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Prabuddha BharataLatest Issue
Editorial : The Matrix of Emotions
We display emotions and get caught in them. Why do we laugh, get angry, feel sad, and experience numerous other feelings? Is it characteristic of human beings? Or is it not so special a trait after all? Whatever may be the views of biologists or anthropologists on this matter, the intensity of suffering that emotions cause is well known. Even saints are known to have struggled with the power of emotions. That they are not easy to handle is the cause of most human misery.
Though emotions are problematic, human beings supposedly become more ‘humane’ because of them. The same faculty that limits the possibility of peace strangely enables to provide comfort and succour to others and oneself. This contradiction is not confined to the ruminations of philosophers but is a puzzling reality. Restraining emotions seems to mean removing the very essence of human existence. Yet, even the most uneducated person is aware of the vagaries of unrestrained emotions. How to solve this problem? This continues to be a question that consumes the minds of thinkers for centuries.
Some have tried to solve the problem of emotions by classifying them into the good and the bad. When an emotion causes happiness, it is good, and when an emotion causes suffering, it is bad. But such a simplistic classification at best hides the problem. Anything that is produced within us and yet is beyond our control cannot be positive, irrespective of the temporary or apparent good effect it produces. Emotions tiringly engage our minds. All our energy and time are sapped by them. Does humanity need to resign itself to the control of emotions to establish its uniqueness? Much is made of the emotion of laughter.
Laughter is celebrated and is proven to have physiological and psychological benefits. Morning walkers trying to artificially laugh in various groups or laughter clubs out in the open are a common sight. Does this all mean that laughter has to be cultivated forcefully to live in peace? That would mean that one would have to depend on an enforced exercise for attaining peace instead of naturally achieving it. It is much like a person who is dependent on tranquillisers for sleep, which ought to come naturally.
Emotions are just emotions and rob our independence, no matter whether they are positive or negative. By their very nature, they are binding and are bad for this reason alone. But, emotions are considered to be the driving force of human development. Here, emotion is confused with resolve. Emotion drains our mental resources. A resolve made with proper thought and concern would be much firmer than a resolve arising out of the pulls of emotions. Emotions cloud our understanding and also skew our perspectives. Our vision is covered by the cataract of emotions. How should we tackle or manage them? In managing emotions, we have to decide whether we need to manage them without reducing their power or whether we should just remove their poisonous fangs. Emotions are interpretations of life events. That is why they differ so much from person to person. This fact in itself is proof enough that emotions by themselves lack any power or influence unless we grant it to them.
To succeed in controlling our minds and the senses and to rein them according to what needs to be done, we need to defang emotions and not be influenced by them. That way, emotions would be just various states of the mind to which we would be indifferent. Some psychologists and psychiatrists seem to suggest that spirituality is nothing but management of some so-called positive emotions and social connections. But, this idea of spirituality is rather primitive. Any kind of life and world view that binds us to the causes of suffering cannot, by its very nature, lead us beyond suffering. True spirituality is going beyond suffering.
Mental health has been associated with proper identification with emotions like love, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, and so on. Most faith traditions of the world also emphasise these qualities. But, they again belong to the preliminary stage of spiritual life. Spiritual growth and maturity is characterised by complete detachment to all emotions. Emotions categorised as positive, like love, require unselfishness, at least to some degree. That unselfishness needs to be expanded to a complete unselfishness, so detached that one does not need to depend on emotions, even the positive ones. Then the mind becomes free to take instructions and is not stuck in the crisscross of the matrix of motions.
The human brain is broadly divided into the primitive and the more advanced parts. The primitive part of the human brain is the seat of primal instincts like hunger and sleep. Though not evolved, this part of the human brain engages the body and the mind at a very deep level, so deep that its very existence and influence become unnoticeable. Any attempt to go beyond suffering has to be an attempt to go beyond the primal instincts too. And so, spirituality should aim at rewiring the primitive part of our brain. This can be done by changing the regular patterns or routines that arise from this primitive brain and replacing new patterns and routines in their stead. The idea of the body resides in the primitive brain. When someone flees at the slightest possibility of bodily harm, it is this brain that becomes active. The group of emotions that reside in this part of the brain could as well be termed selfish. Baser instincts are also selfish. So are all other emotions.
This primitive brain has to be brought under control and it is in this brain that the idea of one’s true personality should be impressed firmly by constantly practising spiritual disciplines like japa and meditation. When the ideas of one not being the body and the mind are strongly embedded on this brain, then even when one’s advanced brain is disturbed or becomes weak and the primitive brain takes over, the spiritual understanding of one’s personality would not fade. There are numerous instances where spiritual aspirants who were practising various spiritual disciplines for a long time, continued doing so, even when afflicted by ailments like dementia or Alzheimer’s. This stresses the need for controlling emotions in the primitive brain. A change in the primitive brain can be brought about only by repeated and intense practice. That is exactly what is needed in the case of managing emotions too.
All notions of positive emotions are thus illusory just like the rest of the manifest universe. Emotions are bad because they emphasise one’s distinct ego. In reality there is only one Truth and no multiple egos. And so, it is very pertinent that these emotions are disjointed from the ego by complete detachment. Only then can one’s true nature be realised.