By Swami Veda Bharati
In order to purify our minds we need to consciously choose pure emotions over impure ones, by rising above conditioning.
In cultivating a saumya personality, we need to start working consciously and conscientiously on purification of the mind and emotions. We need to learn to choose purer emotions. How do we determine what are the purer emotions?
Psychologically speaking, if a certain emotion causes pain in our minds and its expression evokes a painful feeling in those who are in relationship with us, these emotions are not pure ones. If an emotion leaves a smile in our or another’s mind, then it is a pure emotion. Spiritually speaking, the emotions that are conducive to enlightenment are the pure ones.
It must be remembered that our emotional choices are learnt ones; they are habits we have formed. In the same situation, one has access to multiple emotional choices. A brave man sees a tiger in the wild and his hunting instinct is activated. A coward sweats with fear and flees. A yogi stays neutral or is filled with non-violent, loving feelings for his fellow living being.
The reaction we choose is from the habits created by our culture, education or personal circumstances.
Here is an example from world cultures. Let us take anger. In certain schools of modern psychology, a therapist works on bringing to the fore our hidden anger and suggests to the client that he give himself permission to express anger. The question of the ethics of emotions plays no part in this. In India we are often advised to control our anger, but display of anger is still commonplace. In the cultures of SE Asia, anger is particularly frowned upon. You arrive after a long flight to a hotel where you had made a reservation and even reconfirmed it, only to be told by the receptionist that you have not made a booking. If, in your state of exhaustion and frustration you display anger, you will be completely ignored. No one will talk to you till you calm yourself down and become civil and gentle.
These are examples of culturally and educationally generated emotional habits. But at a certain time in our lives we begin to examine ourselves. We can make conscious choices, which may be different from those of general culture or family patterns.
or example, boys often see their fathers abusing their mother. As a child the boy’s sympathy is with the mother. But as he grows to manhood, he identifies more and more with the father and emulates him.
But one may choose to take a different path internally. One may dig deep and bring to the conscious mind, the unconscious memory of how painful it was, as a young child, to watch his mother being hurt; here one taps the ‘son’-personality rather than the ‘domineering, insensitive and cruel male’ personality.
In USA and other western countries where jurisprudence increasingly takes into account the principles of psychology, it is common for the attorneys to argue that a certain person has abused and hurt his child helplessly because he was conditioned to do so through his own psychological trauma when abused and hurt as a child. The spiritual argument, however, would be based on an extension, a deepening, of the principle of free will. One is free to make one’s choice if one is spiritually awake, to go beyond this psychological conditioning.
One may thus make a conscious choice. One may make a resolve to cultivate within oneself the emotional states that create a saumya personality, generating a non-painful feeling and evoking the same in the person(s) in our relationship and opting for that which leads to enlightenment.
Even if we ignore this last goal, the other three are worth pursuing in our quest for purification of emotions, bhava-sam-shuddhi.
Thus we need to begin to look at our emotions not as something that renders us helpless, whose ‘accidental’ presence we have no choice over, but rather as acts of volition and we choose them on the basis of some moral principles. There you have an ethics of emotions.
As one grows spiritually, one frees oneself more and more from psychological, educational and cultural conditioning. One no longer acts adversely towards women because ‘everybody does so’. One does not cast aspersions at people of other ethnic, religious or caste groups just because one is conditioned to believe that he is the best, the highest and the noblest. Spirituality supersedes psychology.
As we have shown, we then choose the noble emotions. We change our past habits and learn to react differently. Part of our spiritual journey consists of emotional de-conditioning of the ignoble and re-conditioning towards the noble. Spiritual guides have employed many internal tools to accomplish this purpose.
Here is just a short explanation of the concept of the ethics of emotions. All through the history of philosophy, sages and philosophers have spoken of three levels of actions: mental, vocal and physical, from manas, vak and kaya, respectively.
In the Zoroastrian tradition we are taught the same: manashni, gavashni, kunashni – to think, to speak and to act in a noble and peace-generating way.
Mental acts are expressed in speech and physical actions. A majority of our mental acts are emotional ones, based not on logic but on feelings and conditioning. This is where the ethics of emotions begins, to discern between right and wrong mental acts and thereby heal your own mind.
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