Freedom from the Six Vices

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

The six vices are your life partners; they are born with you. Love, sensitivity and compassion were not born with you. The six vices are the building blocks of your life. The way a building is constructed with cement, sand, brick, water and metal, this life takes shape not only through the mind and senses, but with these six vices that were friends at birth.

Without these six friends one cannot survive in this world. When the child does not know how to read and write, he walks with the help of his hands, legs and knees. Already at that time he has anger, irritation, aggression and fear in his mind. Where did he learn that? These are the natural expressions of his life. A child has a desire for chocolate and toys; a child has anger and irritation in his mind and with that anger he screams, sulks and throws tantrums. Where did he get this training?

These six states of mind: kama, krodha, lobha, moha, mada and matsarya (passion, anger, greed, infatuation, arrogance and jealousy) reside within a newborn baby. Through these he forms future relationships with siblings, friends, the family and community. Through these he receives the fruits of his actions while exploring his life. The child is busy with his games, carefree and enjoying his life along with to the six friends.

Friends turn enemies

At one point in life, these six friends become distorted. When one steps into grihastha ashrama, the life of a householder, the time of education and freedom is replaced with the stability and responsibility that comes with marital life. Education and freedom is bachelor life. With the stability and responsibility of family life, the six friends turn into six distortions.

In brahmacharya ashrama one enjoyed life because of the six friends. Now, for the sake of one’s family, one has to restrain oneself and one tries to control old habits. Old habits and conditions present themselves in the form of blockages, defences or distorted forms of perception. They are called disorders.

These distortions give rise to chitta vritti or modifications of the mind. Maharshi Patanjali says Yogah chitta vritti nirodaha which means that yoga blocks the patterns of the mind. The chitta vritti are altered through these six distortions.

Sometimes one is in an angry mood, at other times one is fearful, full of passion, envious, jealous or has an aversion towards people, places and things. These six distortions make up the mind and are explored and expressed in actions and behaviour. They work as stressors.

The anxieties and frustrations in life are due to one of these six friends. One struggles with them, makes an effort to manage them, and tries to maintain mental balance.


A point comes in life when one sees that without struggling or fighting with the six friends one cannot become free. One finally sees them as the real enemies in life. The more one tries to distance oneself from them, the stronger is their attack. Here the theory of Swami Sivananda is helpful. Swami Sivananda says if one wants to manage these vices, one should cultivate certain positive qualities in life. One should practise pratipaksha bhavana.

He has written a song in English called the Song of the 18 ITIES, which instructs one to cultivate eighteen qualities in life. When one imbibes these qualities one attains freedom from the six vices.

Serenity, regularity, absence of vanity,
Sincerity, simplicity, veracity,
Equanimity, fixity, non-irritability,
Adaptability, humility, tenacity,
Integrity, nobility, magnanimity,
Charity, generosity and purity.

If one makes an effort to cultivate one quality each month, one will be able to overcome the six enemies. Swami Sivananda says that if one is able to give place in one’s life to some of these eighteen qualities, the influence of the six enemies will be reduced or come to an end.

It is not possible to keep the six vices away. Even in the life of a saint they sometimes raise their head. Life is controlled by them. They are the brick, cement, water and sand of our lives, yet if we can focus on the eighteen qualities, we become free.

30 July 2014, Netaji Subhash Stadium, Kolkata