The rasas are emotional essences or energies that support our essential emotions. The nine rasas are: shringara [love], hasya [joy], adbhuta [wonder], shanta [calmness], raudra [anger], veerya [courage], karuna [sadness], bhayanaka [fear] and vibhatsa [disgust]. They are still well known in Indian art, and also play a main role within an ancient kind of yoga called Rasa Sadhana. According to my teacher, late Harish Johari, Rasa Sadhana was a common practice in the Gurukula, the ancient residential schools.
We may desire wealth, security, sensual enjoyment, name and fame, love and friendship, skill and knowledge or even enlightenment. But in truth, we are always after happiness that we hope the fulfilment of these desires will bring. So happiness is our central desire. Through Rasa Sadhana, this desire can be fulfilled without side-tracking. The main problem, however, is that we usually feel as if we have no control over our emotions. We don’t mind when we are happy, but when anger, worry, sadness or disgust arrive, we believe we have no power over them.
Rasa Sadhana is a simple technique that increases our power to decide how we feel, step by step. In order to be happy, we have to first stop being unhappy. This way, the exercises first focus on getting rid of unpleasant emotions. For example, one morning, we can promise ourselves that we will not be angry. Whenever we feel angry, we can always postpone it until tomorrow. Then, when we notice that irritation develops, we will remember this promise. Thus, anger will become an object that we look at and decide whether we want it or not. It has no chance of catching us unaware. At that point, we understand through direct experience that we indeed decide to be angry or not.
The ancient knowledge on rasas offers us many ways to remove anger. Anger always comes when some expectation is not fulfilled. When we know we will come across a traffic jam when driving to work in the morning, we usually don’t get upset about it because we expect it to be there. But when we meet an unexpected traffic jam, then irritation develops easily. So the main question to ask when anger comes is “What did I expect?” It’s the sharpest needle to make the balloon of anger implode.
We can also ask ourselves, if whoever did something wrong to us, did it with the intention to harm us. Or whether they simply couldn’t avoid doing what they did. If we analyse our mistakes towards others, we will realise that they were mistakes indeed, not harm intended. And even if people intentionally harm others, it is still only because they believe they have to, out of self-defence. People who are extremely selfish believe it is necessary to be so selfish. This kind of analysis makes it easy to forgive and let the anger go. We will then rather feel pity for any wrong behaviour, understanding it as an expression of ignorance and/or lack of will power.
Another main question is “What is the cost of this anger?” The answer obviously is: Our happiness. Isn’t whatever caused the anger bad enough? Why add to the cost by also giving in to the anger and give up on our happiness? Nobody likes being angry. Not wanting to be angry is very natural. Then why give in to it?
Sometimes these questions may not be sufficient to remove anger. Persistent anger should never be suppressed, staying on our mind without being dealt with. Fortunately, anger is an energy that also depends on our body chemistry. By cooling down our body, it becomes easy to let anger go. Anger requires rapid breathing, so slowing our breathing helps. All yogic exercises that promote calmness will help.
Through anger sadhana, we gain confidence to control our anger. With this confidence and understanding that anger is useless and basically misplaced and undesirable, it becomes easy to counter it. Then slowly, we will be able to expand the period of our anger sadhana to few days, a week or a month until it becomes a permanent state. Some irritations may still develop, but lacking a biochemical basis and meeting a confident opponent, they will merely give a warning that something needs our attention.
Doing this sadhana does not make us defenceless — quite the contrary. We still have Mahatma Gandhi’s basic creeds to defend ourselves: truth and non-violence. We can justify our point of view in a straightforward fashion, but without violence in word, deed or thought. Whoever then does something wrong is simply met with our firm but friendly disapproval, which allows the other to realise the mistake and make amends. And if the other still doesn’t want to listen, we simply have to make it clear that if that is the case, we no longer can play together. Calmly putting the relationship in the balance usually does the trick.
Similar ways can be used to exercise control over the other unpleasant rasas of fear, sadness and disgust. For example, we can exercise to love everyone and everything. The next day, we are free again to discriminate as people usually do. In this way, we can work with each of the agreeable rasas. Of course, promoting the agreeable rasas is one of the best ways to get rid of the unpleasant rasas. Paying attention to art and decoration, music and good food, family, friends, feasts, festivals, pujas and meditation then becomes truly effective in enhancing our happiness, which is no longer disturbed by unhappy rasas.
Rasa Sadhana also increases spiritual understanding and allows reaching much deeper levels of meditation. When we are content, the ego drops off very easily. It is the ego that makes it difficult to accept the truth that yoga teaches. The ego is unhappy because it truly does not exist and knows it. From that unhappiness, desires arise, a want for things that we believe will remove the unhappy feeling or that will bring another feeling. However, things can’t remove our unhappiness, only we can. We just use things as an excuse to be happy or unhappy. We are happy if we allow ourselves to be happy and stay happy. That is the essence and the fruit of practicing Rasa Sadhana.
Knowledge of Rasa Sadhana still exists in many Indian families, but it is often fractional and unclear. My teacher revived this highly valuable yoga and it made me very happy to contribute to this revival.
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