“Lord Brahma said: O son of Kashyapa Muni, please get up, please get up. All good fortune unto you. You are now perfect in the performance of your austerities, and therefore I may give you a benediction. You may now ask from me whatever you desire, and I shall try to fulfill your wish.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.3.17)
उत्तिष्ठोत्तिष्ठ भद्रं ते
तपः-सिद्धो ’सि काश्यप
वरदो ’हम् अनुप्राप्तो
व्रियताम् ईप्सितो वरः
uttiṣṭhottiṣṭha bhadraṁ te
tapaḥ-siddho ’si kāśyapa
varado ’ham anuprāpto
vriyatām īpsito varaḥ
“We know from the lives of the saints that renunciation is a good thing, in general. Vairagya, which is one of the opulences found in the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He has renunciation and other auspicious characteristic traits to the fullest extent and also simultaneously. Bhagavan can be both the most renounced person in the world and also the one enjoying in a superior way.
“We, on the other hand, generally cannot. Goswami Tulsidas has a work entitled Vairagya Sandipani. This is glorifying the life in renunciation, describing how wonderful it is. We know from the lives of the six Gosvamis of Vrinndavana that they barely ate or slept. Their entire life was bhajana, or worship.
“It is certainly a difficult standard to reach, but at least it is something to strive for. I may be completely engrossed in sense enjoyment at the moment, but if there is someone I can look up to, emulate to an extent, there is hope for me in the future.
“This got me to thinking. What about the austerities of the asuras, especially those described in Vedic texts? Take Hiranyakashipu, for example. His tapasya was so extreme that it finally caught the attention of Lord Brahma, the creator. Does this behavior fall into the category of vairagya? Is it an opulence?”
That dedication certainly helped Hiranyakashipu to achieve his goal. He should receive credit for learning of a path, dedicating himself to it, and seeing it through to the end, to fruition. If it were so easy, then everyone would receive boons from Lord Brahma, who does not discriminate in his dealings.
In general, the viewpoint is that such austerities are not authorized. It is like going in the wrong direction. Imagine someone purchasing a laptop computer in order to hack into a banking system or election tallying machine. The computer serves a viable purpose; many purposes, in fact. If someone takes advantage and goes in the criminal direction, the behavior is not laudable.
Vairagya as an opulence is for clearing the mind of distractions. Less attention on material pursuits. Focus on eternal life instead of preserving the current one, which is temporary. We knew it was the case ever since there was sober and rational thought, the ability to discriminate and discern observable patterns. There is also confirmation from shastra.
जातस्य हि ध्रुवो मृत्युर्
ध्रुवं जन्म मृतस्य च
तस्माद् अपरिहार्ये ऽर्थे
न त्वं शोचितुम् अर्हसि
jātasya hi dhruvo mṛtyur
dhruvaṁ janma mṛtasya ca
tasmād aparihārye ‘rthe
na tvaṁ śocitum arhasi
“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.27)
The vairagya in Bhagavan extended to saintly people is for fulfilling the highest purpose. To show some austerity in the pursuit of world domination is not renunciation. It is the opposite, in fact. To be renounced out of spite, out of frustration in the chase for total enjoyment, also is not genuine.
The determining factor is consciousness. If I am always connected to the Divine in yoga, then even if externally occupied with certain duties, I am still renounced. The flip side is when I am a pretender. Giving the appearance of renunciation but always focused on this rule or that, on outdoing my peers in the exercise of restraint.
य आस्ते मनसा स्मरन्
मिथ्याचारः स उच्यते
ya āste manasā smaran
mithyācāraḥ sa ucyate
“One who restrains the senses and organs of action, but whose mind dwells on sense objects, certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.6)
Bhagavan’s mercy is such that if a person simply remembers Him and dedicates their life to Him, the necessary qualifications automatically arrive. In other words, I do not need to strive for vairagya independently. The simplest and most basic austerity, such as chanting the holy names, will suffice in bringing liberation: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Lord Brahma’s favor found,
When word of austerity got around.
Such that Hiranya and Ravana too,
Worst of the demons the two.
As vairagya not considered,
Since mind not delivered.
Pretender contemplating still,
Bhakti deficiencies to fill.