Emotional Zombie

Hi Vishnu,
In your reply to a recent questioner who was asking about the role of joy and indeed other emotions obtaining in the mind after self knowledge, you said that ‘over time the mind slowly becomes less happy, sad, angry or otherwise emotionally disturbed’.

Now, I don’t believe you are advocating becoming an emotional zombie here. I believe what you meant was what the Buddhists call ‘equanimity’, a preponderance to less and less emotional extremes. This is actually required before self knowledge, but it continues to bed in after self knowledge.

However this doesn’t mean you are never emotional, relatively speaking, but you are less prone to veering from extreme to extreme? Having no emotional responses would be pretty useless, not to say impossible anyway, but that’s not what you’re saying. 

Vishnu:  Correct. 

D: One way I thought about it is if feeling/emotions are a tone, then equanimity is in the mid range, it becomes your home setting, and while it fluctuates up and down from there, the mid range becomes the centre around which it revolves, rather than veering all over the place. Or another way is to think of it as a volume control, set to mid volume: it can, and does, go up and down from there but in a moderate way, rather than as if some madman was spinning the dial wildly one way or another!

Vishnu:  These are great metaphors.   

D: Of course, there will always be times when it does veer to extremes, that’s part of the human condition and will happen forever. But over time should occur with less frequency.

V: Yes, extremes will surely still occur.  They may occur less frequently or they may not; extremes may go away for a long time only to unexpectedly come back.  It all just depends on the person’s mind.  Since 1) The mind is not totally under our control and 2) We are not the mind, this is of no ultimate consequence. 

 D: Vishnu, would you agree that we are *always* feeling something, because emotions are generated by thoughts, (even when we’re feeling numb, that’s actually still an emotion/feeling tone: we’re ‘feeling’ numb), so ‘transcending’ emotion is not about not having emotions, which is actually impossible anyway, but about realising they don’t affect your true nature?

Vishnu:  Exactly.  The relative person has a modicum of control over how their mind feels.  But in the end, the mind is going to do what it’s going to do.  People who continue to try to make their minds a particular way in order to prove to themselves or others that they’re enlightened clearly have missed the point that enlightenment is about knowing that they are not the mind, or to me more accurate, that they are not affected by the mind.  

That means having an agitated mind does not make you any less the self; or relatively speaking, less enlightened.  Having a peaceful mind doesn’t make you any more the self; or relatively speaking, more enlightened.  You are the self either way:  that’s just a fact.  Recognizing that fact, relatively speaking, is “real” enlightenment, not trying to make the relative person think, act or feel a particular way, which is the textbook definition of samsara.      

Don’t get me wrong: Having a peaceful mind is a good thing. And striving to be the best person you can be is a constructive and worthy undertaking. But it’s not enlightenment, which clearly shows you that you are not a person, or more accurately, that you are not affected by the person in any way whatsoever, good or bad.   

D: I’m always reminded of the story of Ramana, who, after watching a travelling stage play about a heroic quest of some saint or other, turned around to his followers in floods of tears! They were all shaking their heads, saying ‘how can Ramana be affected by such aspects of dualism!’ But Ramana simply responded by saying ‘how can one not be moved by such tales of heroism and self sacrifice!’

I always find that funny, as he was just acknowledging the human aspect of his nature, which was perfectly ok, whereas his followers, clearly showing incomplete understanding, just didn’t get it, just like many a neo-advaita teacher today, many of whom seem keen to portray him as some remote, absolutist godlike figure, which is more of a caricature than anything else.

Vishnu:  As you’ve pointed out, this kind of misunderstanding is common in the so-called spiritual world. This is because self-realization is internal and its outward manifestation as certain behavior depends entirely on the previous conditioning of the self-realized person’s mind. For the self-realized person who knows directly that they’re not actually a person, this is not a problem; they let the apparent person be how it is, knowing it doesn’t reflect on their true self in any way. They witness the apparent person naturally responding to its environment, without judgement.

But for those still seeking self-knowledge, this can be confusing. Through no fault of their own, they’re forced to evaluate a self-realized person based on their preconceived notion of enlightenment, which is inevitably linked to their idea of what an enlightened person’s behavior or temperament should be like. And no amount of explanation can dispel this confusion: It can only be resolved by following self-inquiry to its logical end, which is the direct intuition of the fact, “I am the limitless self. I am not defined or affected by the condition of the body and mind.” When that is known the question of performing certain actions or abstaining from particular emotions become moot. In his Dhyanasvaruam, Swami Teyomayananda illustrates this point nicely with the following quote from Jivanmuktananda Lahari:

“One whose ignorance has been destroyed by knowledge given by the guru never gets deluded as he goes around roaming the city, seeing and enjoying the beautiful sights, men and women dressed and decorated, as he knows that he is the witness of all. He is silent with the maunis, wise amongst the wise, scholary amongst the scholarly, sympathetic to the miserable, rejoices with the happy, enjoys when he gets pleasurable objects, acts ignorant among the ignorant people, youthful with the young, displays great oratory skill in the company or orators and is a total renunciate amongst the reununciates. Blessed is the one who has conquered the three worlds.”

All my best – Vishnu