Attraction and repulsion, rāga and dveṣa, are the two primary emotions experienced by human beings. They are the offspring of avidyā, or primordial ignorance of one’s true self and of Bhagavān.
In Yoga-sūtra (2.3), Patañjali Maharṣi explains that one identifies with the material mind and body because of avidya, and that identification results in raga and dveṣa—attachment to and aversion from various material objects and situations. This is the root disease of all living entities. In Bhagavad Gītā (3.35), Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa elaborates a little more on this. He says, “Attachment and aversion pertaining to the sense faculties are rooted in their corresponding sensory objects. One should not come under the sway of such attachment and aversion, for they are impediments to the spiritual aspirant.”
Here the word “sense faculties” (indriya) primarily refers to the five cognitive senses. Each sense has its own attraction and repulsion. If these senses are out of control, they become an impediment on one’s spiritual progress. For example, if one is cannot control one’s attraction to sweet food, it can easily become a problem to one’s health, discipline, and spiritual practices.
Among the five senses, the tongue is most difficult to control. According to Bhāgavata Purāṇa (11.8.21), if one can control the tongue one can easily control the other senses, but if tongue is not under control, neither are the others. Food is essential for one’s survival, therefore, the attachment to taste is most intense.
The king of all external senses, however, is mind—an “internal sense” which functions both as a cognitive sense and working sense and is subtler than the other five senses, making it more difficult to observe, understand and control. The mind’s rāga and dveṣa are therefore more dangerous than those of external senses.
Rāga and dveṣa are the opposite sides of the same coin. Therefore, they go together. Kṛṣṇa says that they are the true enemy of a person (BG 3.37,39). In the Gītā, He advises that we control them by trying to control our senses, but ultimately sense-control is impossible without the grace of bhakti (see Gītā 2.59). According to Brahmā (SB 10.14.4), any endeavor to control the senses independent of bhakti will only result in suffering.
Bhakti solves the rāga/dveṣa problem at the root. It infuses the ātmā with its own conscious intrinsic potency (cit-śakti or svarūpa-śakti), dispelling ignorance (avidya), the root cause of the problem. Without the intrinsic potency of bhakti, avidyā cannot be overcome. The jīva is conscious by nature and thus superior to avidyā, yet it comes under the sway of the latter because of its being very tiny. Once a jīva comes in contact with bhakti, however, avidyā cannot hold sway over it.
Bhakti, however, is inaccessible while a person is overpowered by feelings of rāga and dveṣa. This means that a person with the avidyā-disease is disqualified from getting the cure for that disease. What is the solution to this Catch-22 situation? How can a conditioned jīva get rid of avidyā and become situated in its svarūpa?
Avidyā very basically means non-awareness of Bhagavān. Sage Āvirhotra recommends (SB 11.3.47) that a quick solution is to practice awareness of Bhagavān through worshipping his deity. This should lead to seeing the presence of Bhagavān in other living beings. If we can feel the presence of one Supreme Person in all beings, then it would not be possible to have hatred (dveśa). If we worship the deity form of Bhagavān, and we also understand that the same Bhagavān is present in all beings and things, then our hatred (dveśa) would naturally disappear. Without one side of the coin, the other cannot exist. So our attractions to things would no longer be a parcel of rāga-dveśa.
The same recommendation is also given by Bhagavān Kapila while instructing His mother Devahūti. He says, “As long as one does not directly perceive Me within his heart as the Interior Regulator (Īśvara) present within all living beings, he should worship Me in the deity form while carrying out his prescribed duties” (SB 3.29.25). The suggestion to rely on prescribed duties is because a person is ineligible for pure devotion at this point.
According to Śrī Nārada Muni, sages propagated deity worship in Tretā Yuga, when they noted that people had become hateful of each other (SB 7.14.39). Previous to this, in Satyayuga, people were free of hatred. But as time progressed, people became greedy and began possessing property, which led to feelings of rāga and dveṣa. When sages saw this, as a remedy, they propagated deity worship. Nārada, however, adds that deity worship will not be fruitful if the worshipper retains their hatred for other living beings. Kapildeva also says this (SB 3.29.21,24). This may seem like yet another Catch-22: Since we are hateful of others, we should worship a deity, but as long as we are hateful of others, our deity worship will not be fruitful. So how does it work?
Śrī Kapildeva says deity worship begins to purify the worshiper’s heart (SB 3.29.25). This will slacken one’s rāga and dveṣa slightly, which gradually improves one’s ability to see that the same Bhagavān who is in the deity is also in the living beings.
Unfortunately, I have seen a common problem among devotees: They do not realize or want to admit that they have hatred for others. They prematurely think they have advanced beyond this. So, it takes a certain amount of introspection, honesty, and humility to admit one’s hatred for others, which often takes the form of jealousy.
It should be mentioned here that deity worship should be done under the guidance of a teacher. This is the recommendation of Sage Āvirhotra (SB 11.3.48).
When faith is born by the association of a devotee and one formally accepts a guru to undertake the path of bhakti, then the worship of Kṛṣṇa’s deity form may commence. In the beginning, the devotee who is still tied to gross outward vision (i.e., the prākṛta-bhakta) cannot intuit Kṛṣṇa’s presence in the deity, but because he is endowed with faith, he takes to the path of worship. Gradually, through the influence of the self-revealing power of the intrinsic potency, Kṛṣṇa Himself is disclosed as identical with the deity, and simultaneously one becomes free of rāga and dveṣa rooted in avidyā. As a consequence, one is then able to recognize Kṛṣṇa’s presence in every living being.
This is the unique greatness of Vaiṣṇava dharma, which is the path of love and cooperation. There is no place for egotism, hatred, envy, and jealousy on this path.
Respect is due to all beings but should be expressed according to the level of consciousness manifest in a particular body. Thus it is not that a dog and a Vaiṣṇava should be treated in an identical manner. In our modern “politically correct” social milieu, there is a prevalent view that discrimination of any kind is reprehensible and that everyone should be treated as equal in an unquestioning and unconditional manner. This, however, is not a sign of true intelligence. To abstain from the use of discrimination is overly facile and does not require any great acumen. An insane person treats everyone equally because he has lost his intelligence. The function of intelligence is to distinguish truth from untruth, right from wrong, and to discern what is higher and lower. In our practical dealings as well, we do not treat everyone in exactly the same way. If the head of state comes for a visit, he will be accorded special treatment by his host. This is normal reasonable conduct that is commonly subscribed to.
In SB 3.29.28–33, Bhagavān Kapila elaborates a hierarchy of being and consciousness to serve as the basis for a corresponding scale of respect.
At the top of this order is Bhagavān, and those who have realized Him directly are the next most highly evolved beings. While every living being should be accorded respect in correspondence with their actual status, Vaiṣṇavas are always worthy of worship. One must be attentive not to displease them in any way. In SB 3.29.34, Śrī Kapila concludes this discussion by saying that one should internally honor all beings, knowing that Bhagavān is present within all of them in His partial expansion both as the jīva and as the controller of the jīva, Paramātmā.
The foundational principle of Śrīmad Bhāgavata is that there is only one nondual Absolute Reality that is self-disclosed in manifold ways. When that Reality is revealed as intrinsically self-endowed with Its own potencies in completion, It is known as Bhagavān, the Nondual Personal Absolute. He is the ultimate object of respect and worship. Nothing exists independent of Him. On this basis, all things are worthy of respect due to their being constitutionally related to Him. The more a being is devoted to Him, the more he or she is deserving of honor.
For a beginner, this respect should be applied with the theoretical acknowledgment of Bhagavān’s presence in everything. This attitude will free the practitioner from attachment and aversion (rāga and dveṣa). As one advances on the path, one will naturally come to realize the manifestations of Bhagavān’s majesty within everything and will offer the appropriate respect. In contrast, however, respect or sympathy that is extended independent of Bhagavān will become a cause of bondage. This is evident from the story of King Bharata, found in chapter eight of the Fifth Canto. He was compelled to take birth as a deer in his next life because of his infatuation with a fawn. It was not wrong on his part to rescue the fawn from drowning in the Gaṇḍakī River and then to nourish it. His mistake was that in the process, he abandoned the worship of his Śālagrāma and became exclusively devoted to the deer cub. It is therefore recommended that compassion should be extended to living beings by considering them as parts of Paramātmā and as existential seats of His indwelling.
The limit of one’s intelligence is when one begins doubting it. Then bhakti begins. Therefore, sraddha is the beginning of bhakti.
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