A case for avairAgyaM?
The teacher had renounced worldly life and become a saffron-robed yati. He was teaching the installation of the awful gaNesha for the vara-chaturthi rite. In course of that he provided mantra-s that indicated that the qualities of vairAgyaM and avairAgyaM are both to be worshiped. Then he added that one must merely use these to remind oneself that one withdraws from avairAgyaM to vairAgyaM and then prepares for the piNDa-patana along with the simultaneous mokSha which ensues from the realization that triggered vairAgya. He then narrated the tale of bhartR^ihari and emperor vikramAditya. In course of that he mentioned how bhartR^ihari had whiled away his time in his days of avairAgyaM composing delicate verses on shR^i~NgAra before finally realizing its utter futility and taking to the course of vairAgyaM. He told the assembled students to attend the saMskR^ita class on the vairAgya-shatakaM to learn more and use it as stepping stone to graduate to the course on the teachings of aShTAvakra. Thereafter as an appendix to the main teaching he asked the students to meditate on the following mantra:
kAmo hi sarvaduHkhAnAM yoniH | kamo .akArShIn manyur akArShIt kAmaM shamaya shamaya manyuM shamaya shamaya vairAgyaM dehi me svAhA ||
While uttering svAhA he instructed the students to imagine all their desires and anger arising from unfulfilled desires being offered as an oblation into the fire and being utterly burnt up.
We were not to be seen in the class that expounded the vairAgya-shatakam but watched the students spilling out of it. Even as they came out, they were accosted by another ocher-robed muNDaka, who followed the way of shuddhodana-putra. He said: “vairAgyaM is indeed the path but how can you attain your goal if the alAtaM within you does not undergo nirvANaM? Is the clinging to the reality of your selves not a kAma in itself by which you are feeding that ever-hungry alAtaM? buddhaM sharaNaM gachChata | dharmaM sharaNaM gachChata | saMghaM sharaNaM gachChata |” Even as the students stood confused, we wondered: “though the buddha sAkhyamuni might have blown off his alAtaM after a prolonged practice of vairAgyaM what about the cosmic buddha who “gave up the ghost” in the yonI of the splendid chitrasenA and spat out the buddhakApala tantraM postmortem from his desiccated cranium. This made us turn to the verses on shR^i~Ngara by bhartR^ihari, wondering after all there might be a teaching therein.
Therein we encountered this beauty:
kAntA-payodharayuge rati-kheda-khinnaH |
vakSho nidhAya bhuja-pa~njara-madhyavartI
dhanyaH kShapAH kShapayati kShaNa-labdha-nidraH ||
Happy is he who whiles his nights away exhausted by sexual exertion,
resting his chest upon his woman’s twin breasts moist with vermillion,
that swell like the frontal globes of an elephant in musth and
[therein] encaged in the midst of her arms may gain sleep in a moment!
That indeed sounded like a high attainment a man might desire to attain. To us it seemed as worthy an attainment as that of vairAgyaM, perhaps more natural.
The yati and his followers told us that we were in error, engaging in kutarka, even as our coethnic uddaNDa of Kanchipuram had addressed his naMbUthiri rivals as elephants of kutarka. They explained that the blissful sleep alluded to in the above verse was an ephemeral one. Moreover, its perpetual continuation till the point of piNDa-patana, as in the case of the tantra-spitting buddhakapAla, was hardly a given. In reality the man seeking such pleasures could weaken his immunity and fall prey to disease or acquire a venereal affliction. Then from the great sukha of rati he could descend to the immense pains of roga. Not just that, such a state was unlikely in the real life – either him, or his girl or both could lose their libido in due course and this sukha could come to naught. Or else one or both of them could lose their bodily charms to age or disease making the other’s company unbearable. The woman might also not yield up such pleasures; she might merely use the promise of them to ensnare the unwitting man in something much worse unlike her pretty bhuja-pa~njara and leave you in greater agony with nothing in return. Furthermore, to keep her yielding such pleasures it might turn out be an unpleasant game of constantly putting up false displays which could cancel any pleasures from the rati-lAbha at the end of it. Thus, they concluded it was just a Platonic ideal not existing in this world, which is chased only by men unable to make out difference between the two.
It was in that statement they fell into our trap of what they might call our kutarka-buddhi. After all, we argued all of this applied to vairAgyaM too: It is an ideal that a trifling minority have ever attained. In the path to vairAgyaM there are just as many pitfalls as on the path to rati-shikharaM described above by bhartR^ihari. One could lose focus even as one might lose libido – the pangs of roga could be so profound that one might lose interest in any pursuit of vairAgya; so whatever might be the benefits one experiences upon its attainment, they are of little use to the jij~nAsu on that path, even as the rivals might argue regarding mahArati-sukhaM to its jij~nAsu. Moreover, ultimate goal of mumukShutvaM is attained only on piNDapatanaM; so one is not sure if it is true. If one can understand the principle of mokSha through vichAra and one can confirm it is true via yoga then vairAgyaM becomes superfluous in this pursuit. Finally, we do not see organisms by natural behavior seek vairAgyaM but they do seek the ideal represented by bhartR^ihari’s verse. In fact, in bhAratavarSha one encouters vairAgin-s who exhibit atypical behaviors, in a sense like those seen in the mathematically gifted with Asperger’s spectrum of fitness-nullifying behaviors. Hence, we concluded that vairAgyaM is not a replacement for avairAgyaM. Indeed, that is why in the vinAyaka-sthApana we seek worship both of them.
The true kShetraj~na is he who like the eponymous bhairava holds both in his hands using one as a balance for the other so that he indeed reside in the rati-shikharaM even as the bhairava with the fair-complexioned mAlinI. Since all this easier said than done one might relax and meditate on the Platonic ideal offered by bhartR^ihari.