Sunday, September 10, 2006

Hinduism and Transforming Feelings

After reading my post on transforming feelings, one might question, "Why is so much emphasis placed on knowing one's feelings and thoughts so intimately?" I've been reading the Bhagavad-Gita, an important book in Hindu religious literature, and came across this verse:
Thinking about sense-objects
Will attach you to sense-objects;
Grow attached, and you become addicted;
Thwart your addiction, it turns to anger;
Be angry, and you confuse your mind;
Confuse your mind, you forget the lesson of experience;
Forget experience, you lose discrimination;
Lose discrimination, and you miss life's only purpose. [1]

This verse traces through the effects of attachment, within which feelings play a primary role. Ignore, for a moment, the final step about missing life's only purpose, and consider the rest of the process. Choose any cherished possesion of yours. Think about it for a moment, then imagine you lost it. What permeates your mind upon losing the item? If you look sufficiently closely, you'll find at least a twinge of anger. It's easy to see that in any state of anger, your mind does not think clearly, awash in emotion. The rest of the verse follows clearly from here.

Looking closely at this process, where can we short-circuit it? Once your mind has reached a non-rational, confused state, it's too late, and your challenge is to plug the dam and regain your sensibilities before you do harm. We also cannot just stop thinking about sense objects. That's like telling someone with a powerful fear of snakes to hold a python for a minute and not be scared. Just as phobias are so deeply ingrained in our minds, thinking about sense objects in a manner that leads to attachment is also so ingrained.

Where does that leave us? At feelings. The initial impulse of feeling response indicates to us that the process is underway, and at this point, it is not yet so strong as to end our ability to discriminate. Of course, this won't be easy either, but it is the only link in the chain with which we can truly work directly. And working with such, we can stop the process from overwhelming us. The bonus is that as we work to discover the true nature of our feelings and their causes, we begin to see the attachment for what it is, and learn to deal with those opening links in the process indirectly through the gateway of feelings.

[1] Bhagavad-Gita. Translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood. 2002.