This week we discussed disgust. Or should I say we were discussing the phenomena of being disgusted. It seems that we all get disgusted by something – at least sometime. Some of us are disgusted by Brussels sprouts; for others it’s Marmite that brings on the feeling of nausea.
Disgust means: ‘Aa
That’s a pretty intense emotion, and for a good reason. Disgust protects us from eating the wrong things, such as food that is stale, putrid, or poisonous. Or it protects us from walking into harmful situations. Its a good emotion in the long-term, too, helping us to decide moral choices that will lead to beneficial conditions for ourselves and those that depend on us. So let’s not knock disgust. Being disgusted can be good for you.
The teachings of the Vedas have it that there are two movements of the mind: sankalpa and vikalpa. The first, sankalpa, means to make a willed, mental determination to have something, to enjoy something, to be someone. It means to want something very strongly because you think it will make you happy.
Vikalpa, on the other hand, means to reject something, to move away from something, to break a relationship or affiliation with someone. It means to understand that something is no longer to your liking, that it won’t make you happy.
Sankalpa allows you to begin a chain of events, a chain of actions, that will ultimately bring about the state of happiness you imagine. Vikalpa makes you take action to prevent something happening, or to begin a chain of actions that will separate you from longterm sadness, unhappiness or pain.
Both sankalpa and vikalpa begin with an imagination of a future state closely followed by strong remembrance of a past event when there were feelings of happiness or pain. We remember the taste of ice-cream on a hot day last summer – and move towards the ice-cream van today; we remember the sickening turbulence of a previous plane flight – and become filled with the anxiety of apprehension as we board the stationary plane.
Every soul that’s got stuck in a material body – from a single-celled microbe up to a complex human being – is coming up with sankalpa and vikalpa every minute. Its the movement of the flickering mind that propels us to eat, to protect, to move out of harm’s way.
But there’s always a chance that we might become confused. We might forget, for instance, that drinking too much alcohol on a Saturday night gave us pain and nausea on the Sunday morning. The memory of past pleasure dominates the memories of past pains and we drink too much yet again – and repeatedly suffer. This is called maya. This happens again and again until we realise, through much painful experience, that material pleasure always results in trouble of some kind. That’s when the next level may arise within us. It’s called nirvinna, or disgust. Not nirvana. That’s a different word. Look at the spelling.
Nirvana means being liberated and nirvinna means being disgusted. Being disgusted makes us permanently reject something. If something disgusts us, even something we were previously fond of, we avoid it.
Of course, a philosopher might say that if you feel nirvinna it might help you on the way to nirvana. Certainly being disgusted with the false, temporary happiness provided by material pleasure will make you stop trying to enjoy it and as a result you’ll become detached from the material world. That will help you change the way you look at the world and what you want from it. You’ll change the parameters of your sankalpa, and move towards a type of happiness that will be more permanent.
But just being disgusted at the world may not take you further in spiritual life. In and of itself, disgust is just one facet of our response to repeated disappointment in material life. And just being free from desires for material enjoyment doesn’t bring you closer to being reunited with Krishna.
In His conversation with Uddhava, known as the Uddhava-gita, in the 11th Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam, Lord Krishna says as follows:
“My dear Uddhava, because I desire that human beings may achieve perfection, I have presented three paths of advancement – the path of knowledge, the path of work and the path of devotion. Besides these three there is absolutely no other means of elevation.”
“Jnana-yoga is recommended for those who are disgusted with material life. Those who are not disgusted with material life, having many desires yet to fulfil, should seek perfection through the path of karma-yoga.”
“If somehow or other by good fortune one develops faith in hearing and chanting my glories, such a person, being neither very disgusted with nor attached to material life, should achieve perfection through the path of loving devotion to me.”
Srimad Bhagavatam 11.20 6-8.
So whatever our condition, whether we are fully disgusted with material life, or whether we have many desires left to fulfil, we can choose bhakti and move closer to the joy of Krishna consciousness.