Yoga Sutra of Patanjali 1:15 Detachment is freedom from craving objects seen or heard
Defining the Sutra
Detachment is probably one of the most misunderstood concepts in the Sutras. It is misunderstood to mean that a yogi is emotionless and not involved in life. It is the translation of the term “Vairagyam” into the English word “detachment” that causes the problem. Vairagyam means “without color”. This Sutra is saying that the yogi is free from being colored by what goes on around them. They can enjoy life and experience it fully but they are free from being identified with it. They can be a mother in the morning while getting the sandwiches ready for school. Then when they get to work, they become CEO while running the company. When they get home, they can be wife as they prepare dinner. They are not identified with any of the roles. They put them on and take them off according to what is dictated by the present moment.
Modern Day Application
The best interpretation of this that I have seen thus far, is from Sadhguru of Isha Yoga.
See, detachment is a philosophy for those who have misunderstood life completely. And it is because of these people that others develop an aversion towards anything spiritual. People have come to the conclusion that spirituality is for people who are not interested in life. They assume that if you are spiritual you should not eat properly, you should not dress properly, you should not live properly. You must be suffocated or at least you must look suffocated. If you smile, laugh and enjoy your life, then you are not spiritual. If you have a goat-like face, which has never smiled, then you are spiritual. But being spiritual really means your interest in life has gone so deep that you want to know everything about life not just the physical dimension of life, you want to know all of life. There is no chance for a person trying to avoid life to be spiritual because spirituality needs absolute, total involvement.
It is not the life process, which is entangling you. It is the ignorance with which you are handling life, which entangles you. You get identified with things that are not you, so you get entangled. Right now I am speaking through this microphone. Now if I start believing that I am the microphone, then there is going to be lot of trouble. I would not be able to move without this. This has happened to you in many ways. You have identified yourselves with a million things that are not you, starting from your physical body, your thoughts, your opinion, your ideas, your emotions, your clothes, your jewellery, your family, and your work. This distorts your entire life. If you do not have a proper perspective of who you are, then you get entangled. So if entanglement should not happen, you must maintain awareness as to what you are and what you are not. If this distinction is constantly kept, there is no question of entanglement -Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev in the THE NAVHIND TIMES 23 DEC 2007
Our training in identification with form starts from childhood. Our rooms are painted pink or blue based on our sex. Relatives bring over gifts based on our sex. As soon as the child can talk, we are asking them what they want to be when they grow up. We instill in our children that you cannot be in this society without picking something to be heavily identified with. When we meet someone, we are forced to list all the things we are identified with. “I am Shanna. I am a yoga teacher in Charlotte. Married with one child. Born in Alabama. I have a degree in Marketing and Business from Georgia State University. I practice Ashtanga and write the Ashtanga Picture Project.” If we don’t do this, we are seen as being weird or hiding something. If we don’t have the right credentials, our worth as a human is less.
Yoga teaches that I am none of those things.I am taking on the role of Shanna, yoga teacher, wife, mother, Alabamian, business woman, marketer, Ashtangi and writer, but they are not me. Just like an actor, I can and should be able to drop these characters at will.
A good example of the proper use of roles is Beyonce’s alter ego Sasha Fierce. In interviews, the singer and performer Beyonce talks about being naturally quiet, laid back and private but that was not going to work if she was going to be an entertainer. She came up with the alter ego Sasha Fierce. Sasha is a bad girl who is not afraid to get her hands dirty. Sasha loves the limelight, revealing clothes, and and serves up a sexy show with plenty of attitude. However, Beyonce was very clear that she and Sasha were two different people. Beyonce is all about T-shirts and jeans, quiet nights with family and friends and keeps her private life private. A yogi would take it further then this. A yogi would seek to find out who they were before they even became Beyonce. They would understand that even Beyonce is a role.
The same is true for things. I have had conversations with yogis who feel that Sharath,the lineage holder for Ashtanga Yoga, should not have built his big new house or that he should not have his nice car. I don’t know Sharath personally, however, a yogi can live in a mansion, bathe in a gold plated tub , own a private jet, have 100 servants and drive a Bugatti and still be a yogi. Why? Because they understand that who they are has nothing to do with what they own. It could all be taken away and they would still be the same person. If you enjoy big houses, fancy cars and you can afford to pay for it, then by all means, you should have it. A yogi can enjoy everything in life without identifying with it.
Why Is It Important?
It is important to understand that having things and playing roles is not the problem.The problem is identification and entanglement. Being a yoga means being fully present with life. When you are fully present with life you see its beauty and you enjoy life. Being fully involved in life is not the problem. The problem is being so identified with what is going on in your life that you start to believe that you would be nothing without it. Even science has proven this wrong. According to science, energy can not be created or destroyed. You were something before you were human. You were something before you were a boy or girl, doctor or lawyer, Mercedes owner or Ashtangi. Yoga asks us to connect to what we were before we identified with this world.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.