Anger and Depression

Depression and anger represent two types of response to a vital impulse or desire which has been thwarted, or to external pressures which try to overwhelm the individual. When we understand the action of the 3 gunas, or qualities of nature, sattwa, rajas and tamas, it is easy to see that when tamas is predominant, the being tends to respond with the symptoms of depression; while when rajas is dominant, the expression of anger takes place.

The gunas are not constant, so an individual may respond at one time or under one circumstance with depressive symptoms, while at other times may erupt with anger. The action of the third guna, sattwa, tends to be balanced and tries to moderate and manage the reactions of the other two; however, most individuals tend to have a predominant trait, and most of the times, this turns out to be either that of tamas or rajas. This means that characteristically, certain individuals will tend to have a specific form of reaction, even though there may be circumstances where they respond much differently than one would ordinarily expect.

In some cases the reaction seems to be out of proportion with the ostensible cause. There is not a simple calculus for how any particular perception, impulse or event will interact in the internal psychological environment. There is a concatenation of forces which together find their expression based on the then predominant balance of the gunas.

Dr. Dalal observes: “Closely related to fear are two other major disturbances of the vital, namely, anger and depression. The Mother says the following about these two feelings:

“…one is almost constantly in an ordinary vital state where the least unpleasant thing very spontaneously and easily brings you depression — depression if you are a weak person, revolt if you are a strong one. Every desire which is not satisfied, every impulse which meets an obstacle, every unpleasant contact with outside things, very easily and very spontaneously creates depression or revolt, for that is the normal state of things.”

Dr. Dalal continues: “Whereas depression is experienced by everyone as an unpleasant or disturbed state, not many realise that the antipode of depression, namely, anger (referred to as revolt in the above-quoted passage), equally constitutes a disturbance. One has only to consider the psychosomatic effects of anger to realise this fact.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Introduction, Disturbances Associated with the Vital, pp. xix-xxiv

Violence and Non-Violence — in Life and in Yoga

‘The law of the jungle.’ ‘Dog eat dog’. ‘Survival of the fittest.’ ‘Darwinian evolution.’ These ideas illustrate the way we understand life on earth, and its requirements for survival and success in worldly life. When Jesus proclaimed ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’, he expressed an idea that until now has shown no signs of coming to pass. He asked people to ‘beat your swords into plowshares’, but we have more ‘swords’ today than ever. Conflict, violence, competition for resources, aggressive ‘alpha male’ behavior and a pecking order built on wealth and power makes it seem like there is no escape from the law of violence as the predominant term of life on earth. Power struggles between those that are in control of the resources and those seeking to gain access to resources are ongoing, and even if they take place through passive resistance, violence is part of the equation and occurs either overtly or through subtle vital interactions. We and all other animal species survive by consuming other living beings. The physical powers of earth wreak vast destruction without seemingly caring about the harm done to the lives affected. When we speak of ahimsa, or non-violence, people challenge the notion as impractical, unreal and impossible to bring into effect. Clearly the concept of non-violence is not yet operative at the level of life on earth in general, and we see no clear or easy path to its accomplishment.

This does not, however, mean that individuals, particularly those seeking spiritual growth, cannot implement and develop ahimsa as a principle, understand the deeper and subtler implications of this principle, and bring it about in their own lives, and provide thereby a potential path forward for humanity as a whole in its evolutionary development. Sri Aurobindo speaks to those spiritual pioneers when he discusses the need for, and implementation of, non-violence. He at the same time recognises that while these individuals also live and relate within society, they must needs, from time to time, respond effectively under the general principles operative in the world at large, without at the same time, giving in, in their inner life, to the passions and vital forces that support the way of violence as a principle of survival and success in the world.

Eventually the entire basis of human life on earth would need to change in order to accomplish non-violence on any widespread or general level, and it is just these spiritual pioneers and evolutionary leaders who are working towards finding solutions that resolve the basis of violence in our human interactions.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The Essays on the Gita explain the ordinary Karmayoga as developed in the Gita, in which the work done is the ordinary work of human life with only an inward change. There too the violence to be used is not a personal violence done from egoistic motives, but part of the ordered system of social life. Nothing can spiritually justify individual violence done in anger or passion or from any vital motive. In our yoga our object is to rise higher than the ordinary life of men and in it violence has to be left aside altogether.”

“There is a truth in Ahimsa, there is a truth in destruction also. I do not teach that you should go on killing everybody every day as a spiritual dharma. I say that destruction can be done when it is part of the divine work commanded by the Divine. Non-violence is better than violence as a rule, and still sometimes violence may be the right thing. I consider dharma as relative; unity with the Divine and action from the Divine Will, the highest way.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Anger and Violence, pp 296-299

Violence and Spiritual Change

Through ambition or impatience, the spiritual seeker may try to rush the spiritual progress, and in many cases, this is attempted through various forms of overt or sublimated violence. The overt forms include various extreme penances or even self-punishment, while the sublimated forms may include internal reactions of self-doubt, suicidal thoughts, or inner turmoil of struggle. All of this, however, simply reinforces the focus on and strength of the ego-consciousness, and thus, does not achieve the intended result.

If the object is to transcend the ego to shift to a spiritual standpoint, the sense of struggle and the imposition of penalties or suffering on the being is not a successful approach.

On the external level, too, spiritual seekers may try to force a change on others with the intention of it being for their salvation, or to carry out a supposed mandate from God to convert the non-believers. This approach similarly has a frequent propensity for use of violence to effectuate such conversion “by the sword” or to enforce specific belief systems through some kind of “holy inquisition”. These are external forms of violence that speak to an inner struggle of violence, doubt, fear and ego-action that also do not lead to any true spiritual result.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “An inner psychic or spiritual change is not brought about by violence. It is not a change of conduct that has to be done in the sadhaks, but a change of soul and spirit governing the mind and vital and body instead of the mind and vital governing. Violence is the drastic contradiction of that; it makes mental egoism and vital passion and fury or else cruelty the rulers. Violence in ordinary Nature does not justify violence in spiritual work.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Anger and Violence, pp 296-299

Understanding and Addressing the Mechanism of Anger and its External Cause

If we examine the phenomenon of anger closely we see how it suddenly rises up and overpowers even those who are normally quite even-keeled in their day to day lives. By studying mob psychology, where we see a large number of individuals inflamed in a crowd setting and set into motion to wreak havoc and destroy, or express hatred, we see that on their own many of these individuals would never have engaged in such expressions or acts, but when their rage or anger has been whipped up from outside, they can do things that would be otherwise unthinkable. This secret was used effectively by Adolf Hitler and his minions, and has been used by other demagogues and dictators throughout human civilisation as a means of driving people into the madness of an angry mob action. When asked about it afterwards, people are amazed in many cases of the actions they have undertaken and the feelings they have expressed. What becomes quite clear is that the provocation obviously came from outside and touched something within them that set off the bonfire of the vital energies and emotions.

On a more subtle, day to day level, we may observe a similar action, albeit not as graphically obvious. The impulse comes in from outside, has an ostensible “cause” and something within us gives consent to respond to that impulse and act according to its energy.

For the spiritual seeker, the separation of the awareness from the action, the separation of Purusha as the observing witness consciousness and Prakriti as the active nature, is a powerful tool to gain insight into this process and to simply retune the mechanism to not respond to the provocation to anger, but rather to focus the energies on the higher purposes and principles one is seeking to embody. While this process takes time and some amount of effort, it clearly has the benefit of bringing a substantial amount of peace into the being.

A sage once indicated that anger is a punishment we inflict upon ourselves for the actions of others. Acceptance of the impulse of anger, and expressing it through the being, is a defect which can be cured once one understands the mechanics involved.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The fact that the anger comes with such force is itself enough to show that it is not in you that it is but that it comes from outside. It is a rush of force from the universal Nature that tries to take possession of the individual being and make that being act according to the will of this outside force and not according to the will of the soul within. These things come in the course of the sadhana because the sadhak is liberating himself from the lower nature and trying to turn towards the Mother and live in her divine consciousness and the higher nature. The forces of the lower nature do not want that and so they make these rushes in order to recover their rule. It is necessary when that comes, to remain quiet within remembering the Mother or calling her and reject the anger or whatever else comes, whenever it comes or however often it comes. If that is done, then these forces begin to lose their power to invade. It is easier if one clearly feels them to be outside forces and foreign to oneself; but even if you cannot feel that yet when they enter, still the mind must keep that idea and refuse to accept them as any longer a part of the nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Anger and Violence, pp 296-299

Two Aids in Overcoming the Impulse of Anger

For the spiritual seeker there are two major transformations ahead of the ultimate supramental transformation. These are the psychic transformation and the spiritual transformation. The one opens up the devotional aspiration and the receptivity of the being. The other shifts the standpoint away from the ego to the universal divine standpoint. Each of these provides leverage to the seeker who is trying to overcome the impulse of anger.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “It is true that anger and strife are in the nature of the human vital and do not go easily; but what is important is to have the will to change, and the clear perception that these things must go. If that will and perception are there, then in the end they will go. The most important help to it is, here also, for the psychic being to grow within — for that brings a certain kindliness, patience, charity towards all and one no longer regards everything from the point of view of one’s own ego and its pain or pleasure, likings and dislikings. The second help is the growth of the inner peace which outward things cannot trouble. With the peace comes a calm wideness in which one perceives all as one self, all beings as the children of the Mother and the Mother dwelling in oneself and in all. It is that towards which your sadhana will move, for these are the things which come with the growth of the psychic and spiritual consciousness. Then these troubled reactions to outward things will no longer come.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Anger and Violence, pp 296-299