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Emotions, the Three Ropes
Ram: Dear Edward, I’m sorry I can’t reply to your direct queries on your most recent email, as my floppy went bad. I deleted it from the server when I copied it, so if you will send it on again I’ll reply to the specific items. Anyway, I was thinking about the email I sent in answer to your question “What are emotions anyway?” and here’s a bit more on the subject. I hope you find it helpful. I’m sorry to use the Sanskrit terms, but there are really no equivalent English terms.
Everything we experience on any level is shakti, energy, functioning on the gross and subtle levels. Emotion, for example, is shakti playing in one limb, what is called manas, or mind, in Vedanta, of the subtle body. To confuse the issue, the subtle body is what we in the West call the conscious mind. The shakti has three modes or forms, which are called gunas. You will perhaps recall my discussion in Chapter III of Meditation: Inquiry into the Self of the three gunas, the energies that comprise material and psychic nature. These gunas, or ropes, bind the mind by affecting the quality of one’s thought and feeling life. The type and quality of the emotions are related to these energies. Psychologically, they are situated upline from the emotions, in the subtlest part of the self, the causal body. The causal body, or what is called the unconscious mind in the West, is causal because it causes the thoughts and feelings that arise in the subtle body – which in turn outpicture as karmas, experience, in the three worlds. The three worlds are the world of action, the world of emotional experience and the world of thoughts, ideas and concepts. Perhaps you can read the description of the three gunas in my book to save me writing them all out here.
These three forms of the shakti play continually in every aspect of the manifested universe, the material world and the world of mind, the subtle body. In the subtle body, one predominates for a period, then another, then the third – according to their relative proportions in the causal body. The subtle body is never free of them. The two lower energies, rajas and tamas, are responsible for the primary emotions of fear and desire. Fear is a consequence of not knowing. If I invest money in the stock market I’m not certain that the market will go up, therefore I fear the loss of my money. People fear the dark, not because it is dark, but because it is very difficult to get knowledge in the dark. Fear is tamasic. Tamas is a veiling kind of energy, like a cloud. It has slow, sleepy waves that obscure perception and therefore knowledge. Jealousy is tamasic. The person fears the loss of a person to whom he or she is attached. It also has a rajasic, or passionate, aspect. The fear arises because of the contemplated loss of pleasure associated with an object/person.
Desire is rajasic. Whereas tamas is heavy and inert, rajas is a very volatile, unstable energy. It is called vikeshepa shakti, or projecting energy. It causes rapid and numerous spikes of stimulating, exciting sensations to arise in the subtle body. If you were to record it on a graph it would generate a pattern of tall peaks and deep troughs. If tamas is protective and defensive, rajas is aggressive and outgoing. Perhaps you’re familiar with it. Lust is rajasic. It needs to capture and posses the objects it desires. This takes a lot of effort, so it supplies boundless motivation. Rajasic people want a lot of things and they want them badly. But this pursuit of things is very demanding and eventually rajas collapses into tamas, exhaustion. The feeling of being emotionally burned-out is tamasic. Envy is rajasic. It wants something it doesn’t have. Depression, sloth, is tamasic. Its energy pattern is more or less a flat line; the mind is so sludgy that it cannot think properly and cannot come up with the solution to one’s problems. Rajas and tamas are like incestuous lovers; where you find one you find the other. Anger, blocked desire, is rajasic but can lead to delusion (tamas) if it is allowed to dominate the subtle body. Greed is rajasic. Hate is rajasic. But it is inspired by tamas, the fear that comes from lack of understanding. Cruelty is tamasic, an attempt to push away or destroy objects that one fears. Possessiveness is rajasic, an attempt to keep objects that one desires. It could also be considered tamasic, the attempt to hold on to what one fears losing.
Fear and desire are two sides of the same coin, different ways of viewing the same situation, one positive (rajas) and the other negative (tamas). The coin in this case is the belief that one is limited, inadequate and incomplete. All the negative emotions are either rajasic or tamasic. It seems strange to classify passion and desire and excitement as negative because they seem positive with reference to sloth and fear, for example, but with reference to sattva, the third energy, they are negative.
All the positive emotions, love, charity, tenderness, compassion, generosity, etc. are rooted in sattva. Sattva is a very subtle energy. Whereas tamas is fundamentally opaque, sattva is like a fine translucent film. When it is playing in the subtle body one is intellectually clear and emotionally happy. The reason for this is that the self (chit, consciousness), which is shining on and pervading the subtle body, is not dissipated by rajas or obscured and absorbed by tamas, but is intensified and reflected. The self is the source of happiness because its nature is bliss (wholeness) and awareness. This happiness is not felt when the mind is tamasic and only intermittently appreciated when it is rajasic. We are most happy when we are most aware because we understand what we are experiencing. In this situation doubt, tamas, does not arise. Doubt is not a happy state, because it confuses and agitates the subtle body, the instrument of experience.
How does one create an emotionally happy subtle body? By removing the relative proportions of rajas and tamas and increasing sattva. When practiced in the right spirit with the right understanding, all spiritual practices increase sattva. The big advantage of this way of seeing emotion lies in its impersonality, unlike the Western therapeutic model. It is not identifying the source of emotional dysfunction as rooted in past trauma but in the universal qualities comprising the mind.
I hope this analysis is useful. I’ve used it as the basis of my spiritual work for over thirty years with remarkable results. I have been able to completely eliminate fear. Desire is another kettle of fish and need only be purified to the point where the pursuit of one’s desires does not bring one into conflict with dharma, universal values.
~ Love, Ram