Friday, August 20, 2010

The Yoga of the Nine Emotions: The Tantric Practice of Rasa Sadhana

Book Review: The Yoga of the Nine Emotions: The Tantric Practice of Rasa Sadhana by Peter Marchand (Based 0n the Teachings of Harish Johari) (Destiny 2006

This is another great practical book about a type of spiritual practice of which I was not much aware – The Indian tradition is quite rich in practices. Rasa means “essence” or “taste” and refers to the essence of emotions or moods. The nine are Love, Sadness (Compassion), Courage, Wonder, Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Calmness (although calmness is considered ni-Rasa or without emotion and was added later by the sage Abhinavagupta.) Some basic Indian philosophy is included – such as explanations of the five sheaths, the three gunas, the three doshas of Ayurveda, the chakras, the five elements, and how these relate to the Nine Rasas. Here is a great quote to ponder about the elements:

“Without food, the fruit of the earth element, we can only survive for weeks. Without water our lifespan becomes a matter of days. Without heat or the element of fire, the body can only sustain itself for a few hours, and without air normal people die within minutes. Without space not even seconds are available. Therefore without earth, water, fire, air, and space, life is impossible.”

He goes through each rasa in detail with various correspondences with dominant doshas, elements, gunas, with friend, enemy, and neutral rasas, the siddhi or magical power attained through mastery of the rasa, and the Hindu deity associated with each rasa. For instance – Indra is associated with Courage but also Hanuman the great monkey-hero of the Ramayana is associated with Courage, Yama (the first being to die) is associated with Fear, the baby Krishna is associated with Joy, and Rudra – the wrathful aspect of Shiva is associated with Anger.

Of course, some of these rasas are desirable – love, joy, wonder, compassion, courage, and calmness and some not desirable – anger, sadness, fear, and disgust. The sadhana practices involve making vows either to avoid the undesirable rasas or to continually manifest the desirable ones. A Joy sadhana may include constant humor. An anger sadhana may include avoiding anger for an hour, a day, a month, or a lifetime.

There are sections on foods that affect the emotions, on developing daily routines, and on the relationship of the senses to the elements and emotions. For instance space arises to accomodate the tanmatra (subtle form of the element) of sound. Air arises from Touch, Fire from Sight, Water from Taste, and Earth from Smell. Sound is said to produce vibration in all five elements – thus Nada Yoga – or the Yoga of Sound is considered very important. The practice of Pratyahara – or withdrawal of the senses – is good for developing calmness.

The seven dhatus are also mentioned – from the essence of food comes plasma which begets blood which begets flesh which begets fat which begets bones which begets marrow which begets semen and sexual fluids. There are said to be times of the day where certain rasas dominate – dawn is calmness and love, morning is courage, afternoon is courage and joy, dusk is considered a dangerous time when sadness, disgust, anger, and fear can dominate so one contemplates calmness in meditation then in the evening one
cultivates love and joy.

Apparently the idea of the eight rasas (without calmness) is a key to Indian art and entertainment and was written about in the Natya Shastra in the 4th or 5th century. Thus Indian art is devised to evoke specific emotional patterns – all the desirable ones with the others only for contrast. The same is true for music and dance. That is why the
musical scales/melodies prescribed for morning are different than those prescribed for evening.

The author makes a good case for using these ideas in therapy and to offset the ubiquitous negative and predatory advertising. He also mentions traditional dominant rasas of castes in India – although unjust – it is poor people who often manifest fear (of not eating) and disgust (at the excesses of the wealthy) – the warrior is obviously concerned with courage and righteous anger

The author supplements the descriptions with information about the biochemistry of emotions as revealed by modern studies of neurotransmitters and other brain/body chemicals associated with emotions. He refers to these as – information molecules – perhaps based on more subtle – information energies. For instance – the endorphin dopamine is felt as a pleasant physical sensation during or after illness, injury, and exercise (among other things) – it is associated with the sensation of touch. He refers to a few recent books from the late 90’s – The Molecules of Emotion – and one called - Emotional Intelligence. Regarding food and neurotransmitters both – the author mentions the possibility of slaughterhouse meats being full of hormones like adrenaline associated with fear and aggression – as the animals can smell the blood of their comrades before they die. Perhaps the chemicals themselves are gone by the time one eats them but the subtle energies may not be.

From my own perspective I can say that it is not easy to master emotions. Anger is very quick and powerful. Sadness can be all-consuming. Fear can be a gnawing annoyance. Disgust can rear its ugly head. And the desirable emotions are no easier to keep up. But I do think that if we pay more attention to our emotional states we can begin to master them. If we are aware that we are exhibiting certain emotions we will have a better chance of controlling them – not suppressing the negative ones so much just seeing them for the waste that they really are. Easier said than done but the only way one can practice say – mastering anger – is to get into situations where one would become angry. The Buddhists call the mastery of anger – patience - and consider it of utmost importance. As for me – I often fail miserably – especially when in a weakened state – so maybe it is best to avoid loaded situations when you know you are weakened.

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