Desire and aversion

In conversation with a friend, and fellow yoga teacher, the other day and she was saying that she noticed how one of her aversions was actually the same as desire- that they are the same thing. Yes, yes, and a bit more yes!


Desire and aversion are a central teaching in most spiritual philosophies. Chapter 7 of the Bhagavad Gītā details 'jñāna vijñāna yog' which can be translated as 'the yoga of knowledge and realisation/mind'. Included in this chapter is the teaching about desire and aversion.


Bhagavad Gītā Chapter 7, Verse 27


इच्छाद्वेषसमुत्थेन द्वन्द्वमोहेन भारत | सर्वभूतानि सम्मोहं सर्गे यान्ति परन्तप || 27||


ichchhā-dveṣha-samutthena dvandva-mohena bhārata sarva-bhūtāni sammohaṁ sarge yānti parantapa


'Oh descendent of Bharat, the dualities of desire and aversion arise from illusion. O conquerer of enemies, all living beings in the material realm are from birth deluded by these.'

(Translation by Swami Mukundananda)


Let us think of aversion. What actually is aversion? 'Disliking something' is possibly an answer that springs to mind. 'I don't want this to happen' for example. Is it actually aversion or is it really desire? 'I wish this was different' in other words.


What about desire? 'I want this/that' is the obvious statement when talking about desire. In other words, what I have right now isn't enough and more or something different is required. It's an 'aversion of the present' is it not?


They really are exactly the same thing; A desire for the present moment to be different or an aversion to the present moment are the same thing, yes? As suggested in the Gītā, the duality is an illusion, which we've logically broken down right there. But how do we conquer this 'enemy'- illusion?


What options do you have with enemies? You could run away. What about fighting the enemy? Or maybe you could befriend the enemy? Perhaps all three is what actually occurs in our lives. We might spend most of our lives running, eventually realising we have to 'confront' the enemy as it doesn't go away. We may spend the rest of our lives then fighting against the enemy. Some might be successful in this battle, whereas others may not. What might be first perceived as a successful 'battle' could also result in some point returning to us stronger, with its calvary to overcome us, maybe resulting in running again. Basically, at some point it is likely we are going to need to befriend the enemy- duality. Often this involves coming to a mutual understanding, trying to know them as well as we can. You might be able to think about people in your life whom you've disliked and the more you got to know them, the more the dislike faded away. So let's take a closer look at the three options.


[As a side note, could it be seen that so much of conflict is simply not trying to understand the 'other'? Are we now too busy to take the time to do this?]


Run away from the enemy


As suggested earlier this option is the one we can spend a large chunk of our lives doing. It may seem the opposite of running away as what we're actually doing is following the 'desires' and 'aversions' that arise in the mind. Yet as alluded to earlier, we are running, running away from our experience of the present moment in some way- and it just fitted in with the analogy somewhat so I'm running with it (pun intended).


We may run, thinking we are running from the enemy, but the big reason this doesn't work, is that we are actually running with the enemy- illusion- and away from a 'friend'- present moment. We may also be completely ignorant to the fact we are doing this. It is so normal in society that to do, that anything other can seem completely bizarre. We are overtly and covertly taught that the present moment is not enough, and is in a way the enemy. This is the drive of capitalism. Even without capitalism drumming it home, it is the human condition- hence capitalism arising. Katherine May Banham- a developmental psychologist- noted that in early infancy, two emotions are displayed; distress and delight. All other emotions arise over time as differing levels of these two. These can be seen as desire and aversion in action from the get go. In other words, it is a survival mechanism which served great purpose.


Yet it is also a root of our 'suffering'. This constant running is tiring is it not? Each desire, once fulfilled, leads to another. It really is constant. If you've not noticed it already, maybe spend some time seeing if you can notice the drive of your actions. I'm going to suggest that nearly every single one stems from desire for/to change something.


I pull out my phone to check the news- desire for mental stimulation, desire for possible dopamine hit of discovering a notification, desire for a little shot of adrenaline as the news may push me into fight/flight- all a desire to avoid the full present experience and create a different one.


Battle with the enemy

One method used in spirituality and yoga was/is to battle against desire/aversion (can I just write desire now? We've seen they're the same thing, yeah?). One such way was to renounce from society. It's like, I desire cake, so never walk past a cake shop, but on a mass scale. Of course, there are wider reaching reasons for renunciation, but it is essentially the 'battle' method. In other words, hard bloody work, and takes great will power. You could remain in society and try to use will power.


Maybe try it. Some may have tried it with smoking, discovering that the desire for nicotine becomes a desire for something else instead. Every single desire really stems from the same 'problem'- desire for the present experience to be different in some way. This means the will needed is huge. The will needed is also bigger than ever as it is the opposite of the capitalist message. This is not a dig at capitalism, but a statement of fact of the society we live in. So yes, some may be able to use will to battle against this, but this lifetime is short. I don't know about you, but I personally can't be arsed with that.


Making friends with the enemy


I've got to the stage in the analogy that I don't know who the enemy is any more, and that is kind of the point. The enemy is also the friend, and the one we thought was the friend was the enemy. They are the same- present moment and illusion. They simply are.


So who do we want to be friends with? Well, everyone. The present moment, the illusion and everyone/everything in between. The illusion is also our liberation. It is why it is there, or more accurately, perceived to be there. So to be friends, let's start by understanding them a little better.