at arm’s length or to try to handle him with courage and strength. Either we do not go at all near him, or we know how to handle him.
Such should be our lives in the world. Vairagya in the beginning is therefore a tendency to not at all go near things which will harm us. The higher stage of vairagya is to handle them properly, even if they are boisterous and kicking. These are the two stages of dispassion. In the beginning one should not try to control things, because they will give us such a kick that we will not go near them again. The wisdom would be not to go near until we gain sufficient strength. Weak persons should not try to handle powerful forces. The earlier stage of vairagya should not be one of a headstrong attitude of living in the midst of things. “Oh, I am a mental sannyasin. I can live in New York.” But we cannot be a mental sannyasin so easily, though there can be a possibility later on. In the beginning we should be away from it. We should not jump into fire unless we are properly clothed in protection which can shield us against the burning flames.
I am again reminded of the famous saying of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: “It is true that fire can burn up ghee (clarified butter). Any amount of ghee can be burnt by flames, but if the flame is only a small spark, and one pours tons of ghee over it, the fire cannot burn the ghee.” It is our duty therefore to build up the spark into a huge conflagration, and then one can pour ghee into it, and the ghee will be easily consumed. The seeker must become a conflagration of power, and only then can he hope to try to swallow up the world of attractions. We are now only small beginners in the study of yoga, and we cannot say, “I can stand the world. I’m a mental sannyasin.” We cannot be. We cannot encircle ourselves with tempting objects and then take liberties with objects of sense. It is very important to remember: never take liberties with the objects of sense, and never say, “I have a strong mind, I can withstand all these.” Many people have said it, and then they found that they were in fact not wise.
Tests One Must Face
When we are not tested, we look like strong persons, but then when we are tested, we fail. Tests will come from within as well as without. One of the difficulties of yoga is the period of test through which we have to pass. Sometimes it is nature’s test, and God too will test us. Various kinds of tribulations will come to us through which we have to pass. Yoga is a very hard job. In the Upanishad we are told it is like walking on the edge of a sharp-cutting razor, as it were. This is the yogic path. We cannot take it as a joy in the earlier stages, because it is a very tough thing. This dispassion which is necessary in the practice of yoga has to come to us, and we should not take it for granted. It has to be cultivated so carefully and so tenderly—like a harvest in a field, or like a plant in a garden, or like a mother cherishing a baby in her womb—then yoga becomes a powerful means of action in the world. In the beginning we have to tend it with caution. Our vairagya is a treasure, but it is not something that will just fall from above. It cannot come so easily, and no one should have the foolishness to imagine that one is detached from the world—no one can be. A day will surely come when we will discover that we were not wise in thinking that we were so detached.
We do not always find ourselves in trying circumstances, and as a result we imagine that everything is just fine. But again to quote a famous saying of Sri Ramakrishna, “We can know ourselves only when we are surrounded on all sides by tempting things, and we have every avenue to satisfy our desires.” When there is hundred percent freedom given to us, and nobody can check us in any manner whatsoever, and all the things that are necessary for us are also available to us—what will we do at that time? That is our nature. When nobody will allow us to do anything, then we might say, “I have vairagya and therefore don’t want anything,” but only because we cannot get it. When we can get a thing, when it is within our arm’s reach and when there is no obstacle whatsoever, what will we do? Will we say no? If we can say no at that time, then we can be said to have dispassion. When we cannot get a cup of milk on the top of Mount Everest, we may say, “I don’t want milk,” but only because there is no milk there. We can easily say then, “I don’t want it.” Many people also seem to be detached because they may have plenty of these things. When we have plenty of money, we can say, “I am detached from money,” but when we do not have one cent in our hands we will know whether we are attached to it or not. If we have access to things and we choose to not pursue them, and in that condition our minds are quiet, calm and poised—then it is that we have dispassion.
This example touches on two other varieties of vairagya. There is the vairagya of not having a thing and the vairagya of not wanting a thing. Not having it is not vairagya, but not wanting it is in fact vairagya. We should not have a taste for the object—the taste should go. The taste can go only if we can think as Buddha thought, as Patanjali thought, and behold things as the sages of yore and the masters and adepts of yoga beheld the things in the world. If we can see things as they saw them, then we will not have a taste for things. Vairagya is not a physical detachment merely, but an absence of the taste for things on account of our understanding the nature of things. This vairagya is the precursor to pratyahara.
An important and often-used term in yoga is vairagya. Various stages of vairagya are described in the yoga analysis. At least four stages are mentioned—the first one being the searching attitude of the mind. “Where lies the mistake? Something is wrong somewhere. Where is this wrong thing located, what is wrong, and what is the cause of my suffering?” This attitude of inquiry is the first stage of vairagya. The second stage is the detection that the objects of sense are the sources of trouble. “Oh, these are troubling me and annoying me every day. I should be away from the objects of sense.” The third stage of vairagya is, “Oh, I am sorry, there is something more involved in my difficulties. Sensations seem to be misleading me, but the objects themselves are neither good nor bad. The sensations which are erroneously reaching me are the causes of my trouble, and this erroneousness is to be tackled. When I understand them properly I will not have difficulties from objects.” This is the third stage of vairagya. Then comes the fourth stage when we are able to decide, “These sensations are controlled by a way of thinking. The mind is to be finally rectified. If I can change the attitude of thought itself, then the sensations will not react upon me as they do.”
Recognising that the mind itself is the source of trouble is the final stage of vairagya. Instead of complaining about things, when true vairagya dawns we will start inquiring into our own nature. This is called lower vairagya, according to Patanjali. The psychological detachment of the mind from the objects of sense is the lower vairagya, but the higher form is the vision of God. There we see God’s presence in all things—divinity, resplendence and smiling faces in the whole field of the cosmos—with beauty, plenty, abundance and joy throbbing and pulsating everywhere. God is then speaking through every nook and corner, and when this grandeur is beheld, we will not be attached to anything in the world. This is the higher state of vairagya. With an understanding of these processes, pratyahara is to be entered into.