Tame your craving mind, mindfully!
Learn Five Stages of Non-attachment from a Yogic Perspective.
Discipline must be without control, without suppression, without any form of fear. It is not disciplining first and then freedom; freedom is at the very beginning, not at the end.”
― Jiddu Krishnamurti, Freedom from the Known
A craving is a sense of lack that crafts a mental cage in our mind. Thereupon, we react mindlessly to free up ourselves from the uneasiness of our mental bondage. In this way, our continuously craving mind lives with a continuous sense of lack, anxiety, and compulsive reactive behavior. And, the story of our suffering continues.
Once craving and clinging become a habit pattern in mind, the object does not matter if it is for a soap bar or a sports car, nor does the time matter if it is for a moment, a day, a year, or an entire lifetime; the algorithm and its after-effect remains the same.
The greater truth is, this life is too short to waste in self-made mental bondages. Let’s understand how to live a fulfilled life by mindfully practicing ‘non-attachment’ yet always embrace the existence, from a Yogic perspective.
This blog explores in detail the discipline of two non-attachment mental states—Object-Oriented (Apara-Vairagya) and Subject-Oriented (Para-Vairagya).
First, the object-oriented Non-attachment mental state (Apara-Vairagya) is further divided into four distinct stages:
- Yatmana (Acknowledgement and Endeavor)
- Vyatireka (Discrimination, Filtration and denouncing the physical objects which influence the mental states)
- Ekendriya (One-pointed mental state and senses)
- Vasheekar (Regulated mental states and senses)
Thereupon, the subject-oriented mental state (Para-Vairagya), a very refined mental state of consciousness, is examined in detail.
Let’s begin with a short story.
Once a man was walking through a jungle, he saw a nightingale singing a melodious song. Mesmerized by the sweetness of its voice, he desired to own it and followed the bird in the jungle. After a grueling marathon, he was able to catch her. Holding with her legs, he put it in a bag safely and happily returned to his home.
Upon reaching the home, he locked the bird in a cage, and to show his achievement and ownership, hung it over in the front yard. Thereupon, in a prideful tone called his wife and then neighbors in the front yard. His wife was a wise woman with a compassionate heart. She immediately saw the pain in the bird’s eyes but kept silent due to her husband’s passionate attachment for the bird.
Days flew by, and the man was full of pride, passion, and pleasure on his achievement and showcased the songs of the caged bird to everyone around. On the other hand, the bird was sad, depressed, and getting sick day by day, remembering the freedom of the jungle and sky. The bird lost all the hopes to fly. And, the compassionate wife could sense the helpless sickness in the bird and see the pleasure of ignorant ownership in her husband.
Her pitiful heart could not bear the sickness of the bird and decided to set it free. And daily, she started feeding healthy food to the bird and talked to it about the sky. The talks resonated with its spirit, and after a lengthy healing practice, the bird regained hope, health, and energy to fly.
Then, one day the wife opened the cage and let the bird fly out. As the bird was flying up, it thanked the woman and asked if she knew how to open the cage why didn’t she do it earlier? The woman replied, “I could have, but you were not ready to fly. You would have fallen immediately near the cage, and my husband would have put you back in the cage.”
After some time, when the husband came back, he got furious and angry with his wife. But nothing could have been done now as the bird was already out. His anger changed into sorrow by remembering the past. Seeing him in pain, the wise wife spoke to him, “the bird was in a physical cage, and you are in a mental cage of your ownership. Remember, you were calm before the craving to own the bird, came in you, then you became prideful by ownership, and now you are sad by losing it. Truly, it’s not the bird but the craving, ownership, and loosing of it, are making you aggressive, angry, and sad. Can you let go of your attachment and be free as you were before? The truth is that the bird has flown away in the sky, can you let its thought fly out of your mind?”
Listening to the words of letting go, the husband became light in mind and free of sorrowfulness. He accepted the change in life and let go of a hung-up attitude.
Isn’t it everybody’s everyday story? We think we own things and thoughts, but truly they own us, and we live in their bondage. Unknowingly, we get hung up and glued with them. How can we learn to let go of this clinging-craving attitude? Let’s explore more about it.
Mind seeks bonding and gets bondage
In the world, we interact with the things, people, ideas continuously and live charged up by their cravings to find happiness. Upon every interaction, we seek some sort of bonding and make an attachment or aversion relationship through the seeking. Naturally, it results in the bondage of them and their respective boundaries.
A general notion is that if our craving is fulfilled, we get happiness. (truly, it is the relief of release from the pain of craving, we assume is happiness). Then, we want this state of happiness to be fixed. So, either we live in fear of not losing what we have, or we allow a new craving as we feel a sense of lack in our current state.
Therefore, to maintain a fixed format of our happiness, we continuously seek bonding with new things and get bonded. Unfortunately, we hardly enjoy what we have, and we get a new invitation of desire burning inside. Isn’t it?
But to do this, we need to live in constant pressure to perform and live fearfully. This compulsion causes enormous stress in our body, mind, and spirit as we labor to cope up with the bondage and boundaries. However, we do not have control over circumstances, so we feel tensed and sorrowful overtime. Otherwise, we become a control freak and seek power in terms of wealth, knowledge, or fame. It is at every level, in family, society, nation, and so on. Unfortunately, we have accepted to live like this and learned to cope up with our desires, tensions, and power-driven methods to buy happiness in the world.
Many people have tried to go opposite by running away from the mainstream world in the name of detachment. But, deep down, the problem remains the same because the objects may change but not their relationship to our mind and its reaction. Becoming a caveman is not a solution.
In a nutshell, this craving-clinging-fulfillment model of life to extract happiness is flawed and cannot be the core foundation of living in the grand scheme of life.
On the other hand, wisdom traditions have given another perspective of a fulfilled and enriched life. It is not about craving or controlling or serving or suppressing our mind and its activities or blaming the circumstances. But to realize the nature of it intrinsically and transcending the craving and clinging in a friendly manner. Indirectly, it changes our circumstances as well in the long run because we are co-creators of our reality.
A critical aspect of living a worry-free life is to know the nature of mental craving in terms of its—Origin, Sustenance, Bondage resulting in severe problems. And, understand its remedy in terms of Non-attachment or Non-clinging. It is an art and science of unleashing your mind from addictions and make it available to live free.
The two essential keys to unlocking this ancient wisdom are:
- Right knowledge to cultivate a discipline
- Mindful practice in daily living
The result of this mindful practice is freedom from craving, compulsive thinking, acceptance of living experiences, and responding mindfully. Our energy and efforts are not wasted in randomly reacting to situations but mindfully responding to them. In addition, to save our psyche from being unhealthy, on the positive side, the mindful practice of non-attachment makes us creative, expands awareness and clarity, cultivates serenity and calmness, builds resilience, one feels more grounded, and a deep sense of gratitude and fulfillment prevails in daily life.
Let’s begin with a thought experiment to gain practical implications.
Remember your mental states during the last few days and write on post-it notes all the objects which glued desires and cravings in your mind. For example, a lottery, car, relationship, office stuff, pride, bad situation, or an argument to win and so on.
Now bring two bowls and name them as Pleasurable and Non-pleasurable. Thereupon throw notes in them based on respective feelings associated. In these two forms, we seek bonding, either to attach or to run away from objects or situations.
Let’s park these bowls; we will revisit this experiment later and return to the exploration of the ancient wisdom of our nature of mind and mental objects/constituents.
Discipline of Detachment
In classical yoga, two beautiful words are mentioned— “Vritti and Vairagya.”
Vritti means a mental wave created in our consciousness upon a mental cognition either due to outer world interaction or self-talk. A Vritti or mental wave takes the shape of the associated object and thus suffers or enjoys by this association like water attains the form of the vessel in which it is held. With the association of negativity, we become negative and vice-versa. As an ocean is full of waves, our minds are full of Vrittis.
On the other hand, Vairagya is a discipline to unleash our bonded mind by cultivating stillness in our consciousness to make it available to access the insight into the living experience, existentially. In other words, Vairagya—Discipline of detachment, regulates Vrittis—the mental waves; either pleasurable or non-pleasurable. Like a thermostat, it maintains the temperature in the house.
Unfortunately, this word Vairagya is brutally misunderstood by social commune (including some meditation schools) as running away from life, which is a misconception. Some practitioners argue that because the mental waves are created by cognition and recognition, so it makes sense to block the thoughts by blocking the incoming information via physical senses—eyes, ears, tongue, etc. and checking off sub-conscious messages by concentration practices. This denial generates enormous stress in our Body, Mind, and Spirit. Running away is still another form of enforced craving. Its self-violence.
This blog explores in depth the discipline of detachment by providing the right context, details, and applications in day to day life. Additionally, it will demystify the misconceptions given above.
Let’s go further to understand the nature of detachments.
There are countless Vrittis or mental waves but only two main disciplines of detachments (Vairagya), namely as:
- Apara-Vairagya – A mental object (cognition and recognition) oriented discipline of detachment
- Para-Vairagya – Self-awareness oriented discipline of detachment
Let’s explore these two disciplines of detachments, one by one.
Apara-vairagya aims at removing the influence of addiction and cravings on the framework of body and mind. Therefore, it deals with the world of forms—physical and mental, and their associated agitations-pleasurable or un-pleasurable and uneasiness.
Let’s understand it through a model presented in ancient Indian text Samkhya-Karika by Vachaspati. According to it, there are four stages of object-oriented Discipline of Non-Attachments:
Stage1: Yatmana (Acknowledgement and Endeavor):
Upon self-reflection, one acknowledges that his/her habitual mind is full of cravings and is determined to free the mind from the bondage of unregulated mental states.
It begins with self-study of the quality, content, and addictions of mental waves—desires, thoughts, and feelings, causing him/her to suffer in the human incarnation. This introspection results in a tremendous amount of information about our likes, dislikes, choices, triggers, and reactions accompanied by the lifecycle of desire(s) for things.
Key aspects are:
- Realizing attachments/craving as bondage and our bondage leads to suffering.
- Knowing the objects of cravings/bondage
- One realizes that cause of suffering lies within and be determined to get rid of cravings and apply effort to restraint the senses from objects of attachments.
Caution: As one learns about himself or herself as a puppet of habits, the mind can form thoughts of shame, guilt, or depression. In short, one can form opinions incorrectly, resulting in self-denial and self-aversion. It will be a flawed effort. Clarity about self, acceptance, and Self-Compassion is essential to regulate the mind in a rightful manner.
Stage2: Vyatireka (Discrimination, Filtration, and denouncing the physical objects which influence the mental states)
This stage is the second click down on the objects of cravings and their association with doors of five senses, which causes us to attach or avert. Thereupon regulate the non-attachment with a discriminative list of objects.
Key aspects are:
- Understanding the interaction with things, people, and objects around
- The abstraction of attachment and aversion to knowing the patterns of attachments or aversions deeply. E.g., today you like Car A, and tomorrow you like a new Car B, this does not mean Non-attachment to Car A. However, abstraction is needed for habit/patterns of attachment, as such
- Discrimination and filtration of objects become vital to keep abstracting and unifying the attachments from various sense’s doors. E.g., attachments to a particular food, smell, or sensual pleasure may seem differently based on multiple senses organs, but the nature of craving can be unified in your identity.
Caution: As the mind learns the objects of attachments, the mind can decide to run away and blame the world for its objects of cravings. Many people create a negative outlook about the world and prescribe to run away and avoid mainstream life—this a flawed perspective of division in mind. Non-attachment is about freeing up the mind and not creating a negative or positive attitude about things.
Stage3: Ekendriya (One-pointed mental state and sense)
In the previous two stages, the effort was applied either on objects or five senses (mental or physical). In this stage, the mind gains maturity, and attention is settled in a one-pointed mental sense instead of distributed in various senses and associated objects.
Key aspects are:
- The tendency of attention energy is not to move towards the doors of senses but towards the originating point, which provides knowledge about subtle forces of desires. In other words, withdrawal of attention energy from senses into one mental sense is Ekendriya.
Note: This is also the fourth stage in eight-limbed yoga, called pratyahara
Caution: This one-pointed nature can build a great amount of ego and harshly suppress desires in the name of discipline. A one-Pointed mindset needs to be carefully cultivated and matured and never enforced. Patience and practice are the keys, and any enforcement is unnecessary and can be harmful.
Stage4: Vasheekar (Regulated mental states and senses)
In this stage, a powerful level of mental maturity and regulation results in deep calmness. The attention energy is not drawn towards the mental objects because it remains settled in individual consciousness. This is not an ego trip but a result of a ripened meditative experience. In practical terms, the source of the tendency of cravings is realized and regulated at a ground being level.
- The mind rests in a detached state of individual self-awareness. It is not interested in the play of sensory motions and associated objects. It enjoys individuality.
- The Sense of “Am-ness” is present but not identified with attraction or aversion with any object.
- This sense of self (I-sense) feels fulfilled, calm, and regulated before it engages with thought and action.
- The mind remains non-attached as long as connected with the source of awareness or ground being.
Caution: This is still a form-based and relative sense of Non-attachment even though de-identified with things around.
The above mentioned four stages are the object-oriented Discipline of Non-attachment. They unleash the mind from a very gross to subtle forms, up to the point of Am-ness.
Do you still remember our thought experiment discussed earlier? Try to do the following to practically understand the four stages:
- Look into objects of attachments and cravings and note down the primary sense door
- Draw patterns of your attachments and aversions in reference to the senses. Regulate the senses
- Unify the patterns in reference to your identity
- Regulate the identity to transcendent mental object
Let’s go further!
Now, let’s explore the nature of Para-Vairagya, where the mindset is finer because the attention energy is oriented towards am-ness and gradually moving out of it (the I-sense.)
It is a finer mental state which leads to freedom from subject-object duality. The attention energy is fully settled in light of consciousness. It is neither a pleasurable nor a painful experience. Because pleasure and pain are formations of senses and their associated sensations, also, it is non-intellectual or caught in am-ness.
(As per the Yogic model of the mind, there are four parts of mind-Sensory, ego- I sense, Intellect and Consciousness -Store house of memory. Please read my other blog on details of this model)
- The mind is settled in “knowingness” and neither knower nor known.
- This mental state is not practiced as it is free from the realm of activities of the mind.
Mindful practice of Non-Attachment
After a detailed discussion on the various stages of the Discipline of Non-attachment, the obvious question arises. How can one practice Non-attachment?
Frankly, if Yoga-Mediation can be called a coin, then it’s one side is Non-attachment (Vairagya), and the other side is Practice (Abhyaas.)
There are hundreds of techniques that can be used as practices, yet all are oriented towards consciousness. Like iron nails of various shapes and sizes but in the vicinity of a magnet, they all orient themselves to its magnetic field.
One very effective and efficient meditation technique is “Pure witnessing in the direction of the source of witness.” The word “Pure” indicates no judgment or mixing of thinking about it—Just plain mindfulness of truth as it is. And, in this way, examine the world of objects, sensory associations, mental states—thoughts and feelings, and keep watching and moving towards the self. Finally, settle the attention in the “witness” itself.
In this way, one can practice the Discipline of Non-attachment and unlock the mental states caught up in objects around. It is a real revolution of independence.
- Patanjali, Yoga Sutras
- Vachaspati Mishra, Samkhya Karika
- Krishnamurti, Freedom from known
- Gautama Buddha, Sattipathanna Sutta