What does vikalpa mean in the mind’s sanklpa-vikalpa?

by Chaitanya CharanJuly 22, 2014

Transcribed by: Nishant Arora and Keshavgopal Das

Question: In the saṅkalpa – vikalpa of the mind what exactly does vikalpa mean? Vikalpa, does it refer to indecision in doing one thing or another or does it refer to means of executing things?

Answer: It can refer to both.

The word vikalpa from the Sanskrit dictionary point of view has two meanings. One is alternative. For example in day today speaking we say, iska koi vikalpa hai kya. So it means alternative. But in a general sense vikalpa basically means the process of decision making i.e. exploring the options and arriving at a process of decision making.

The word vikalpa can have a positive connotation where it indicates a systematic deliberation after which one decides what is to be done. But in a negative connotation sense, it refers simply to the indecisiveness that happens to some people when they have to make decisions. Both meanings are possible in a practical sense.

Now in the specific use saṅkalpa-vikalpa when we see from the etymological or grammatical point of view, the word saṅkalpa has two meanings and whether it is use in negative connotation or positive connotation that will depend on the particular context in which the word is used. But when it is used as a dual compound saṅkalpa-vikalpa, at that time basically it refers to something that undermine saṅkalpa. That means saṅkalpa is resolution to do something and then vikalpa when it is used in context saṅkalpa but it does not mean how to execute it. That means the indecision or the alternative track ways because of which one is not able to do that or one is dis-enthused from doing that.

aneka-citta-vibhrāntā moha-jāla-samāvṛtāḥ prasaktāḥ kāma-bhogeṣu patanti narake ’śucau

(BG 16.16)


In BG 16.16, Krishna says, the people who are excessively influenced by material desire, there conciseness is dragged in more than 100 directions (aneka-citta-vibhranta) and because of that they are not able to execute anything properly. Vikalpa in that sense refers to the inability to backup some desire or decision with action because of multiple alternatives coming up. In a more philosophical sense, the Vedic scripture the karma kanda section of the scripture is said to be associated with saṅkalpa. Ok do this and you will enjoy, do this and you will enjoy and the indecision about doing it, the reluctance to do this is in the gyana kanda. Gyana kanda are associated with vikalpa. Saṅkalpa and vikalpa when they are used in the context of inner psychology in terms of the behavior of the mind then they refer to the resolution to do a particular thing and then the indecision about doing that thing. So in that context the word saṅkalpa and the word vikalpa when it is specially used in philosophical context it does not have a positive connotation.

The word saṅkalpa can have positive or negative connotations. In Bhagavad Gita the word saṅkalpa is used largely in negative sense in 4.19 Krishna says

yasya sarve samārambhāḥ kāma-saṅkalpa-varjitāḥ.

Saṅkalpa for kāma one gives it up. In that sense saṅkalpa is considered to be something which is undesirable. But in the seventh canto (of Srimad Bhagvatam) Vishvanatha Chakravarthy Thakura talks about saṅkalpa, “sankalpa jayet kamah”. This has been translated in two ways by acharyas – one is asankalpat jayet kamah (SB 7.15.22). How does one conquer lust? By not making plans for fulfilling lust. Not making schemes about how I can enjoy in sense gratification. But if you put ‘a’ before saṅkalpa , asankalpat jayet kamah i.e. by not making plans for sense gratification one can conquer lust. But it can also be sankalpat jayet kamah. That means by making plans about how to conquer lust. One just assumes that I will be able to conquer lust on makes plans. Ok if this temptation comes I’ll do this, if I am going to be in this situation, I am going to be prepared like this. saṅkalpat jayet kāmah. So here saṅkalpa can be used in positive sense. saṅkalpa basically means resolution and vikalpa refers to the undermining of that resolution because of mind’s oscillating tendencies.

So in a general sense, now even there is an organization which is called vikalpa industry, so Vikalpa consultants. They have used that name in the sense that they help people to deliberate and make decisions so there the word can be in a positive context but in a philosophical sense when we use it, it generally refers to the random movements of the mind. Thank you

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Chaitanya Charan

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