This article on Raga and Dwesha is an excerpt from the soon-to-be-published book, The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening, by Abbot George Burke.
However, with attraction and aversion eliminated, even though moving amongst objects of sense, by self-restraint, the self-controlled attains tranquility (Bhagavad Gita 2:64).
The words translated “desire” and “hatred” are raga and dwesha. Raga is both emotional (instinctual) and intellectual desire. It may range from simple liking or preference to intense desire and attraction. Dwesha is the opposite. It is aversion/avoidance in relation to an object, implying dislike. This, too, can be emotional (instinctual) or intellectual, ranging from simple non-preference to intense repulsion, antipathy and even hatred.
We must keep in mind that anything can grow and change. Therefore simple liking can develop into intense craving, and mild dislike can turn into intense aversion or hatred. And since opposites are intrinsically linked to one another and can even turn into one another, the philosophical and yogic texts frequently speak of raga-dwesha, the continual cycling back and forth between desire/aversion and like/dislike.
Obviously, this makes for a confused and fragmented life and mind, something from which any sensible person would wish to extricate himself.
Finding the right cure
There are a multitude of supposed cures for what ails us. The vast majority do not work because they are not really aimed at what truly ails us. The rest usually do not work because they are based on a miscomprehension of the nature of the problem, or because they are simply nonsensical and time-wasters. This is true of most religion and of a great deal that is called yoga [see the article What is Yoga?].
If we look at this verse we discover that Krishna is speaking of a very real inner state in which the individual is utterly free–and incapable–of raga and dwesha, and not just a psychological alteration coming from insight into or analysis of the defects of addicting objects. In fact, just the opposite will happen, for “thinking about sense-objects will attach you to sense-objects,” as we considered previously. This is a law, and we will be wise to keep it in mind.
There is no use in trying to talk ourselves out of delusion. We must dispel delusion–not by concentrating on delusion or resisting it, but by attaining jnana: spiritual knowledge coming from our own direct experience. This will dissolve delusion automatically.
Therefore, when we are no longer subject to attraction and aversion for objects, we can move among them without being influenced or moved in any way. But we must be very sure that we truly are no longer susceptible to them, and not just going through a temporary period in which we find ourselves indifferent to them. Such periods are sure to end in re-emergence of passions that in the meantime have grown even stronger within us. Many ascetics have been deluded in this way, so we must be careful.
Raising our Consciousness beyond raga and dwesha
I have left the most important for last. The Sanskrit has atmavyashyair vidheyatma: “having controlled himself by Self-restraint.” [See A Brief Sanskrit Glossary] That is, he has controlled his lower self by moving his consciousness into the higher Self. Until he does so, the lower self drags the higher Self along from birth to birth. But when the higher Self comes into control of the lower self the situation is different indeed.
Atmic consciousness alone is the antidote to all our ills. When the sadhaka no longer acts according to intellectual or instinctual motives, but rather is living out in the objective world the inner life of his Self, then and only then is true peace gained by him.
Acting out of intellectual belief, faith, devotion, or even spiritual aspiration, can certainly elevate us, but ultimate peace cannot be found until, centered in the Self, we live our life as a manifestation of Spirit. It was the Self speaking through Jesus that gave the invitation:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
When the buddhi rests in the Atman, peace is inevitable. That is what a Master really is: one who lives ever in his Self. Everything else needful follows as a matter of course. And how can this come about? Krishna tells us clearly in the next verse.
In tranquility the cessation of all sorrows is produced for him. Truly, for the tranquil-minded the buddhi immediately becomes steady (Bhagavad Gita 2:65).
Note that the cessation of sorrows is not bestowed on the buddhi yogi, nor does he acquire it. Rather, it is produced, it evolves, it grows like an embryo. First is conception, then growth and then birth. It is a process that goes in stages.
It does not come like a lightning strike, but slowly and in an orderly manner, for it is a natural consequence of the yogi’s unfoldment through sadhana of his essential nature. It is evolution, not revolution.
This is why the idea of instant enlightenment, of instant liberation, springs from ignorance of the way things are. For the state of liberation through Self-realization is a revelation of the way things have always been. This is the real non-dual teaching of the Gita. The steadiness of the buddhi comes immediately upon the birth, but the birth takes time. That is what buddhi yoga is all about–coming to birth, truly being born again, really becoming a twice-born.