Sridhar Swami says in his commentary about the word ‘Vairagya’ (Renunciation) that one cannot get immersed in the contemplation of God and relish the divine bliss of His pastimes until he develops Vairagya (indifference to material world). Attachment to worldly possessions and people is the cause of impurity of heart that does not let the Jivatma achieve divine bliss.
Vairagya means detachment, disinterest or indifference to body and everything related to it. One develops disinterest in body and material world when he realizes that everything in this world (including this body) is temporary; it didn’t exist before nor it will exist in future, it exists only in the present. Such a temporary thing can never give pleasure to the eternal Self. It only causes an illusion of pleasure to give disappointment in the future. Attachment to such things does not allow us to progress in bhajan and experience divine bliss.
The master – servant relationship between God and the Jivatma is eternal but this attachment to the material world inhibits the Jivatma from realizing that relationship. This is not the fault of the Jivatma. It is its innate quality due to association with Prakriti (nature made of five elements). It has become its nature from time immemorial.
Mām eva ye prapadyante māyām etāṁ taranti te.”
(Bhagavat Geeta 7.14)
Meaning: My divine energy Maya, consisting of the three modes of nature, is very difficult to overcome. But those who surrender unto Me cross over it easily.
The conscious Self (Ātmā) is sheathed by Māyā, the delusional energy of God, and controlling all its activities through the false ego. Just like when a person is afflicted by a ghost, all his actions are controlled by the ghost. At that time, the person does not behave normally, instead he screams and acts weirdly due to the ghost inside his body. Similarly, the conscious Self is afflicted by Prakriti and all his actions become abnormal to his true nature. He forgets his true relationship with God and also the purpose of human birth. He gets attached to things and people which he has no relation with.
At that time, God mercifully sends His true devotees in the form of Guru to bring him on the right path, just like the people who take the ghost-afflicted person to a Tantric practitioner to get rid of the ghost. The Tantric practitioner has to be powerful enough to defeat the ghost and send him away from the afflicted person. Similarly, the Guru has to be powerful enough to defeat God’s Maya and save the Jivatma. In other words, nobody less than a devotee who has achieved oneness with God or perfection of Prem Bhakti can be a Guru. With the mercy of such Guru, the Jivatma is able to detach himself from Maya and immerse in the Bhakti of Radha Krishna, gradually.
Vairagya does not mean going to the forest. Neither a devotee living in the forest is a renunciate, nor a devotee living in Grihastha Ashrama is a sensual person. One can be a perfect renunciate even in the Grihastha Ashrama and one can be a perfect sensual person even while wearing Sadhu’s clothes.
If a householder is detached from the material world while performing his duties and contemplates on Radha Krishna in an uninterrupted way, he is a Vairagi (true renunciate). If a person wearing Sadhus clothes is attached to material things, money or people, he is a sensual person.
Nirdvandvo hi mahā-bāho sukhaṁ bandhāt pramuchyate.”
(Bhagavat Geeta 5.3)
Meaning: The karma yogis, who neither desire nor hate anything, should be considered always renounced. Free from all dualities, they are easily liberated from the bonds of material energy.
Vairagya is a mental attitude. Its physical manifestations are the consequence of this mental attitude. In the above-mentioned verse, Krishna says that one must consider a person free from all worldly actions and reactions when he neither desire any material gain nor hate anything. Normally, if something pleases one’s senses, it becomes a desirable object for him. And when something does not give pleasure to his senses or inhibit him from enjoying desirable things, he starts hating it. Same can be also said about the people. One who is free from the duality of (worldly) love and hate is a renounced person.
‘Dualities’ means opposite situations in life like happiness & sadness, honour & dishonour, warmth & coldness (of weather), gain & loss, etc. Such opposite situations come in the life of every living entity. This is the nature of this material world. No creature constantly lives in happiness, nor anyone lives in constant misery. When miseries come in life, the devotee contemplates on the temporary nature of all worldly matters and become detached or disinterested in it.
Nowhere in the scriptures has it been said that when one worships God, the devotee does not have to experience the results of his bad actions. In fact, the results of our bad actions start forthcoming one after another when a person starts doing bhajan. A sadhak must not think that since he chants so much Harinaam, now no illness will come in his life, there will be no monetary problems, no one will disrespect him, he will never be cheated or experience any loss, no relative will die etc. It is not like this. The results of one’s bad actions will definitely come, but the devotee doesn’t get mentally stressed over them. Or, when the results of good actions come in his life in the form of desirable objects or people, he doesn’t get attached to them. Gradually, when a devotee becomes absolutely unmoved by any kind of external circumstances, he is said to be a truly renounced person.
The scriptures show the way for a sadhak to achieve God. A sadhak must always abide by the scriptures. When a sadhak disregards the scriptures and wants to progress in Bhakti according to his own intelligence, he or she has to face many difficult obstacles in the Bhakti path. Sometimes, their path gets absolutely obstructed until an enlightened Soul (Sadhu/Guru) shows them the way based on the scriptures.
The scriptures say that women should not live independently. She must always live under the shelter of her father, husband, brother, son or an Acharya. If a woman thinks that she will leave her home and family like Sannyasis and live independently to do bhajan, she will disregard the scriptures and create obstacles in her Bhakti path.
A person is born into a situation (gender, family, financial situation, etc) according to his or her actions in the previous births. For women, there are many rules in the society for their security and they have to accept these rules and abide by them.
But one must never think that a woman cannot do intense bhajan, develop intense Vairagya and/or achieve God in this lifetime. Many people think that women bodies are impure (due to menstruation cycles) and not fit for worshipping God. This is not true.
Striyo vaiśhyās tathā śhūdrās te ’pi yānti parāṁ gatim.”
(Bhagavat Geeta 9.32)
Meaning: O son of Prtha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth - women, vaisyas [merchants], as well as sudras [workers] - can approach the supreme destination.
Bhakti can be performed by anyone, irrespective of their gender. Perfection of Bhakti does not need a physical preparation, but rather a mental preparation. Bhakti cannot be achieved by just wearing renunciate clothes, keeping dreadlocks, wearing big Tulasi bead necklaces or Tilak. These external manifestations of Bhakti are auspicious and have their own importance, but can also bring Bhakti Jata Anarthas (see here).
If a woman thinks that she will go to a secluded place, live independently and do bhajan, she is in a great delusion. There is only danger for her in every corner. The solitude of mountains, riversides, forests, etc will not bring her Bhakti or peace of mind. She needs to live under the shelter of her father, husband, brother, son or an Acharya, and go inside her heart (immerse in the contemplation of Guru and Radha Krishna).
Close your eyes! There is nothing in the beautiful scenery of mountains, riversides, forests, etc where you want to go and do bhajan in solitude. Create solitude in your own home by closing the door of your room and close your eyes! Bhakti is not outside; it has to be found and developed within your heart. What did Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu say?
Bhāla nā khāibe, bhāla nā paribe.
Amāni mānada haña Krishna nāma sadā labe,
Vraje Rādhā Krishna sevā mānase karibe.”
(Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.6.236-237)
Meaning: Do not listen or speak idle talk. Do not eat tasty food, nor wear nice clothes. Do not expect honour for oneself, but always give honour to others. Always chant the holy names of Lord Krishna and serve Radha Krishna in Vrindavan mentally.
Make your heart Vrindavan. Serve Radha Krishna in mental Vrindavan day and night. If a sadhak is physically in Vrindavan, but his heart is not Vrindavan, then he will not benefit much from his stay in Vraja Dham. Yes, here there is Yamuna Maharani, the same dust that had been walked on by Radha Krishna, Gopis and all the enlightened Sadhus who used to live here, Giriraj hill, the association of dedicated Sadhus, etc. Many rare and divine things are present here and the sadhak might gain a lot by their association, but there is also the fear of Aparadhas. Dham Aparadha, Vaishnava Aparadh, etc can also totally uproot your Bhakti creeper sometimes!
That is why, if someone has the opportunity to stay in Vraja Dham, it is beautiful, but it is more important to make one’s heart Vrindavan. Vrindavan as well as Radha Krishna are omnipresent. There is a physical form of Vrindavan which can be seen through mundane eyes. And also, there is the omnipresent divine form of Vrindavan which can be found in your own heart. Close your eyes, try to visualize the divine Vrindavan and Radha Krishna seated within its Kunjas. Serve Them there day and night. You will achieve the same result of physically living in Vrindavan Dham in this way.
In this way, women can also get the benefit of staying in Vraja Dham, in case she is not able to physically stay in Vraja Dham. If possible, she must definitely come to stay in Vraja Dham with her parents, husband, brother or son. She can also stay under the shelter of an Acharya but renunciate Sadhus cannot give physical shelter to women.
But this does not mean that women cannot reach perfection of their Bhakti path in this lifetime. Although they have to live amidst their family members and perform their duties towards them, a female sadhak must try to develop true Vairagya in her heart by contemplating on Guru and Radha Krishna.
Now, a female sadhak might think, ‘I have to live amidst my family members. I cannot leave Grihastha Ashrama and become Sannyasi like men. Then, how can I do bhajan? I will never be able to become detached from material world, nor will I ever engage in intense bhajan because I have so many responsibilities towards my family.’ But this is not right!
They can definitely do intense bhajan and become detached from material world while living amidst their family members. It is a delusional idea that to develop Vairagya and Bhakti one needs to go to the forest. One only needs to surrender at the lotus feet of God and devote the mind to His contemplation. This is true for everyone, not just women. In this way, one can please God and achieve His full mercy.
The sadhak needs to fulfill his or her duties towards family members, society, nation, etc physically but know in his heart that he/she is a servant of the master of all universes, God.
Prabhavaḥ pralayaḥ sthānaṁ nidhānaṁ bījam avyayam.”
(Bhagavat Geeta 9.18)
Meaning: I am the Supreme Goal of all living beings, and I am also their Sustainer, Master, Witness, Abode, Shelter, and Friend. I am the Origin, End, and Resting Place of creation; I am the Repository and Eternal Seed.
The word “bhartā” means sustainer as well as husband. In Vedic culture, the husband is the sustainer and protector of his wife. But God is the supreme husband, that is, the husband of all living beings. To please Him, one only needs to surrender oneself. In the heart, there should be only the Supreme husband.
Since we have a body, we also have duties towards the relatives of the body. So, men and women alike have duties towards family members. But one must not think that he cannot do bhajan while living amidst his family members. Maya does not exist in family members, buildings, expensive things etc. The attraction/ attachment to all these things and people is Maya. It resides in the heart of the sadhak. If one lives away from family, it does not free him from Maya. Mukti (freedom from Maya) can also be achieved in the heart itself. Living near family members does not inhibit one from achieving Mukti.
If one takes up the Sannyāsa order of life but is not able to control the mind, he will think of objects of sense gratification namely family, society, expensive house, etc. Even though he goes to the Himalayas or the forest, his mind will be attached to the objects of sense gratification. In this way, gradually one’s intelligence will be affected due to which he loses the original taste of getting immersed in the contemplation of God.
The sadhak must try to chant Harinaam always and in every situation. He must try to chant while sitting, standing, eating, working, all the time. Along with that, he must try to contemplate on Guru and Radha Krishna all the time. In this way, even if he is not able to perform any other devotional services, he will achieve God solely with the mercy of Harinaam. Guru and Radha Krishna only want your heart. They do not care where you stay physically.
A sadhak must try to keep his detachment towards the material world secret while living in Grihastha Ashrama. He must show love and compassion to all and know that his family members are servants of God. He must not show off his Vairagya to them, otherwise they will feel hurt and there will be quarrels among family members.
Many people leave Grihastha Ashrama ‘in order to develop detachment from family members and material world’. This is not how Vairagya is achieved.
Mat-kathā-śravaṇādau vā śraddhā yāvan na jāyate.”
(Srimad Bhagavatam 11.20.9)
Meaning: As long as one has not become free from desires and awakened his taste for devotional service by listening to and singing about the divine pastimes of God, one has to act according to the regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions.
Therefore, when a sadhak leaves Grihastha Ashrama while he still has even very subtle desires in his heart, he is not able to develop true Vairagya (due to defying Vedic instructions).
When true Vairagya matures into a state where the sadhak is simply unable to follow even Vedic instructions because of his immersion in the contemplation of God, only at that time he must leave Grihastha Ashrama. Srila Rupa and Sanatan Goswamis, Meerabai and many other devotees are examples where they didn’t lack any favourable conditions for bhajan, but they still couldn’t continue to perform their duties to the world anymore (Meerabai was given special section of the palace to herself for engaging in bhajan. Srila Rupa and Sanatan Goswami could also have stayed in Grihastha Ashrama and engaged in bhajan. But they simply could not tolerate living amidst worldly matters anymore. They could not perform any duties to their family or the society anymore. Srila Gadadhar Bhatta Goswami left Grihastha Ashrama on reading the letter sent by Srila Jiva Goswami while he was just wearing a towel. He left for Vrindavan at the very moment while immersed in a divine contemplation).
This is true renunciation. This kind of renunciation is not taken after intellectual analysis of a sadhak’s eligibility. It just happens by the will of God when the sadhak is immersed in a divine state.
Therefore, Vairagya is a very deep topic. It is not enough to achieve just physical manifestation of Vairagya. Rather, true detachment from the material world is real Vairagya. This cannot be forced or developed at will. As the sadhak deepens his attachment and contemplation of God, his heart gets detached from the material world on its own, gradually. Then, the devotee blooms like a lotus in the mud and stays unaffected by worldly matters always.