Pratipaksha Bhavana

We often find ourselves indulging in negative thoughts. Unfortunately this comes very easily to us. Often times we know the source of the negative thought, but there are also instances where we do not know the source and we do not seem to have any control over those thoughts. Recognition of such thoughts, and not indulging in them is perhaps the first battle that we have to go through.

The Gita says thoughts spring from desires and desires can be either in manifested form or unmanifested form. What does unmanifested mean? It means that the desires are there in our system, but are still in a dormant form, unknown to us, waiting for the right time to surface, and that right time may come in this life time or many life times later. Such unmanifested desires are called ‘Vasanas’.

Again, something to keep in mind is – tought at an intellectual level, translates into a desire in the mind, and if entertained further, translates into action at the physical body level.

The Gita presents this in a beautiful manner to help us deal with the thoughts, so that we are entertaining and promoting positive thoughts and stifling negative thoughts, by essentially saying that when the thought(s) appear, driven by desire(s), the key is to look at them as the different rive streams that flow into an ocean, but the ocean is not disturbed by it. Gita says, ‘One in whom all desires flow by, like the Ocean into which the rivers flow but which remains undisturbed, attain peace’. It is important to understand that this is not suppression. Suppression is like creating some form of artificial barrier to prevent the river from flowing into the ocean, so that the ocean / self remains undisturbed. This will only lead to frustration, and at somepoint the river will breach the barriers (thoughts will erupt into a forceful action).

Our scriptures also refer to a mechanism called ‘Patipaksha Bhavana’. The seers propose that upon being haunted by a negative thought ‘Vitarkas’, thoughts that are directed towards violence, untruthfulness, indulgence, stealing, discontentment, etc., the task is not to berate oneself upon finding oneself contemplating in a negative thought but to deal insightfully with such occurrences. This according to Patanjali, means considering their consequences, pratipaksa-bhavana. One should cultivate counter thoughts. This is a mindfulness meditation, self purification exercise, whereby one consciously adjusts the types of samskaras.

So, if we happen to hate or dislike someone, becoming aware that it is a type of ‘himsa’, violence, resulting from ignorance (ignoring the true self of the person), then one can and should make an attempt to think of the person in a non-violent (not dislike) way, think that the person is the victim of the gunas. This newly cultivated thought then gets embossed within, leading to the gradual transformation.

It is also important to note that the Gita offers the Guna code to help us understand our makeup, establish a baseline, thus enabling us to take the steps needed to refine our makeup, which would in-turn help in the quality of the thoughts that we promote, and those that we should just let flow by without being affected by.

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