Cultivating the Emotional Life

Let us rise above the narrow sphere of likes and dislikes, of duality and appearance, into the boundless freedom of the spirit. Let us take a holiday from the world, and dwell in the infinite spirit, the light of which transcends time. Calm and reflective, let us receive the time-honoured teachings, which are more health-giving than the purest air. We serve you with the eternal truth and invite you to contact the divine within your own being. Therefore, withdraw from the sense world and dwell in contemplation of the indwelling Lord.

We live for Self-realisation. The Self is distinct from the body and the mind; it is immutable, all bliss, all power, untouched by time. Nothing can imprison your real Self, and the law of cause and effect has no power over it. It is the one seemingly divided among millions of organisms, and yet really undivided—such is the true Self, which is enshrined in the heart of all—the light of pure being. To free the Self from the apparent coverings of nescience is Self-realisation. Broadly speaking, the following conditions are aids to realisation.

1 reasonable physical health
2 a trained mind
3 well controlled and cultivated emotional urges

The body is our instrument. As the Sufi sage Al-Ghazzali has written, our body is ‘marvellously made and for some great end’. Therefore its well-being, through a balanced diet, exercise, and a well ordered life, is not to be neglected. A trained mind is one which knows when to be tranquil and when to be active, and is able to confer attention on what is worthwhile, and withhold it from that which obstructs our progress towards the goal of enlightenment. Our emotions, too, must be subject to our will, and the great energy they express must be invested wisely, and not run to waste in the pursuit of that which is fleeting and transient. A strong will is necessary to achieve anything—not a stubborn will, but a determined and continuous purpose. We have to live in society, and must make whatever contribution we can to its well-being.

Today we will deal with two things which are necessary for the initiation into the region of truth, which is self-realisation. They are the cultivation of the human personality and the manipulation of the field of operation—the world. We do not hold that the world is evil or that it hinders the progress of the soul. We again affirm that any essential preliminary to spiritual progress is the application of the ethically trained personality for the well-being of society. If we ignore our personality, we can do nothing. We are never stationary. If we do not make conscious efforts, we begin to go down. The best defence against moral and spiritual turpitude is daily watchfulness and self-control, compassion and equanimity. As soon as we stop rising, our mercury starts to fall.

In the Bhagavad-Gita a person who is trained in this sense is described. There we are told that such a mind trains itself by conscious and daily efforts to be devoted to the supreme Reality, is rooted in peace and wisdom no matter what is occurring in the outer life, and that such ‘sameness’ or stability also applies whatever moods or states arise in the mind itself. If such a person is established in light, peace and truth, they are unattached to this condition, and likewise inwardly independent when the ‘qualities’ (gunas) tend towards heaviness and inertia, or manifest as strong desire and the urge for intense activity. One who has realised the Self as the independent ‘witness’ of all that is passing, is the master of the inner and outer instruments. Just as stones, trees and rocks melt in the depths of a volcano, similarly the thoughts, concepts and sensations which enter the mind of one who has realised the Self are turned into illumination. Such knowers of Truth are never afraid, and their presence brings comfort and relief to those in despair and affliction. They are masters of the hidden alchemy which converts all experience into peace and light for the good of all.

For your guidance, take the watchword ‘quality’. Quality of thoughts, of faith, of philosophical speculation, of behaviour. Judge nothing by its appearance but by its quality, its spiritual quality. A vitally important point in this way of life is that society is not to be ignored. We do not advocate retiring to the mountains, for we carry the world with us even there. St Jerome admitted to his friends that sometimes the thoughts of luxury and sensuality still invaded his mind. So in the Adhyatma Yoga, we work and train ourselves while still in the world.

Illumination is obtained by persistent and determined strivance; it does not come from heaven. I do believe in the grace of God, but this is conditional. This is the gospel of karma—not to cease in our personal efforts, but to ‘hammer on’.

Mind your physical health, because it can prevent your mind from being disturbed, and your attention can be given to cultural enrichment and enlightenment. There comes a time when the state of the physical body does not matter, but at first the health should be kept up in order to prevent the mind from being distracted. Thinking of the good of all plays an important part in good health. Criticism breeds dyspepsia and heart trouble. Through yogic and other exercises, we can do much to keep the body in reasonable good health.

We must watch our emotional urges. They may turn our whole life topsy-turvy. Take three thoughts and ask yourself which of the three is the most potent:

1 I have a strong feeling.
2 I have a good thought.
3 I am determined to go forward.

The first is the most potent thought. It is actuated by emotion. Human beings are emotional. It has been said that most of our actions are prompted by emotion, and only very few by reason. This may be, but we hold that if the emotional urges are cultivated and given the right direction, they are the greatest help in our quest for God-realisation.

Emotions are to be trained, refined and guided. There are different kinds of emotion, such as self-preservation, self-defence, attachment, desire, anger, greed, infatuation and vanity. To train these urges means to allow them as much scope as necessary, and to be able to eliminate completely certain urges, such as hate, anger, greed, infatuation and conceit. How can this be done? By taking them one by one, and living and brooding on the opposite, for a day at a time. The opposite of hate, for instance, is sympathy. The urges of procreation, which are sacred, must be carefully handled. There are gross emotions and refined emotions. Emotions may be refined through learning to appreciate works of true quality, which show a reverence for the life of higher peace and wisdom. The same applies to art. In art one should study the great masters. If we are philosophically minded, then we should be alert to authors who are sensitive to the infinitude and transcendence that is at the core of human nature, and not waste time with writers who are ignorant of this dimension. Such deep and true writings give refinement and guidance to the emotions.

Always consider what you are going to put before your mind, and whether you should give your time to its consideration or not. Likes and dislikes seem to come from the subconscious. Freud sometimes gives the impression that there is nothing good in the subconscious. But there is a higher field of experience awaiting expression when the mind, including the subconscious, has been tranquillised and its attention directed to its own source. Our duty is to eliminate disturbance and to practise equanimity by meditation and other practices. In order to train the emotional urges it is necessary:

1 to have an interest in some form of culture, such as literature, music or philosophy
2 to practise benevolence
3 to practise spiritual activity: devotion, meditation, contemplation and love of truth.
4 to maintain an ever fresh enthusiasm for what you cultivate.

On this last point, enthusiasm is like the kindling of a fire in the heart for what is true and beautiful. Without enthusiasm nothing permanent will be achieved. Columbus had enthusiasm when his steps led him to the monastery where the confessor of Queen Isabella talked to him, and, fired with his zeal, the monk introduced him to the Queen, with the result that America was discovered.
Activity must increase our ability and happiness, otherwise it is not worthwhile. In the Bhagavad Gita it says there are three doors to hell. Hell is not spatial, but deep dark ignorance. When all love of God has been blotted out of the heart, then there is hell. These doors are kama—indiscriminate, passionate pleasure sense; krodha—anger; lobha—avarice. There is a story about some Japanese soldiers, who came to a monastery. They expected to be looked after, but no attention was paid to them. The officer called for the Abbot. He came, an old and weak figure. ‘We are fighters’, said the soldiers, ‘we have a right to be served’ ‘We are also fighters’, said the old man, ‘but we fight against anger, greed, hate and egoism.’ The soldiers were struck with this saying, and their leader said: ‘Forgive us father. Will you tell us what is heaven and hell?’ The monk replied: ‘When you came in and thundered, you were in hell. Now you are asking a meaningful question, in a reverent mood—you are in heaven.’

Life is not long. The painter Titian, in extreme old age, when his fame was well established, commented: ‘Now at last I have learnt to draw lines!’ Let us imitate this humility with regard to our achievements and efforts.

There is a Chinese saying that the first six years of marriage or friendship are preparatory. From the sixth to the twelfth year the friendship ripens. From the twelfth to the twentieth year it matures. From twenty to thirty years, it become sweet. This applies to our personality as well.

Ask yourself what you desire to be or to do. Then foster the desires that are for the general good, and eliminate those which are anti-social. To spend our energy on trivial and passing pleasures is to offer pearls and diamonds to buy carrots. That enthusiasm which is born on Friday and is dead on Monday is useless. Think of the eternal element in you, then you will have no use for what is passing. Think of God, have patience, equilibrium, and, above all, a love of truth.

Hari Prasad Shastri

This article is from the Autumn 2021 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.