From Grudging to Gratitude 1 – Grudging is like driving with brakes pressed
[Retreat at Krishna Avanti School, Leicester, UK]
What is being absent minded?
Hare Krishna. Welcome to the series of articles on ‘From Grudging to Gratitude’. In our lives, the physical and mental often go out of synch. For instance, in a home-made video wherein the audio recording has been done using one device and the video, using another, the two (audio and video) may not be in synch. In such a video, suppose somebody drops a glass. Even before the glass leaves the hand a cracking sound comes. We cannot enjoy this kind of a video. When things are out of synch, they don’t function properly. Similarly, as conscious beings, when we are physically at a particular place, and our mind is not at that place, we cannot function properly. When the body and the mind are frequently out of synch, we refer to such people, as absent-minded. Absent-minded does not mean that their mind is literally absent. Mind is always present but it is present somewhere other than where the body is. A person may be talking with us but if we are in a dreamland, lost somewhere, the other person may say “Hey, come to earth!”.
Absent – mindedness is not easily noticeable
The Bhagwad gita explains that our existence is three-dimensional; there is (1) the body, (2) the mind and (3) the soul. If we compare ourselves to a computer, then our body is like the hardware; our mind is like the software; and the soul is like the user. The hardware is what can be seen. If somebody’s computer has a big crack or is discolored or has a lot of dirt over it, people can easily notice it. But if the computer’s software is infected by a virus, then at the physical level, the computer may appear to be perfectly functional, but the computer cannot function properly. Similarly, some of us may be physically healthy but sometimes our mind may get impaired.
How do we become absent-minded?
Our mind is the channel of our consciousness. For example, imagine that we are sitting in a completely dark room where the only source of light is a door, and we want to see what is outside, then the only way to see outside is to look at the door and through the door. Similarly, the soul is like the person sitting in a dark room, the mind is the door and what we see from the door is the world. The soul is the root of consciousness i.e. it is the source of consciousness. The mind is the route or the path of consciousness. From the root of consciousness, which is the soul, through the mind, which is the path or the route of consciousness, our consciousness comes out.
The mind is a peculiar kind of door. It is meant to be the route of consciousness i.e. whenever we perceive something, we perceive not just with our senses. For example, sometimes we may be looking at someone, but if we are lost in our thoughts, then we do not see what is happening externally over there.
Perception is not just something entering into the senses, like vision entering into our eyes. Perception is not what happens when the senses come in contact with external objects e.g. eyes coming in contact with forms or ears coming in contact with sound. Perception is when that information registers within us. The sensory information may enter into our eyes but it may not register with us if the mind is not there. Only when the mind is present over there, what we see gets registered. Just like, if the door is closed, somebody might be there outside but we won’t be able to see them. The mind which is meant to be a channel for consciousness can be a blocker of consciousness; but the mind doesn’t just block our consciousness; the mind channels our consciousness elsewhere. Just like if somebody puts a TV screen instead of the door, and some channel is being relayed, we would think that we are looking through the door but actually we see something else, which is being played / relayed on the TV. Similarly, we just get lost in our thoughts and we forget where we are. In this way, the mind can de-synch us from the body. We are at a particular place physically, but we are not there because our consciousness is somewhere else.
Sometimes absent-mindedness is just funny. There is a typical example of absent-minded people, they put their specs on their forehead and they are searching them everywhere. They are wearing the specs but they are not aware of it. This kind of absent-mindedness is just humorous but sometimes absent-mindedness i.e. the mind but being present where it should be is not just humorous but it could mean that we are dreaming and it can also be dangerous.
How does grudging make us absent-minded
When we face problems in our life, one of our mental responses may be that we go into this grudging and resentful mode. Let us try to understand, how our mind sabotages us when we grudge and how grudging harms us.
Let us consider the timeline along which our life moves. A particular event may happen at point A, like somebody speaks something or somebody does something hurtful to us, or some adverse incident happens, i.e. Something unexpected, something unpalatable happens. When such an event happens, life keeps moving on, like from Time A or moment A, it it moves on further to Time B, to Time C and so forth but our mind gets stuck at Time A. We keep getting traumatized “How could he say that?”, “Why did she do that?”, “How could this have happened?, Why, Why Why.”
Our mind gets locked in the past in a particular event which we are just not ready to accept,or we just can’t digest. At one level our emotions are just natural mental responses to situations. Just as we have natural physical responses to incidents, similarly we have natural mental responses also. For example, suppose someone is sitting on a sofa and suddenly it gets very cold in that part of the room , then one would move to another seat where it is warmer. So, there is a stimulus of cold and then there is a physical response to that stimulus. If suddenly we find that there is some mosquito biting us, we move our hand away. These are instinctive physical reflexes. So for pain or discomfort at the physical level, there is a natural human response. Similarly when something goes wrong, to get frustrated, to feel irritated, to feel angry, to feel resentful are also natural human responses at the mental level.
We have the innate ability to de-couple feelings from action
Having mentioned so, we also have the capacity to de-couple our actions from our emotions. Just like when we feel hungry our normal response is to eat food. But suppose we are fasting, for a religious purpose or for better health, we feel the sensation of hunger but we say, “I will not eat”. So we de-couple our action to eat from the sensation of hunger and that is determination. We as human beings, have this capacity for determination. But when a cat sees a mouse the cat cannot think “Today is Ekadashi, today is a sacred day when I am supposed to fast”. Because as an animal it just does not have the capacity for determination. For the cat as soon as there is the sensation of hunger, there is food, there is the action. (15.30). For us there is a capacity to de-couple sensation and the associated emotion with it, from action. When something goes wrong it is natural to feel irritated and to feel resentful. However, it is not natural to hold on to that feeling. To hold on to that feeling is not only not natural, it is harmful.
Grudge or resentment and the modes of material nature from Bhagwad Gita
In the Bhagwad Gita, in the 18th chapter, Krishna talks about three kinds of determination. He talks about (1) determination in the mode of goodness, (2) determination in the mode of passion and (3) determination in the mode of ignorance. The three gunas (three modes of nature) that are talked about in the Bhagwad Gita is the conceptual framework for psychological analysis. The modes are subtle forces that shape the interaction between matter and consciousness. When we see a particular object, how we respond to it is determined by the mode that we are situated in. Suppose, three people are riding in a bus, the 1st person is in the mode of goodness, sattva guna, 2nd is in passion: rajo guna, 3rd is in ignorance: tamo guna. The person in tamo guna, in the mode of ignorance is just lazy, apathetic, just trying to sleep and the bus is moving a little bit, jolting and they can’t sleep and they look out and there is lush greenery outside. The person in ignorance thinks, such soft grass, so comfortable, I could sleep here so nicely. The 2nd person is in the mode of passion. Because they are in the mode of passion, as soon as they see greenery, they remember the latest romantic movie that they had seen and they remember some romantic scene of some forest they had seen and they think, if I only had someone with me, I would enjoy. , the 3rd person is in the mode of goodness, they are trying to read a book. The bus is moving up and down, they are not able to focus on reading. They look out of the window, lush greenery they say such peaceful place. I can sit calmly and immerse myself in the wisdom of this book. So what has happened, same object is perceived but it is perceived differently, and that is because of the mode which the person is in. The material objects that we see, how they will influence us will vary depending on the particular mode that we are in.
Depending on what mode we are in, we perceive things accordingly. There is another story of the alcoholics and the alcohol campaigner. Once the alcoholic campaigner was giving a class about how dangerous alcoholism is, one should give it up. He was set to give a live demonstration and he was talking about dangers that alcohol has on the body. He had a small box in which he had kept a fly. He had a glass of alcohol He opened the box and flung the insect into the glass. The insect fluttered about and sank down. “What do you learn from this?” he asked. He was obviously talking about how dangerous alcohol is. All the alcoholics, started looking down. One of them was very jolly, he was looking up eagerly. He raised his hand and said “Sir, I learn that whenever I drink alcohol all the germs in my stomach will die”. So here, the same object is perceived but it is perceived based on how one is thinking, which mode one is in.
Resentment is a type of determination in the mode of ignorance
The modes often offer us, self-affirming visions of reality. When we are thinking of a particular thing, then due to the particular mode which we are in, we see things in a way that affirms our version of reality. We see only those things that re-affirm whatever we are thinking about. Krishna says that resentment, the negativity associated with resentment, is typical of the mode of ignorance. Yaya swampan bhayam shokham vishadam mad eva ca, na vimucyate durmedha dhriti sa partha tamasi. dhriti is determination, Tamasi means in mode of ignorance. Normally we use the word determination in a positive sense. (22:00)If someone is very determined, although there are some many obstacles, they still hold on, go on, press on, that is their determination. Though determination is normally positive, sometimes if someone holds on to something which hurts them, something which harms them, then we refer to it as obstinacy, stubbornness. We use the negative describers for describing it. But still that person is holding on to it, although it’s hurting them. So, determination in the mode of ignorance basically means obstinacy or stubbornness, because we hold on to something which hurts us. Suppose, there is an iron bar, and that iron bar is red hot. If we just touch it, it burns. Even if we accidentally happen to touch it, we will immediately let go of it. But suppose someone, somehow, keeps holding on to that iron bar, one would say “What are you doing? You are hurting yourself. Let go”, but that person says “No, I will hold on” It requires determination to hold on. But, it is a perverse determination because actually it hurts the person.
In the Mahabharata, one of the central character’s name is Dhritarashtra. The word Dhritarashra means that he is a very attached king. Because of his attachment, he is ready to do nefarious activities, even give consent in the killing of his relatives – his own nephews and he does that just because he is so attached. In the word Dhritarashtra, “Dhrita” means to hold on toand “Rashtra” means country or state, kingdom i.e. one who strongly holds on to the kingdom! This word can have both, a positive connotation and a negative connotation. Dhritarashtra can mean one who strongly holds on to the kingdom and protects the kingdom against plunderers, against thieves or Dhritarashtra can also have a negative connotation, where it means that the person is very attached to and holds on it (….). The character of Dhritarashtra is associated with this negative characterization. This kind of holding on requires determination. When we are resentful, what are we doing is that, we are mentally holding on to things which hurts us. Krishna says this requires determination. To hold on to something which is painful, it requires determination. If holding on to something painful, is purposeful, say if we are falling off from a mountain cliff, and there is a rope dangling and we hold on to it, that is positive determination. Our body weight is falling on our arms and our arms are paining, but at that time when we hold on, that holding on is purposeful. So pain itself is not a problem, any kind of determination involves tolerating some pain. If that pain has some purpose, then it is positive. But, if the pain has no purpose, we are holding on to something which we don’t need to hold on to, if we am holding on to a red hot iron bar and our hands are burning, that is self destructive, that is self torturing. So, resentment is like that kind of determination.
The five kinds of mentalities that are determination in tamo guna
Krishna says Yaya swampan bhayam shokham vishadam mad eva ca, na vimucyate durmedha dhriti sa partha tamasi” Na Vimucyati – Such a person who does not give up. Durmedha – their intelligence is misdirected. Because of the misdirected intelligence, one does not give up holding on to the things which are hurtful. What are those things? Krishna talks about five things.
1) Swapnam – Day dreaming. The person is idly (26.25) day dreaming, there is nothing but they keep thinking. “I’ll do this. I’ll do that” but they practically don’t do anything. They are idle day dreamers.
2) Bhayam – Constantly fearful. Such individuals keep thinking “What if this event happens? What if that thing happens? ”. Fear is natural and it is not always undesirable. It is a natural human response to danger. For example, if we look down from a 100 storey building, and we see a big drop, we feel fear. That fear is a natural human response to danger and it protects us. Thus, fear in some ways is desirable but fearfulness is not desirable. When we are not looking down that 100 storey fall, still if we keep thinking, “What if I fell down, it’s dangerous! What will happen?” This is fearfulness and it is a problem. In fearfulness, we mentally hold on to that which causes us negativity, which cause us anxiety.
3) Shokam is lamentation. This means that something has happened, or gone wrong, and we keep brooding over it “Why did this happen?” This is resentment and it is related with lamentation.
4) Krishna says Vishadam mad eva ca. Day-dreaming and bhaya or fear, are about the future. Shoka is about the past. Vishadam – Vishada means moroseness. Some people are habitually negative. No matter, whatever we tell them, they will always find some problem with it. Even the best thing happens in their life, they will say, “What if this goes wrong? “What if that goes wrong?” – These are morose people.
5) Madam eva ca – Madam means intoxication. Some people they just can’t deal with life. They feel there is no problem, whose solution can’t be found at the bottom of a bottle of alcohol. Just drink and forget. This is Madam. Actually when they drink alcohol they feel temporarily high but afterwards, they make a fool out of themselves, they act in embarrassing ways, they spoil their health, they waste their money, they hurt their relationships. In the long run it hurts, but they still keep doing it.
Krishna says that these five are determination in the mode of ignorance. In such determination, we are holding on to something which is undesirable. So, when we resent, something has already happened, it has gone wrong, but we are keep brooding over it unlimitedly “Why did this happen?” “Why? Why? Why?. That question just eats us up mentally. When it eats us up mentally, we are just left powerless, incapable of doing anything at all (30:00).
We saw the example of our life journey in terms of time. We are at time ‘A’, something happened, we move on to time B, we have moved on and the world has moved on, but we are mentally stuck at time A. This is how our body and our mind go out of synch – Our body is in time B, our mind is in time A; and A and B could also be at different places like, if something happens in office, we come home and we are irritated about it, and we are resentful. Resentment prevents us from moving ahead in life. Life moves on and we need to move on with it.
Suppose we are driving a car, it is in the proper gear, we are moving the steering wheel, the engine is on, but the brake is also pressed. All that will happen is a lot of friction. The machine wants to move on but the brake is stopping it, all that will happen is a lot of noise. Similarly, , life moves on and physically we move on from one thing to another but mentally we stay stuck somewhere. It is like mentally there is a brake pressed on our consciousness. With the brake pressed on our consciousness, we stay somewhere else. “Why did this happen? Why did he do that? Why did she do that? How could this have happended?” And these questions go on and on and on and on within us. When that happens, we just become paralysed; not necessarily physically, but mentally. We go through life, but we just exist, we are not really living. We are filled with so much negativity and this resentment saps our energy.
The word grudging is used in a particular sense, where somebody has done something wrong and we hold on to it. Grudging is, one aspect of resentment. It is with respect to people doing something that causes us hurt. When we resent, we may think, I will get back at that person but we hurt ourselves more than we will ever hurt them. We cause far more negativity to ourselves than we can cause to them. How is that? Because, basically whenever we are resentful, whenever we are angry, whenever we are filled with a grudging attitude, then all that creates negativity within us. Other than that incident, there is so much that life goes through, so much that we go through, but we just can’t think about all of that, because mentally we are somewhere else; we don’t experience life. Even if we get back at that person, even if we take revenge, what after it, Usually, we get back at that person, that person also wants to get back at us and this keeps going on..
Three ways to respond to events without resentment
Basically speaking, when someone has hurt us, there are three broad responses which we can give
1) We just change ourselves and tolerate
2) We change the situation or change the person
3) We walk away from the situation walk away from the person, walk away from the relationship.
It is not that one is right and the other is wrong. When we say we shouldn’t be resentful, it does not mean that we should always tolerate whatever anyone else is doing and we should just let them trample upon us. We should only not let that person, mentally dominate us, mentally control us. Now, all these three ways of acting 1) changing ourselves and tolerating 2) Acting to change the other persons 3) Walking away, are valid responses in different situations.
Examples of responding to situations without resentment
In the Mahabharat, the Pandavas demonstrate all these three responses at different times. Initially, when they come to the kingdom, which actually belongs to them, Duryodhana, their cousin who was otherwise expected to become the king, when he sees himself displaced from the center of attention, the center of affection, he becomes very envious and he starts plotting against them, although he is just a teenager at that time. Initially, Duryodhana tries to poison Bhima, and later Duryodhana arranges so that the Pandavas are attempted to be burned alive. Throughout it all, the head of the Pandavas, Yudhishtar says this is a family matter, don’t escalate it, just tolerate it and they tolerate it.
But, later on when the Pandavas’ wife Draupadi is publicly dishonored and the Kauravas show no repentance at all, then the Pandavas decide under Krishna’s guidance that now the time for action has come and they fight a war. They fight a war to make sure that Dharma, rule of virtue is established. So the Bhagwad Gita on one level tells Arjuna to tolerate: matra-sparsas tu kaunteya sitosna-sukha-duhkha-dah agamapayino ‘nityas tams titiksasva bharata. In 2.14 in the Bhagawad Gita, Krishna talks about the temporary nature of things that, pleasure is temporary and pain is temporary, just tolerate it, and don’t get worked out upon it. Although Krishna is telling Arjuna to tolerate pleasure and pain, in the same Bhagwad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna to fight a war. But Krishna does not tell Arjuna to fight for getting revenge. Later on Krishna says in the 11th chapter 55th verse, “Nirvairaha sarva bhuteshu”, fight without any feeling of animosity towards others. The Pandavas did not fight to take revenge, they were fighting to establish Dharma. So, although Krishna is telling Arjuna to tolerate, that does not mean, tolerate the atrocities of the Kauravas. They take action, so taking action is also a valid form of response.
Later on, when Krishna departs from the world, at that time, the Pandavas decide” Enough of this entanglement in politics. (39.10 …………) Krishna had sent us for a mission, it is done, Krishna has departed, now we will leave. ” and they leave the kingdom and renounce the world. They just walk away. Walking away is different from running away. When we run away from problems, our primary focus is where we are going away from. “I want to be anywhere except here”. Although I am running away from here, still what is here is dominating my consciousness. I am running primarily because of fear and usually running away does not solve problems, problems will come back in some other form. Walking away on the other hand means that I understand I have better things to do in my life and it is not worth the time to fight and resolve, just forget it and move on with life. So you walk away from a problem that is because, you understand that there is a higher purpose to life. Not because, this problem is so difficult I will run away from it. It is because, though this problem is difficult and, I can tackle if I want but it is not worth the effort so I just walk away from the situation. All three are valid responses, but none of these three will be valid if we hold on to a resentful attitude.
- When we hold on to a resentful attitude and we tolerate. There is resentment and we keep tolerating one thing, two things, three things, four things, but eventually that resentment will explode. Sometimes we speak something and the other person suddenly explodes. We wonder “What happened, it was just a small thing”. But for them that one small thing was just a tip of a mountain, so many other things were piling up in their consciousness and they explode at one time. So if we don’t process that resentment, we let that pile up, it will crush us it will burden us, we will start feeling sorry for ourselves, we will wallow in self pity. If that negative emotion is not processed, if we are tolerating, with resentment, we will just be crushed by negativity, by self pity.
- On the other hand if we act to change things, but we are acting resentfully, then basically, we will usually end up complicating matters. Because the resentment will not allow us to think rationally and under the spell of resentment, we will do things, which the other person will not be able to see why we are so angry. We will simply make things worse at that time.
- And even if we go away we will be running away from that problem, and still that problem will be dominate us. “Oh, why did they do that? How could they have done that? Why did this have to happen to me?”
So, all three responses can be valid if they are done with proper understanding and proper deliberation. All three responses; tolerating, changing and walking away, all three can become counter-productive if they are done with resentment. We need to understand without any doubt that resentment is harmful. The mind sometimes is so perverse that it likes to make a marter(?) out of ourselves – I suffer and then I think, Oh I suffered so much for you and I suffered so much for that. Actually, every relationship involves some amount of trouble, some amount of tolerance, but sometimes we just pile up trouble on ourselves and think I am so great, because I do this. Although we think that, we are feeling very resentful internally. So resentment is harmful, grudging is harmful.
What should be the priority when there is an adverse situation?
When we are hurt by something which causes us resentment, the 1st thing is not to get back, the 1st thing is to get safe. Get back at others means, “You did like this, I will do ten times more”. When we think like this, we get consumed by the negativity. Suppose, we are walking along the road, and a snake comes and bites us. When the snake bites us, we suddenly feel severe pain and we see the snake slithering away. We start thinking “snake, how dare you bit me?, now I will beat you”. We start running after the snake to catch it and to crush it with our feet. Even if reach the snake, we start pounding it, even if we crush it to death, what is happening? Actually, in the process of running and pounding, the poison is spreading in our body, we may kill the snake but we will kill our self also. The snake is a danger and it has to be dealt with, but right now if the snake has bitten me, my 1st goal is to get safe, get safe means get the poison out of my system. After I get the poison out of my system, I will deal with the source of the poison appropriately. I can go and kill the snake or somebody else can be called to kill the snake or somebody can come and take the snake and put somewhere in its natural habitat. Whatever needs to be done, we will do it afterwards. Similarly, when something goes wrong, the 1st thing we have to do is we have to get rid of the resentment.
Process the emotions, not just repress or express
Usually we think of emotions only in two terms, either we express the emotion or we repress the emotion. If somebody has hurt me, you become angry and you vent out, explode at them or sometimes you repress “I will not speak, I will not speak, I will not speak! The Bhagwad Gita explains that we need to go beyond expressing emotions and repressing emotions to processing emotions. We need to process our emotions, process means we have to dispassionately be able to think about the emotion. “Okay this is the emotion, what caused it and then, how should I deal with it?” Impulsive reaction to it, is usually not a beneficial reaction. When we resent, when we become angry, we just vent out the emotion. When we repress the emotion, we are trying to wish away or deny the emotion. Neither is going to work because the emotion is there and when we express it usually it makes things verse. When we deny it, it’s there, how can we wish it away, it is there. So, we have to process it and the whole process of processing emotions is what Bhakti Yoga is about. Bhakti yoga centers on purifying our emotions. When our emotions are purified, at that time, we also can process our emotions better. The Bhagwad Gita is not just about chanting Hare Krishna and going to the temple. It is about developing inner awareness by which we understand our emotions. The Bhagwad Gita says we have to become conscious of our consciousness. What kind of emotions are coming, why are they coming, what is the appropriate response to them. When we do this, we will be able to process them and after processing, we will be able to decide how best to respond. Resentment is something, which we need to give up. Giving up resentment doesn’t mean that we become passive. It simply means that we don’t let the negativity be our driving force. We deal with it, we stimulate our intelligence and using our intelligence, we appropriately deal with the situation. Usually, with respect to physical issues, they are very easily visible, like I have got a fracture in my hand, it is very easily visible, but when there is a mental pattern that is harmful it is not so easy to see that. The process for curing resentment, begins with recognizing that it is harmful. After recognizing that resentment is harmful, we can send resentment on retirement. We can send it out of consciousness. How to do that, that we will discuss in the next set of articles.
(Transcription by Sadananda Krishnaprema Prabhu)