In his commentary on the Sāṅkhya-kārikā of Iśvara Kṛṣṇa, Vācaspati Miśra defines vairāgya as follows:
vairāgya = rāga-abhava, the absence of rāga, meaning freedom from attachment.
Here, the word rāga refers to impurities or kaśāyas. The word kaśāya means color (or in this context, stain) in the citta. In essence, these impurities are the two emotions of rāga and dveśa, and they impel the senses to seek out their corresponding sense objects (तैरिन्द्रियाणि यथास्वं विषयेषु प्रवर्त्यन्ते).
Vācaspati Miśra further divides vairāgya into four types or stages.
तस्य- यतमानसंज्ञा व्यतिरकसंज्ञा एकेन्द्रियसंज्ञा वशीकारसंज्ञा इति चतस्रः संज्ञाः।
There are four stages of vairāgya: yatamāna, vyatireka, ekendriya and vaśikāra.
Vācaspati Miśra’s commentary on these divisions is very useful as it can help a sādhaka analyze the level of their freedom from material desires. These stages correspond to the extent to which the kaśāyas are ‘cooked’ (paripācana) i.e. removed from the citta. His commentary is summarized below:
1. Yatamāna: Endeavor or practicing stage, where none of the kaśāyas have been removed, but where an effort has started to remove or cook them.
Here, the effort involves restraining the senses from the sense objects. At this stage, the sadhaka has recognized that there are impurities in the heart and wishes to get rid of them.
2. Vyatireka: This is the stage where some kaśāyas have been cooked, while others have not.
Vyatireka refers to discrimination between those kaśāyas that are under cooked or deactivated, and those that are not. For example, one’s sense of hearing may no longer be attracted to non-devotional music. But one’s tongue may still not be under control. When one knows this about oneself, then one is at the stage of vyatireka.
3. Ekendriya: the stage where all kaśāyas are cooked, but a curiosity for the sense objects remains.
Here none of the senses are capable of running toward sense objects. However, there is still a curiosity (autsukya) or taste/longing in the citta.
4. Vaśikāra: Complete loss of any lingering taste.
This is the stage of complete control over the senses. Vācaspati Miśra quotes the following definition of this stage from Patañjali’s yoga-sūtra:
दृष्टानुश्रविकविषयवितृष्णस्य वशीकारसंज्ञा वैराग्यम् – The vairāgya called vaśikāra-samjña belongs to one who has no desire for all that has been experienced in the past [by him], and all that has been heard [but not experienced].
vairāgya is the third characteristic of the buddhi. The other three are dharma, jñānam and aiśvarya, which we will examine in another article.