Friday, February 21, 2014

EGO (AHAMKARA), ATMAN, AND EMOTIONS By Dr. Dharitri Ramaprasad


By Dr. Dharitri Ramaprasad


All human beings strive for “happiness.” In other words, goal of human life is “happiness.” This state of “happiness” is not the same as the emotions of “being happy.” This state of being happy is seen as transitory and is experienced due to the ego or “ahamkara” abiding in external objects and hence, it is wholly dependent on the external objects. In the Indian perspective, “happiness” or “bliss” i.e., ananda is the true nature of “self” or atman

This state of atman has been described as sat-chit-ananda, i.e., the oneness of existence (sat), consciousness (chit) and bliss (ananda). This state is the conquest and transcendence of pleasure and pain or the egocentric emotions. This is the state of non-involvement of ego and experience of true empathy wherein the feelings are experienced as one's own and still not one's own as this experience is independent of the objects of the external world. In this sense, emotion and emotional experiences provide a pathway towards personal growth or transformation.


In the Indian philosophical texts and scriptures detailed description of emotions are not available nor are dealt with as a separate concept. They are seen as a component of personality arising out of the contact of ego or ahamkara with the external world. According to Jain, this could be because “emotions remained something to be transcended in order to achieve the ultimate goal of life.” Emotions are viewed in the
context of the ego (ahamkara) and the true self (atman). It is an experience that represents the relation between the ego and the outside world. In the Indian thought, emotions are seen as arising from desires. Emotions in turn are viewed as springs of action and are bi-polar in nature. There is a strong emphasis on sukha and dukha (pleasure and pain) as the two opposites. Emotions are concerned with mind or the Manomaya kosa and influence both the food sheath and the vital air sheath as evident from the physiological reactions accompanying emotions. Emotions and their affective experiences are influenced by the intellect or the Vignanamaya kosa, the cognitive appraisal as proposed by Lazarus, as well as the Anandamaya kosa, the experiential aspect, or the bliss sheath. The nature of emotions and the associated affect needs to be examined in this context.

All emotions spring from desires and desire is caused by a sense of imperfection, incompleteness or non-fulfillment felt within oneself. The stronger the desire, the stronger would be the emotional experience. A desire when not fulfilled or thwarted gives rise to anger (Krodha), jealousy (Asuya), unhappiness (Dukha), and suffering. Desire when fulfilled leads to happiness (Sukha) and enjoyment. Indian scriptures warn that fulfillment of a desire can and most often leads to greed (Lobha). One craves for more and more of it. There is a yearning for larger possession and greater enjoyment. These when entertained, one may develop arrogance (Mada) and envy (Matsarya). There is an additional emotional experience of fear (Bhaya) of losing whatever one possesses. 
These emotions cloud one's intellectual discrimination and lead one to emotional and mental disturbance. However, not all emotions are considered detrimental. Emotions are basically seen as virtue but allowing them to interfere with one's judgment and awareness is considered a weakness.

The scriptures reiterate that desires are responsible for all mental agitations and sorrows. The traditional Indian thought lays great emphasis on desires in the causation of suffering, misery and pain. Emotions are seen as modification of desire or attachment. It is suggested that if one wants to overcome the overwhelming emotional experiences like anger and sorrow, one must locate the desire underlying it and then eliminate it.

According to Patanjali's Yoga Shastra, suffering is due to ignorance about one's true “Self” (avidya). Ignorance leads to misperception. Individuals develop a false sense of ego by identifying themselves with things/objects around them. The desires, with this ego attachment, become stronger. This ego attachment, attraction, and repulsion are termed affliction (Klesas). The misperception lies in the acceptance of external objects as the true self. This produces a false view of reality. In this sense, suffering/dukha arises from within and not from the outside world.

The Bhagvadgita traces all emotional experiences to the gunas, i.e., sattva, rajas, and tamas. Cheerfulness, joy, bliss, forgiveness and equanimity are associated with sattva. Rajas gives rise to discontent, mental agony, grief, greed, hatred, and intolerance. Fatigue, “delusion,” indolence, and non-discrimination (between the pleasant and the good) are due to tamas. Hence it is suggested that men should strive to increase the sattvic guna.

SOURCE: Indian Journal Psychiatry. 2013 January;.

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Peace love, harmony