What is the role of vairagya in grihastha life?
Transcribed by: Raji Nachiappan
Question: What is the role of vairagya in grihasta life?
Answer: Vairagya is not an aspect of bhakti. Among the sixty-four items of bhakti that Rupa Goswami specifies, there is no mention of vairagya. For example, activities like chanting the holy names, reading the scriptures and worshipping the deities are all aspects of bhakti. Vairagya, in that sense, is not an aspect bhakti among the sixty-four items.
Vairagya, rather, is a natural result of bhakti. In the Srimad Bhagavatam (1.2.7), it is said that
vasudeve bhagavati, bhakti-yogaḥ prayojitaḥ
janayaty asu vairagyam, jnanam ca yad ahaitukam
When one practices bhakti, one experiences such higher happiness that material happiness becomes distasteful. That’s the technical and philosophical point about the relationship between bhakti and vairagya. From the practical point of view, however, even to practice bhakti and to avoid sins, we need some renunciation. Some element of detachment is required to follow the four regulative principles, live a moral and spiritual life.
However, when the scriptures discuss vairagya, this is not entirely what they mean. Vairagya means not only to give up sinful activities, but to give up all activities. Arjuna asked this question in the Bhagavad Gita (18.1) and Lord Krishna replies:
kamyanam karmaṇam nyasam, annyasam kavayo viduḥ
sarva-karma-phala-tyagam, prahus tyagam vicakshanaḥ
“The giving up of activities that are based on material desire is what great learned men call the renounced order of life [sannyasa]. And giving up the results of all activities is what the wise call renunciation [tyaga].”
Lord Krishna says that giving up all fruitive activities is sannyasa. With respect to our devotional life, what we can focus on is simple living and high thinking, according to our situation. This principle has to be applied intelligently. For example, we have Krishna Chandra Prabhu (aka Hrishikesh Mafatlal) who is a big industrialist. For him, what simplicity means will differ from what simplicity means to someone working in a simple job for a small company. If Krishna Chandra Prabhu starts living in a small one BHK or two BHK apartment because he has become a devotee, that is not only going to become difficult for him, but it can significantly impede services that he may be capable of doing.
Therefore, what does vairagya mean practically? Sometimes devotees may think they do not need a big house for themselves and that they will live simply. However, if there is a desire to preach to the elite class of people, then those people may not come to a small house for a program. They may want to come to a program which is conducted in an opulent environment. For example, if ISKCON’s restaurant Govinda’s at Juhu was constructed as a small restaurant, it will not attract the kind of people that it is attracting today.
The point is that, there can be simplicity at different levels. What is simplicity for a person from one particular financial background may be different from what simplicity is, for another person from a different financial background. Therefore, we should not impose one definition on everybody. The general definition of simplicity is, seeking that level of material position which does not overly complicate one’s life. For example, suppose we have enough finances to buy a two BHK flat, but we want to buy a big bungalow and for that we take a big loan. Then to pay that loan we are forced to take a job which requires us to work sixteen hours a day. Then what is happening? It clearly becomes a case of over-endeavour, atyaharaḥ prayasas cha.
If we have that kind of education and competence, by which we can get a bungalow by working eight or ten hours, then we do not have to live in a one BHK flat. If by our education, we get a high paying job by which we can live in an upwardly mobile locality, then we will still be simple. Therefore, it is not that devotees have to live in a house with practically nothing in order to be simple. If that is what one feels inspired by, then one can do that. However, one should not reduce bhakti to such things alone. We have the example of Pundarika Vidhyanidhi. He was living opulently, yet he was an exalted devotee. When he had remembrance of Lord Krishna, he started rolling on the floor. Therefore, our focus should be on getting into material professions that do not complicate our lives too much by taking too much of our energy and leaving none for bhakti.
Vairagya in the grihastha ashram would mainly mean two things: (i) following the four regulative principles (ii) not being caught up in materialistic pursuits that one does not get time and energy for spiritual life.
At another level, vairagya also means giving charity. Charity is not just an activity; it is a mentality. Sometimes, devotees think that since they are not earning as much right now, they will not be able to give in charity. They mentally vouch to themselves that in the future, they will give even more than half of their salary in charity. Currently, however, they feel they cannot even give one percent of their income. This is not the right attitude. What should be done is that, charity should be cultivated as a mentality. Whatever we earn is by Krishna’s grace and we should give a part to Lord Krishna. If we cannot even give one percent now, then we will not be able develop the habit of giving. Then eventually even if we have the capacity to give more, we will still be attached.
Entering the vanaprastha ashram can vary according to time, place and circumstance. Generally, grihasthas are situated in very influential positions in society. If after attaining such a position if they take to a life of renunciation, then their social reach becomes limited. On the other hand, if one takes to a less demanding job or saves enough so that they do not have to work anymore but still live in the society with a nominal position, then they will have respectability in society. Then, with that respectability, along with the increased availability of time, one can reach out to people with Krishna’s message. Rather than focusing on changing ashrama in the future, one should focus on serving Krishna better. Therefore, devotees can take up high paying positions not only to save enough for taking up less demanding jobs later but also to attain respectability to utilise in spreading the message of Lord Krishna.
That is how we can gradually move towards decreasing the time and energy we spend with the material energy and have more and more time for Lord Krishna.
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