By Swami Veda Bharati
Science is endorsing spirituality’s claim that we are responsible for our reactions and that we can retrain our responses.
This series so far refers to spirituality and dharma a little too often. What about those who do not believe in such ‘spacey’ hypotheses, but still wish to conquer anger?
Even if one does not believe in a transcendental reality, the fact that he wishes to conquer anger brings him into the realm of spirituality. Every spiritual tradition enjoins the cultivating of such virtues as having a peaceful mind, mien, speech and actions.
We often tend to view external events – like someone else’s harsh words – as the cause of our anger, fear, depression and such. Science has brought to light the simple internal chemistry of these neural events that may eventually become psychology, as a vicious cycle ensues.
Our choice to react to specific external events in a certain way triggers hormonal and neural chains which, in turn, trigger responses such as anger, which render us helpless. After a while we begin to take this anger and other such responses as normal states, whereas the truth is, we are suffering from an illness quite parallel to drug dependency. Furthermore, minute poisons released into our physiology due to being in these states, cause physical illnesses in the long term.
Current research in neurology also tells us that it is possible to retrain the mind, as well as the neurons, and break the cycle of dependency on anger, through practices such as meditation and breathing. This would eventually replace our habit patterns and our internal systems, and as a correlate, also generate new habits of maitri (amity) and universal love. Here, modern neurology and the spiritual foundations of ethical behavior merge.
Modern science requires no study of the scriptures, and no established belief systems; it is helping to reaffirm what the sages and the scriptures of the past have stated repeatedly. Once more in the history of human thought, we are living in another dawn, of the ‘ethics of emotions’ and neuro-ethics.
Another question I sometimes hear is: Are there not times and situations when anger is justified and necessary?
My answer is that an act of daily self-poisoning can have no justification. It is not helpful and it brings about no desirable result.
Well, doesn’t it? Doesn’t our angry intervention often stop an unjust and cruel person from hurting someone? I would say, your intervention does stop it, but there is no proof that it has to be an angry intervention. It can be forceful, using the amount of force needed for the specific purpose. As everyone who understands the meditative philosophy of oriental martial arts knows, anger reduces the effectiveness of the force.
It was in the context of such a philosophy that Shri Krishna taught Arjuna to first conquer his anger and fear and then fight. The injunction in the Gita is: yudhyasva vigata-jvarah: Fight, but first renounce your feverishness. Naivam papam avapsyasi: thus shall you not incur any sin.
Martial arts teach us, first, to defeat our anger, and then, defeat the unjust assailant by using the mind’s ‘relaxed concentration’, as the yogis put it. The entire philosophy of satyagraha is based on this principle. When the followers of Gandhi became angry and set fire to the police station at Chaurichaura, he lamented, ‘My people are not ready’, and suspended the whole movement. This was possible for him because he did not have a speck of personal self-interest in him.
Confront the attacker to save the one being attacked, and save the unjust attacker from committing a spiritually self-destructive act of the attack, because you have mastered yourself to that degree and can be effective in your resistance, and, you are not doing it out of anger but out of compassion for both, the oppressed and oppressor. This is the essential meaning of what we may paraphrase in Sanskrit as: vigata-jvara-yuddha, confrontation without mental fevers. Such resistance alone is truly successful.
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