Yesterday I got carried away with literary license and forgot a couple of important points about battles with anger. At one point I was describing “out of body” experience of watching busts of anger from the outside as if it was a movie. This raises the obvious question – if anger is so bad and if it’s possible to disassociate oneself from it, why not use this power to suppress it altogether? Why not stop being angry and saying or doing harmful things?
Good question. However, watching anger as if being on the outside means being outside of influence of material forces that cause it. Stopping it means using other, opposing material forces to counteract it, and this means connecting with material nature again. As soon as one does this, he is not on the outside anymore.
There’s nothing else you can do but watch.
Let’s consider an example. A couple of months ago I was really infuriated by a family member who couldn’t put down a tablet during dinner. Actually, not really by that person playing with it but by outright refusal to put it away. It’s one thing to not be able to give up a toy, it’s quite another to insist on one’s right to play regardless. Well, at least that was the justification I gave myself in that situation.
A weakness is a weakness, we all have them, but demanding respect for one’s indulgence is a challenge to God’s laws, at least that’s how it looked to me. I gave a rather long and loud speech about people’s complete dependency on gadgetry, about addictions etc. I said it would be understandable if one was in a hot texting session on matters of personal importance, of it it was a developing news story, but browsing a shopping site??? There were no excuses and still there aren’t.
I ranted about how gadgets and “always on” social network connections actually drive people away from each other and into seeking artificial refuge complete strangers who “get you”. It had an effect, but it was deeply unpleasant, both for me and for the recipient, and for everyone else who got to observe it and even those who got to hear gossips about it the next day. I’m not proud of it but I think I restored the order in the universe so it was worth it.
That was the time where I saw myself presenting arguments, looking for evidence, giving examples and making comparisons except I knew it wasn’t myself, it was just my mind and intelligence working hand in hand under unstoppable force of anger. I felt expressions on my face as it was a mask, I predicted turns in the discussion as one would predict plot twists in a movie. Could I stop myself? Not a chance, I had no control over my body whatsoever, if I had tried to take control back I would have lost my position as an observant and fully took the role of the angry, ranting person. I didn’t even want to be him. Was I afraid of bad karma that was being created? Not really, no more than one is afraid of the fate of a movie hero, though that is certainly a topic for further consideration.
I mean, if you watch yourself as an outsider and you see yourself committing vaiṣṇava aparādha, shouldn’t you try to stop it? Or should you continue as an observer, knowing that bad reactions will come only to the body? I mean if you, in your pure consciousness, didn’t commit any offenses, would you suffer for it? Hard to tell. Body will get its reactions whether good or bad and these reactions are not worth worrying about, but what about offenses against devotees? One is not supposed to stay idle if he hears aparādhas, one must either confront the offender or leave, up to committing suicide. So, perhaps in this case it is advisable to snap out of being an observer and set the body right.
Another big and important question is how to predict bouts of anger before they happen. Why do they happen? Can postmortem examination give us clues to the future? I believe it can.
Let me give another example, from only three days ago. A car had a flat tire and I had to replace it with a spare, no biggie, but I got my hands dirty. And my pants, and my shirt, and my arms. I also worked up quite a sweat. It was job well done and I felt fairly proud as I was walking to the bathroom to wash myself.
That’s when I noticed that liquid soap in soap dispenser was almost gone, there were only a few drops left. That’s what made me extremely angry even if I didn’t say anything. Why is it so difficult to refill these things on time? Why do I have to ask to put it on the shopping list for weeks? Why is that every time I ask about it I’m being told to check under the sink, refill bags might be there. I can’t see them, but then I’m told to check in another bathroom. And when I finally buy the stuff and put in a shopping basket I’m given a look as if I was a hoarder and a nuisance. That’s the background.
At this particular moment, however, I didn’t have time to search the house for soap, I had dust and grease on my hands and arms up to elbows, I needed soap to be right there, I deserved a good wash, and the dispenser was empty. Unbelievable!
Well, I didn’t say anything and as far as everyone concerned nothing happened but I got myself thinking why I am so attached to these things. Why do they make me angry? What makes me angry? Is it soap, is it constant whining and begging to get a refill? Is it expectation of a reward for changing a tire and not getting it? I thought about it and decided that it was the unmet expectation that provoked my anger.
There are plenty of times when I tell myself I don’t need things and can make do with whatever is available, why this time it was so different? Does it mean all my other sacrifices are hypocritical, too? Does it mean that one day I would think I finally deserved all those things I gave up earlier but no one would notice and I blow my fuse again? Quite possible.
This is a case where postmortem evaluation opened my eyes to attitudes and expectations I wasn’t aware before or at least to the possibility of having such undesirable attitudes and expectations.
This is a very important point – a conditioned soul does not see himself as being bound, we all have subconscious attitudes and habits that we think define us but which are totally external and need to be given up. How to find them? Best thing is if the guru points out one’s imperfections. Next best thing is when other vaiṣṇavas do it for us, we just have to be receptive of their criticism. If no one else is there to expose our anarthas then it becomes a bit harder. Usually they become exposed when we become emotionally hurt and seek the causes of our unhappiness. Anger is one of such cases and it’s a very telling one – its mere presence indicates a very deep and very strong attachment, we just have to find out what it is and gather enough courage to give it up.
How? By chanting, of course, but also by applying superior intelligence we can find in our books. We need to know why our anarthas are bad for us and we need to replace them with something else – that’s why without acquiring a taste for chanting all our efforts at self-improvement will be fruitless.
Here’s the thing – even if you see your body as an external observer and you know that bodily interactions have nothing to do with you as a spirit soul, without finding connection to Kṛṣṇa we are bound to slip back into ignorance. Knowledge alone does not help much, we need to attain devotion. Knowledge is valuable because it leads to surrender but it doesn’t replace it, we still need to give our heart to Kṛṣṇa and hope He accepts us.
In practical terms it means giving our heart to our spiritual master and to the Holy Name, there’s no other way.