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Mark: My ego feels a lot of anger when it gets attacked by a furious customer during rush hour at work. Of course the furious customer and my willingness to fight with him are one and the same. I am fighting myself in the form of the customer seemingly in front of me. The difference from the time when I didn’t know I am the Self is that I cannot really get mad at him, as he is me. Reactions to likes and dislikes will occur because that is what the jiva does, just like a baby. Perfect equanimity is seemingly impossible, isn’t it?
James: This incident just goes to show that knowledge changes one’s experience. Before you understood that everything is you, you got angry, but once you appreciate that you are just angry with yourself, the quality of the anger is different so it doesn’t have the same impact it did before.
But think about this: Who does the anger energy belong to? If it doesn’t belong to the jiva it must belong to the Self because that is the only other option. However, the Self is free of gunas, so it isn’t angry. But wait, there is another possibility: Maya/Isvara.
So we have to look at your statement from the dualistic perspective. The jiva is attacked by an angry customer at work and attacks back. If the jiva did its work properly the anger is justified. The customer is projecting because he is not getting what he wants the way he wants it and treats you unfairly. It is called righteous anger. But even if it is justified, it is still painful for you because anger is painful. If you are committed to managing your emotions, you can remove the anger with the karma yoga understanding: take it as prasad and neutralize it.
But what if you unconsciously did your service incorrectly? Then the customer’s anger is justified because he will think that you consciously rendered bad service because he doesn’t understand Isvara, the unconscious. But you can neutralize the customer’s justified anger with the karma yoga attitude by offloading it on Isvara because you didn’t decide to become angry before the anger appeared. In other words, Isvara was the doer. Therefore the guilt you would normally feel for attacking somebody else does not arise or if it does, it is immediately neutralized by bringing knowledge of Isvara, i.e. the unconscious, into the picture.
I don’t know what you mean by perfect equanimity. If you mean equanimity for the mind, the answer is yes and no. Yes, insofar as karma yoga and jnana yoga (taking a stand as awareness) can immediately calm a disturbed mind.
However, when you consider the context in which this angry confrontation occurred, it is quite natural that both people experience anger. The environment is completely rajasic so the environmental energy takes over and the individuals in it express it. You can’t avoid it, because anger is the nature of rajas.
Can you say then that either you or the customer actually became angry? Yes, because you both experienced it; but no you can’t, because Isvara, the environment, made it happen. It is only possible for a yogi whose mind is established in sattva not to react to the dictates of the environment and keep his or her mind calm. However, because a karma yogi is aiming for long-term sattva, he or she wouldn’t remain in a totally rajasic situation very long, because karma yoga is right attitude AND right action. A sattvic person is working against himself or herself by accommodating such an environment in the long run because it takes a lot of energy to practice karma yoga in consistently unconducive circumstances. It works fine for occasionally unconducive situations.
Mark: So my need for harmony and recognition might just be a desire to feel good but the good feeling will change. “I am a spiritual being in a human body,” as it is commonly said. This is true, but I also have to act. But the idea is to act happily out of the knowledge that I am satchitananda, isn’t it?
James: Yes. If you are committed to Isvara in the form of your Vedanta sadhana then you are grateful for everything. Gratitude is a pure expression of someone who knows “I am whole and complete satchitananda atma.” Such people act happily, not for happiness.