Virāga as Calming Down

This calming down, Virāga,

is very often translated as ‘dis-passion’.


And this is a problem one.


Because this tends to be interpreted in a way that

one needs to be dispassionate…


Which is not completely wrong,

but not completely right,

in the western context and the western understanding.


Being dispassionate in the western context is a bit like;

Having no hopes,

Having no faith,

Having no energy to do anything,

no will power,

no drive,

and that is definitely not the Buddha’s teaching.


And so we need to be careful about these terms that are being used.


And virāga,

something which, not everybody knows is that,

it can also be translated as calming down.

And also as fading away.

And here…

we see that it is only a matter of understanding a few Pāli terms,

a little better

and understanding their alternative translation perhaps,

to understand a little bit more about what the Buddha actually taught.


This is not a path of being lazy

and completely dull in mind

and having no faith at all and no energy,

that dispassion,


This is also from very old English,

that passion,

which now would be more like agitation,

closer to mental agitation,

or this craving,

which is also a word I try to avoid.

The action is to detach the mind from engaging in the senses all the time.

But how you do that is you let go.

Then the next one is virāga.

And where is this one found?


It’s not too far from the last one you said.


‘The second Jhāna?’


‘The four foundations of mindfulness?’


in the four foundations of mindfulness that would be,

Vineyya loke abhijjadomanassaṃ.

It is vineyya which is also another word I translate as letting go.


Virāga is actually in the third jhāna.

Because they say that is where,


‘pītiya virāga.’


So when the pīti, when the joy,

which I say the ‘stronger joy’,

calms, calms down.


We are reading from my translation so it is not really obvious,

but pick up another translation,

it’s going to be dispassion…


So this is the word that is translated as dispassion.

That… famous word…


We need to understand that raga,

where that comes from is actually raga,

is a bit like craving.

Rāga is like that desire or something,

for… x, y, z.

And when the PED (Pāli-English Dictionary)

was written in… (1921-1925)

I can’t remember what year but it’s a long time ago…

early 1900 if not earlier than that.

And the first translations I was looking at,

when Oldenberg came out with his roman script Pāli canon,

He had taken the Sinhala and these Asian scripts and put it into roman,

and came up with that, that was a long time ago.

(First book edited by H. Oldenberg was the Vinaya Pitakaṃ Vol. I Mahavagga 1879)


Then people at Oxford and around,

many countries, the PTS (Pāli Text Society)

started translating these.


that’s a long time ago.

It’s in a very archaic language.

That is fitting the cultural context at of that era.

And the major spiritual current of that time.

Which, you know which one it is.

And so, you know, the word virāga being translated as passion is very old.

Very very old.


And Theravāda Buddhism, for wonderful reasons,

is very conservative,

it has a tendency to be very conservative,

because it wants to preserve the word of the Buddha,

which is an amazing thing,

but then, languages evolve,

and situations change.

And for us, the word passion is not very suitable

it’s not very fitting to us.

Because we are in a very different place in time and history.


And to say the word dispassion,

in our context, in our society,

it’s quite negative.

It has a very negative taste, turn to it.

Because when you say someone is dispassionate,

usually, it’s not a really good thing.

And I understand in what way,

when practiced properly, it can lead to being lucid about things,

and that is more I word that I would use perhaps.

But not the word dispassionate,

it can be a bit… problematic in a lot of circumstances.

Now the thing is also that,

we know a lot more about Pāli than before.

Because the first translators, you often read in their preface,

that they didn’t really know.

They knew a lot of the words but,

a lot of the times, they were kinf of making attempts at finding the real meaning of these words.

And they are quite honest about it.

When you read I.B. Horner’s translation, which is you know, an ‘upgrade’ frome a translation fifty year prior to her’s, where she says,

‘I am quite grateful for their work (and everything) even though,

at times, (quoting the person that was before her)

that it was nothing less than scrambling in the dark,

trying to find the meaning of some words.


That’s just to let you know how this is all… coming up.

the PED is old, and it’s been old for a long time.



And even, I.B. Horner’s translation,

where she says, she noticed that,

is a pretty old translation already,

compared to newer translations (which are already getting old now). 😊


I just really want to give a context for these words.

Because it’s really important for us to understand,

like I was saying,

Buddhism, for very amazing reasons is quite conservative,

but also, in another way, it has conserved a lot of not so appropriate words,

in English.


A lot of these words were attempts to find the meaning

but it doesn’t mean that that’s exactly what (those words) mean.




And all this to say,


it’s not the only way you can translate this.

If you look it up, it doesn’t just mean dispassion,

it means also, something that…

virāga also means excitement.

It’s also like this… being taken,

excited, that passionate state.


For us, it is more like excitement about something.

So it is more about being un-excited.

Or calming down.

That’s also what it means.

Fading away, but see, that’s another one that is being used a lot.

in the scriptures, it fades away.


Personally, I like to translate it as calming down,

something that becomes