Liking and Disliking: The Disease of the Mind

by M. Govindan Satchidananda

As we deepen our practice of Yoga, we begin to realize just how much our mind is tossed about by things that we like and things that we do not like. We get excited, laugh or feel very "happy," when we obtain something we desire, or experience something pleasurable. We get depressed, frustrated, or anxious when denied what we desire. We encounter this throughout our day, at work, with our families, in the public, and in private moments. While we may long for the peace of our meditation cushion or asana mat, there is much that we can do to elsewhere overcome this "disease" of the mind.

Patanjali tells us in Sutra II.7 that "Attachment is the clinging to pleasure."

Because of the individuation of consciousness, and its false identification with a particular body and set of thoughts and memories, we are attracted to various pleasant experiences in our environment. Attachment (ragah), like fear, springs from the imagination (vikalpa). It occurs when we confuse the internal experience of bliss (ananda) with a set of outer circumstances, or factors, and we call this association pleasure (sukham). We imagine that pleasure depends upon the presence of these external circumstances, or factors. When they are no longer there, we experience attachment, the delusion that the inner joy cannot return unless we again possess the external factors. Attachment involves clinging (anusayã), and of course, suffering (dukha). Even when we possess the external factors, we may still experience attachment because of the fear (imagination) of losing it. However, in reality, bliss is self-existent, unconditional and independent of external circumstances or factors. One need only be aware to experience it.

Patanjali goes onto tell us in verse II.8 that "Aversion (disliking) is clinging to suffering."

In the same way, we are repulsed by various experiences in our environment. These are relative terms, and what is painful for one, may be pleasant for another person. There is a third possible response however, detachment (vairagya), which Patanjali proposes as the key practice for going beyond the painful and pleasurable (see verse I.12, 15).

When we go deep within, standing back from a painful experience, its cause becomes evident. By cultivating this perspective and understanding, as well as patience and tolerance, we are no longer troubled. "If it costs our peace of mind, it costs too much." Changing an outer painful situation is often impossible, without first changing our perception of it. We should first focus our will on clearing and deepening our consciousness to avoid reacting with aversion. Aspire for an outer change, for a more harmonious situation. Accept any work that has been given to you in the spirit of karma yoga (selfless service), as spiritual training, to purify yourself of attachment (raga) and aversion (dvesa).

Both "attachment " and "aversion" are among the five afflictions which Patanjali identifies in Sutra II.3: "Ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and clinging to life are the five afflictions."

These prevent Self-realization. Through ignorance of who we really are, we confuse the Self with the non-Self, the permanent, with the impermanent. Because of this ignorance, egoism develops. Patanjali tells us in II.6 that "Egoism is the identification of the powers of the Seer (Purusha) with that of the instrument of seeing (prakriti)." In other words, egoism is the habit of identifying with what we are not, the body-mind personality, the instrument of cognition, as well as thoughts, sensations and emotions. We fail to recognize that they are objects, merely reflections of our awareness. This leads to the individuation of consciousness: "I-am-ness," and its confusion with "I am the body," "I am this feeling," etc.

This subject-object confusion can be removed by the practice of detachment and discernment. Feel that you are not "the doer," but only the "Seer." Be a witness and an instrument and notice how everything gets done.

To overcome "likings" and attachment, cultivate awareness before, during, and after pleasurable activities or circumstances. Notice that bliss remains throughout, as long as awareness is present. Practice letting go of feelings of attachment. When things go well, thank the Lord.

To overcome aversion or disliking perform all actions selflessly, skillfully and patiently. Cultivate equanimity as you perform actions, and with regard to the results. When things go badly, take responsibility and learn to do better.

Copyright Marshall Govindan. April 2002. All rights reserved.


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