Q: If one successfully attains vairagya, or dispassion, why would one do anything beyond one’s immediate responsibilities and duties? For example, why did Swami Vishnudevananda feel such a strong need to promote world peace, if he had attained vairagya?
Answer: In the yogic scriptures, vairagya, or dispassion, is described as acting without desire for the fruits of the action. Let’s say, for example, that you are feeding hungry people, that you are feeding a million hungry people a day. Someone might ask, why do you do this? What do you get out of it? When this question came up during a talk yesterday, one person spoke about a smiling child. She said that seeing a smile on the face of a distressed child is a great reward for helping.
But we have to ask the question, “Did you help the child for the smile?” Is that really the reason you helped? I don’t think the person helping the child thought, “I’m helping the child so I can get a smile.” Let’s assume you helped the child, but you didn’t see the smile, or that you helped the child, but didn’t see any direct results at all. Now let’s suppose someone again asks, why do you do what you do? Your answer will be, I do what I do because I care for the child, because I love the child. Then the person might ask, but what do you want for yourself? The answer is, if you really love, if you really care, ultimately you don’t want anything for yourself. All you want is for the other, not for yourself.
Many of our desires relate to the question, “What can I get for myself?” We want happiness or knowledge or power or name and fame. “I have to get something for myself. If I get something for myself, I’ll be happy.” But there is another way to look at it, like this: “I do a lot of good in this world. I act. But whatever I do, it’s never for myself.” If whatever I do is never for myself, at that very moment I am free. That freedom is called vairagya, or detachment. I am free of desire that has as its motive an egotistic reason. I am free from selfish desires, and that is vairagya. Vairagya means that I act, but not because of selfish desires. I only act out of love, out of care. I don’t want anything for myself. Nothing. Not even a thank you. The joy is in serving, in loving.