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Key Concepts in Yoga: Raga and Dwesha

Two of the most important words in analyzing the dilemma of the human condition are Raga and Dwesha–the powerful duo that motivate virtually all human endeavor. Buddha, in common with all philosophers of India, continually refers to them, so an understanding of their import is essential to us. Unfortunately, both Hindu and Buddhist translators are prone to do just that–translate them–and thus obscure or distort their meaning. There may be exact equivalents in other languages, but NOT in English, and translators do us a real disservice by not retaining them and explaining them somewhere in the text, by a footnote, or by a glossary. Here is my preferred definition of them:

Raga: Attachment/affinity for something, implying a desire for that. This can be emotional (instinctual) or intellectual. It may range from simple liking or preference to intense desire and attraction.

Dwesha: Aversion/avoidance for something, implying a dislike for that. This can be emotional (instinctual) or intellectual. It may range from simple nonpreference to intense repulsion, antipathy and even hatred.

They are commonly referred to as “rag-dwesh”–as a duality, for they are the alternating currents or poles that keep us spinning in relativity, reaching out and pushing away, accepting and rejecting, running toward and running away from. The horror of them is that they not only alternate, spinning us around, they also mutate into one another. What we like at one time we dislike at another, and vice versa. For they, like everything else, are essentially one, a double-headed monster.

“When he has no lust [raga], no hatred [dwesha],
A man walks safely among the things of lust and hatred.
To obey the Atman
Is his peaceful joy;
Sorrow melts
Into that clear peace:
His quiet mind
Is soon established in peace.” (Bhagavad Gita 2:64,65)

Buddha face and quoteBuddha lists ridding ourselves of raga and dwesha as the first step in the Holy Life. But what a gigantic step! It will not be made overnight, we may be sure, for raga and dwesha have driven us along from the moment we were plants, what to say of animals and human beings.

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