Volume 8 - Issue 08
AUGUST 2010
Other Articles
 
spiritual questions and answers
PART 20

By Prof. G. Venkataraman
 

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Since Heart2Heart started in 2003, readers have very often written to us seeking answers to many spiritual questions. We have answered them at times through appropriate articles in H2H. However, there are still many that have to be explained carefully and in detail. And in the recent past, a lot more queries have arrived on varied topics concerning spirituality and personal growth.

We have now meticulously compiled and categorised these questions, and Prof. G. Venkataraman has offered to answer all these queries in a structured and systematic way as a series on Radio Sai as well as in H2H. In this way, these answers now remain always on our website as a ready reckoner on spiritual doubts. This is a suitably adapted transcript of one of the talks of this radio series bearing the same name.

Loving Sai Ram, and greetings from Prashanthi Nilayam. In this article I wish to deal with the topic of the Mind, concerning which we have received many questions; this of course is to be expected since the Mind plays a very crucial role in one’s Spiritual Development. Since there is an introduction to the Mind in the previous article, maybe I should straightaway start dealing with the questions, reserving additional comments for the end.

There are over 20 different questions that we have received; however, many of them being similar, I have decided to club questions that are alike.

The first generic question goes like this:

How does one control anger?

 

There are supplementary questions too and I shall deal with them as I go along. To start with, at the beginning, anger is an emotion that basically arises out of disappointment when something that we expect does not happen, a dissatisfaction caused by someone else.

For example, a person borrows money and promises to return it by a certain date. That date has come and gone but the borrower is dragging his feet giving one excuse or the other; meanwhile the lender is badly in need of money himself and feels cheated; this is typical of a situation that triggers anger; that is to say, when one feels cheated, then anger is a common outcome. Anger also arises out of a sense of injury [real or imaginary], out of denial, etc.

The question before us is: “How does one control this anger?” Before I discuss this, I need to stress that anger is a dangerous emotion and could easily make one lose control of oneself; and when that happens, the consequences could be disastrous.
 

Hundreds of murders are committed because people get pushed by rage to levels that border on temporary insanity. For a few brief minutes they totally lose control of themselves and engage in acts that would cause them to shudder when they are cool. Krishna warns about this slippery slope to disaster in the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita.

Even physically, anger can be bad for the person; the blood pressure can shoot up and the heart may start thumping. So, even from a worldly point of view, anger is far from desirable; spiritually of course, it is pure tragedy.

So far, I have merely pointed out that anger is very bad for us. Turning now to the question of control, there are two common points of view:

According to one, it is not good to suppress anger; it is better, according to this view, to give vent to it, since this way, one cleans up the system. The Wise have called such advice foolish, because this is the easiest way of making anger a habit; and once this happens, it is almost impossible to get rid of it.

The contrary point of view is that when one feels angry, one must suppress it instead of giving expression to it. This too is wrong. Why? Because anger suppressed is anger bottled up; and when that is done repeatedly, one day there would be a violent explosion like a pressure cooker bursting.

 

What comes out of it all is that it is bad to give vent to anger as also to suppress it; both have their negative points.

Does that mean that there are no other options? There sure is, but it calls for some discipline and that is where Mind control enters the picture.

That option is sublimation. What this means is the following: The first thing is to remind ourselves, very strongly, that we are NOT the body or the Mind. Why?

Because really speaking we are the Atma; I hope you recall this point discussed in earlier articles of this series.


What this means is that we are separate from the Mind. Now it is in the crevices of the Mind that anger hides, like a thief hiding in a crowded area. Separating oneself from the Mind, one must become a detective and ask questions like: “Where is this anger hiding? Wherefrom did it come? Why did it come?”

In other words, there must be an objective examination of the root cause of anger and whether there is any justification at all for feeling angry. When such questioning is done objectively and with detachment, it is indeed possible to sublimate anger.

All this might seem high flown, too difficult, etc. But if you think about it, even wars often start with individual leaders in two countries becoming stubborn, egoistic and furious, when their ego is bruised. Just think of how many millions who have perished due to violence, conflict and war. Is there any violence with which anger was not connected in any way? How often do people try to prevent war? Not too often, I am afraid.

Sage Vishwamitra did get angry; however, he quickly realised that it was detrimental to his Spiritual progress. And, to make amends, he actually intensified his tapas to the point where he finally got control over his senses and Mind.

Here, the example of Krishna in going to the court of the Kauravas to make one last effort for peace in the epic Mahabharata is most remarkable. And that amazing story was brilliantly captured in a drama that students from Swami’s University staged two years ago in His presence.

 

The drama KRISHNA - THE PEACE AMBASSADOR

Read the Transcript ( Part 1 and Part 2 )                                 |                                 Listen to the dialogues

While I was watching this drama, I felt how nice it would have been if the people concerned had seen this play before they invaded Iraq without reasonable provocation, all in the name of pre-emption.

To get back to the question I started with, the short answer to it is that anger is best controlled by sublimating it rather than giving vent to it or suppressing it. I hope that is clear.

Now we move on to the next question which is:

When is it appropriate to express anger and how can that be expressed positively?

The question seems to be based on Puranic (epic) stories about Vishwamitra, for example, getting angry and so on. Some also seem to feel that if anger is not expressed on occasions, then one could even end up getting bullied. All these points are legitimate and they need to be addressed. Let me start with the Vishwamitra story.

The famous sage Vishwamitra was originally a king. On one occasion, he had an encounter with the venerable and celebrated Sage Vasishta, and became very jealous of the latter’s Spiritual powers. The king came to learn that such powers are acquired by intense tapas (meditation), whereupon, he promptly took to that way of life.

 

It was tough going, but over a long period he did make progress, and slowly did start acquiring various powers; still, he was way behind Vasishta. Meanwhile, the Devas (celestial beings) became rather concerned about the growing power acquired by tapas by this erstwhile king.

And they were not quite sure how this monarch would use this power when he acquired it; in particular, they were worried if the king would use against them that is the Devas. So they used all kinds of strategies to deflect the king from his intense penance.

They first sent a very pretty damsel named Menaka who lured the spiritual aspirant and got him entangled in alluring female company and all that. The king totally forgot about his quest and spent a wonderful time with Menaka, and even got a daughter through her. Then one fine day, he woke up to what was happening to him, and quietly sent Menaka away. To make up for lost time, he intensified the rigour of his tapas.

Once again the Devas got worried and plotted to see how to derail the king again. Once more they sent an alluring damsel, this time one named Rambha. However, the king was fully prepared for such distractions and refused to succumb. Rambha had a mission, and she intensified her attempts to seduce the king. That was when the king became fiercely angry and cursed her.

But the moment he did this, he also realised his folly. Rambha might not have attracted him but derailed him nevertheless, because anger was as detrimental to spiritual development as yielding to the pleasures of the flesh.

That was when the king rued his mistake and vowed not to stop till he had controlled his senses and Mind totally. He did of course succeed eventually, to the point where Sage Vasishta himself applauded Vishwamitra and hailed his Spiritual eminence. 

No matter what others might say, for those on the Spiritual path, there is absolutely no room for anger; the sooner one gets rid of it, the better. Maybe not easy at start, but with practice, it is possible

The point of all this narration is the following: Yes, Vishwamitra did get angry; however, he quickly realised that it was detrimental to his Spiritual progress. And, to make amends, he actually intensified his tapas to the point where he finally got control over his senses and Mind.

So the take home lesson is that we cannot simply say: “If Vishwamitra could get angry, why not me?” On the other hand we should understand, when Vishwamitra got angry, he actually failed and had to pull himself up. There are no positive aspects to anger in any time period. I hope that is clear.

This takes me to the next question which is:

Can one express anger positively?

I am not too sure if I understand the question properly, and it seems to be related to the one I just discussed. Nevertheless, I shall use the opportunity to recall a small story once narrated by Sage Ramakrishna, which I have heard Swami also narrating.

The story is about a poisonous snake that lived in a forest which used to bite people moving about in the forest. The tribals living there finally got tired of all this and one day sought the advice of a Rishi (sage) who lived in the forest. This sage calmed the petitioner and assured them he would do something about it.

 

After the tribals left, he spotted the snake and since he could speak the language of animals and other creatures, he asked the snake why it was harassing ordinary people. And then he told the snake that this was not good and that it should lead a peaceful life. Since the Rishi spoke with a lot of Love, the snake promised to do exactly as the Sage had advised; from that day, the snake moved about without harming anyone.

The snake thought that the people would appreciate its gesture; instead, it found that people now became bold, would come near it, throw stones and hurt it. The snake bore it all patiently, ignoring the hurt caused to it. One day, when it could no longer take this punishment, it sought the Sage and complained bitterly. The Rishi understood the snake’s problem and said, “Look I only told you that you must not bite; I did not say you must not hiss! Hiss loudly and these people would immediately run away!”

The moral of the story is that at times, it may be, provided circumstances warrant that, to act as if one is angry, if it would help. Please note that acting as if one is angry is quite different from actually becoming angry. If by feigning anger one can get positive results, then that is acceptable.

In this context, I am reminded of an interesting anecdote that goes back to the early seventies. There was at that time, a hippie group that was presenting rock concerts to American troops serving in Vietnam, a tough job, given that they were right in the middle of a dangerous war zone. After a period of duty, they earned a small vacation. It was normal for all Americans in Vietnam to rush to neighbouring Thailand for relaxation, since so many sensual diversions were available. Instead, this group decided to fly to Bangalore and spend all its time in Brindavan, having Swami’s Darshan. However, whenever Swami came near them He not only avoided them but invariably acted as if He was angry.

This went on for days, but amazingly, the hippie group was far from being disillusioned. And then one fine morning, just before they were due to leave, Swami called them all for an interview.

Once they were inside, He asked them, “I was so angry with you all and yet you stayed smiling all the time. How come?” The leader of the rock group replied, “Baba, we know that since You are Love personified, You simply cannot get angry! We knew You were just acting!”

 

Swami gave a big smile and replied, “You are right; I was only testing you,” and gave them an incredibly memorable time with Him! I hope all that is enough to convince that sometimes, it might be tactically advantageous to act as if one is angry. That said one must never harbour anger in one’s Heart; that is dangerous, it is like injecting pure poison into the Heart.

No matter what others might say, please understand that for those on the Spiritual path, there is absolutely no room for anger; the sooner one gets rid of it, the better. Not easy at start I admit, but with practice, it is possible

(If I might make a confession, I am saying this from personal experience!)

Let me move on. Staying on the theme of anger, here is an interesting question:

If we do not express anger, then how can we feel the motivation to fight for worthy causes or bring about justice? How can we channel anger constructively?

I guess the questioner here is talking of what is sometimes called righteous anger. My answer to this question is as follows:

Superficially, it might seem that so-called righteous anger might be justified, especially while fighting for a cause. But there is a grave danger, and indeed this cannot be minimised.

Initially, one might feel anger and fight for justice and all that. However, it might happen, and in fact this is true many times, things do not go well; one finds that the forces of opposition and injustice are quite strong and thwart every move that one makes. Frustration develops and starts mounting. Soon, a threshold is crossed, and there is loss of reason, as Krishna gravely warns in Chapter Two of the Gita.

And, as Krishna clearly points out, when there is loss of reason, disaster soon becomes inevitable. If you think about it carefully, a lot of the insurgency or terrorist movements are all the direct result of the leaders of these movements starting off with righteous anger and wanting passionately to remove blatant injustice and all that.

 

But often they do not find the going easy, and sooner or later, there comes a point when anger turns into bitterness and pure hate, after which the fight for justice takes an ugly turn; and at that point, it is no longer easy to justify the struggle since the path now adopted is no longer that of Dharma but of Adharma.

The point I am making is far from trivial and this is where the life of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela become extremely important lessons for us to study. Gandhi fought against injustice all his life but he never got angry or allowed himself to fall a victim to hate. In fact he often said that he had no quarrel with the British; all that he was against was the idea of the British ruling over India. I hope the point I am making is clear; in short, the bottom line is: No matter how attractive righteous anger might be, avoid it from day one.

Here I am reminded of an incident that late Prof. Sampath, a wonderful man and the third Vice Chancellor of Swami’s University once narrated to me. He said that one day, when he was alone with Swami, he was talking about the famous incident in the Mahabharata War, when Yudhishtra fudges a bit, and giving the impression to Drona on the other side that Drona’s son Ashwatthama has been killed in battle.

What really had happened was that an elephant named Ashwatthama got killed; however, the way Yudhishtra conveys the news, Drona thinks it is his son that has been killed. He is shocked and overwhelmed, and taking advantage of his loss of attention and concentration, the Pandavas kill him. This incident is famous and has been thrashed out by scholars for centuries; the question discussed is whether a white lie is justifiable under circumstances.

That was the question that Prof. Sampath put to Swami. He asked, “Swami, is it correct to tell a white lie if it would do some good?” Swami replied in a stern voice, “Don’t you ever try telling a so-called white lie. In fact, there is no such thing as a white lie. Some people imagine there is and start telling such lies; one thing then leads to another, and soon they become pathological liars! Don’t ever make the mistake of getting on that slippery slope!”  Sampath was shaken, he told me, and his recall of Swami’s firm admonishment was an object lesson for me. I hope it is so for you too!

Clearly, the decision that the Mind makes would depend very much on many factors, but the overriding factor would be the state of Spiritual evolution of the person concerned. And that comes only through Sadhana, which is all about clearing up the impurities in the Mind. In turn, that becomes feasible only when one becomes serious about Mind and sense control.

Let me move on to the next question, which is:

If one can control one’s senses, then one would not feel any attachment to anything or anyone. When this happens, how can one still have feelings of sympathy and love?

This is an interesting question because it compels us to appreciate a fundamental point concerning the senses. The domain of the senses is primarily the external world. When one is preoccupied with the external world, it is natural to expect feelings of greed, jealousy, hate, etc., to be aroused. All these feelings are, in one manner or the other, related to worldly attachment.

Consider now feelings of empathy, compassion, Selfless Love, etc. All these are associated with the Heart and thus such feelings are far above the senses. In fact, as long as the senses dominate, the role of Heart remains somewhat suppressed. By contrast, it is only when the senses are marginalised, that the Heart begins to have its say. So, the short answer to the question under consideration is that it is actually necessary to reduce attachment so that feelings like compassion which are all associated with Selflessness, have a chance to find expression.

On to the next question which is:

What is the difference between the Mind and the five senses?

I think the best way of approaching this question is to first consider a computer; I choose this as my starting point because these days, so many people are familiar with the computer. I am sure you are all aware of what are called I/O devices or input-output devices in a computer. One can put in information into the computer via the keyboard, via a CD and so on. Similarly, the information in the computer can be put out or received via a printer, written onto a CD and so on; so I guess the meaning of I/O devices is clear.

Let us now go one step further, and ask what happens after information is fed into a computer. Say a picture has been entered into a computer. The picture data now inside the computer may be edited, processed, improved via colour correction, and so forth. Basically, the information fed inside is processed. And after the processing is done, the information is extracted in the manner desired. Let us remember all this and turn our attention to the senses and the Mind.

The senses, like say the eye, the ear and so forth collect some kind of information from the outside world, and feed it to the brain. In the brain, this information is processed and may be the brain makes a decision, based on the information fed in. This decision is then translated into a series of commands for action, which are then communicated to whatever part of the body is relevant.

An example would make it much clearer.

Say you are walking in the forest, and suddenly you hear a growl; you recognise the sound as coming from a tiger. That information when fed to the brain immediately triggers actions directly linked to safety. The command from the brain makes your head turn rapidly all round, and your eyes to quickly scan where the tiger could be and also what is the best way of getting out of the way of the tiger. There is a lively and dynamic interaction between the brain and the senses, and finally an instruction is received about whether you should run, and if so in which direction or climb a tree maybe, and so on.

 

Now you may say, “Listen, I agree you have made an analogy to the computer, but in this case, the computer is just the brain; even animals react this way to danger signals. My question has to do with the senses and the Mind. What about that? Go beyond the brain and answer my question.” Fair argument.

So, let me change the example. Say you are a tourist in a new city in a foreign country, let us suppose it is Japan, and you see big signs advertising a gambling joint. You are advised to step in and try your luck and given an attractive presentation of all the great prizes you can win.

Your eyes pick up all that information and feed it to your Mind. Your Mind now has to decide whether you step inside and take your chance, and have a crack at the jackpot. You don’t have much money, and your Mind wrestles with the problem. This clearly is a case where the Mind gets involved and NOT just the brain.

I mean if say a stray dog is walking along the road [the chances of seeing a stray dog strolling along like that in Japan would of course be very small as compared to India; but for a moment, assume there is a dog near that also sees the advertisement]. The eyes of the dog would of course feed that information to the brain of the dog, but the brain would simply not react to the information. There is no reason to; the dog would just ignore the ad and simply walk on. So, I hope you would agree that this is a case where the Mind would get involved and not the brain.

So the Mind has got an input and it has to decide; the matter it has to decide is whether you should go inside and gamble or just ignore the temptation and keep walking. Of course, how exactly the Mind decides would depend on how sharp the Buddhi is, and this is something I have commented upon earlier while discussing Spiritual Discrimination.

The feelings of empathy, compassion, Selfless Love, etc. are associated with the Heart and thus such feelings are far above the senses. In fact, as long as the senses dominate, the role of Heart remains somewhat suppressed. By contrast, it is only when the senses are marginalised, that the Heart begins to have its say. Therefore, it is necessary to reduce attachment so that feelings like compassion which are all associated with Selflessness, have a chance to find expression.

Getting back to the question, I guess I have said enough to make clear the difference between the senses and the Mind. The senses are just devices that carry information from the outside world to the Mind; the Mind on the other hand, is the decision making agency. Using the computer jargon I resorted to earlier, the senses are largely like the I/O devices, while the Mind is like the CPU.

Clearly, the decision that the Mind makes would depend very much on many factors, but the overriding factor would be the state of Spiritual evolution of the person concerned. And that comes only through Sadhana, which is all about clearing up the impurities in the Mind. In turn, that becomes feasible only when one becomes serious about Mind and sense control. I hope that is clear.

I think we discussed quite a few issues in this article. We will take up a few more questions in the next instalment of this series. Jai Sai Ram.

Dear Reader, how do you like this series? Does it help you in any way? Do you have any spiritual questions which need clarification? Please feel free to write to us at [email protected] mentioning your name and country. Thank you for your time.

 
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