No matter what I do, I feel peaceful some days and miserable on others. Why? Is there a way to get beyond this?
The Vedas describe three forces, or modes, whose influence pervades the universe: goodness, passion, and ignorance. “Mode” is a translation of the Sanskrit word guna, which literally means “rope,” implying that goodness, passion, and ignorance are the ropes that bind us souls to the material world. These three modes, or qualities, underlie everything we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. Permutations of these qualities make up the world, mixing like the primary colors to produce countless variations.
The mode of goodness controls virtues and qualities such as joy, wisdom, and altruism; the mode of passion controls greed, anger, lust, ambition, and frustration; the mode of ignorance controls laziness, delusion, and apathy. Goodness clarifies and pacifies; passion confuses and impels; ignorance obscures and impedes.
Krishna, as the creator of the modes, is naturally above them. But the modes bind us finite souls to the body through conditioning. Once we understand how the modes work and discover what lies beyond them, we can become free of conditioning and devote our pure mind to the service of Krishna.
The fourteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita outlines the general characteristics of the modes, and the seventeenth chapter teaches how to perceive the modes in types of worship, food, sacrifice, austerities, and even charity. By analyzing how the modes affect people, the Bhagavad-gita helps us understand distinct personality types.
The Bhagavad-gita mainly discusses how the modes influence a person’s character, behavior, and approach to life. For example, if goodness predominates, one will aspire for (and generally achieve) long-term happiness, even if one must accept temporary inconveniences. The person overtaken by passion is usually satisfied by short-term happiness and doesn’t expect much more out of life. And the person dominated by ignorance rarely achieves happiness at all.
Krishna says that we can break free of the stranglehold of the three modes only by taking shelter of Him.
Bhakti Tirtha Swami
Mental Illness on the Rise
In their 2001 World Health Report, the World Health Organization reported on the condition of mental health around the world, estimating that 450 million people on the planet have a mental or behavioral disorder. Furthermore, depression is now a leading cause of disability around the world, and, among the ten leading causes of the global burden of disease, it ranks fourth. The World Health Organization estimates that, in the next twenty years, depression will move up the list to become the second leading cause of disease. They also report that one million people commit suicide every year and between ten and twenty million make an attempt.
Considering these points, it is very important for us as spiritualists to understand mental illness so that we can help people who suffer from some of these problems. By understanding the effects of these mental disturbances on the consciousness, we will increase our effectiveness. This knowledge is a way that individuals with a higher level of consciousness can assist in many environments and bring in God consciousness. The spiritual warrior must protect the healthy and serve the wounded. In order to equip ourselves, we will examine mental illness and specifically depression from a psychological, physiological, and of course spiritual perspective.
Causes of Depression
Psychosomatic diseases distinctly develop from the mind, and, in certain instances, a person's mind literally causes them to experience a disease or repress the symptoms of a particular type of sickness, even to the degree of paralysis. Psychoneuroimmunology is a medical and psychological science, which studies the influence of the mind on the body. What does this topic have to do with depression? Psychosomatic diseases illustrate the power of the mind and are important for us as we try to understand depression. Just by recognizing the process of thinking, feeling, and willing, we understand how thoughts lead to actions. If we repeatedly maintain certain thoughts in our minds, they will eventually turn into words and then actions.
Furthermore, when a person feels alienated or unloved, it affects the mind. More specifically, it activates the neurotransmitters, which then send messages throughout the whole body and consequently cause an attack on the cells and organs in our own bodies. Many diseases actually develop due to the mind's frequent attacks on the cells and organs in the body. The mind has just that kind of power. Conversely, when a person feels cared for and loved, their physical and psychological immune system actually gets stronger. Love literally heals, protects, and gives longevity, and a lack of love literally kills.
Some types of mental illness as well as depression actually have a biological origin or counterpart. There are many different types of ailments, diseases, or problems that can cause a mental disturbance. Sometimes a physical imbalance such as sugar diabetes or low blood sugar can lead to an imbalanced mental state. A lack of certain vitamins or nutrients can create problems, even a thyroid problem. Some studies suggest that many people in mental institutions actually have a biological problem.
The Dark Night of the Soul
Christian theology has a term called “the dark night of the soul” or a period of serious testing which applies to all serious spiritual seekers. At certain times during our spiritual progression, we may go through periods of rapid advancement and growth although we may find it hard to perceive the situation in this positive way. We might reach a point in our lives when we begin to think, “I am chanting; meditating; praying; fasting; reading the scriptures; visiting the temple, church, synagogue, or mosque; and following the spiritual laws and principles, but I am miserable! Where is God?” At this point, one even begins to seriously doubt Krishna’s mercy and attentiveness. Such a person might feel that even God has forsaken them.
Many times we fall into a state of depression because we have been acting in the right way and our level of consciousness has become more elevated, but we fail to understand the seemingly negative circumstances and challenges in our lives. However, the Supreme lets us burn up that karma so that we can move into another chapter. If you look back through your lives, you may even recall times when you have in fact experienced such a period and began to question God’s existence or His fairness. However, when you look back now, you realize the purpose of such events in your life because they have helped you to increase or elevate your consciousness. Often, the result of intense suffering is elevation in consciousness. Such suffering gives us the intensity to break through the last layers of mundane consciousness.
The Influence of Subtle Entities
In some cases, different subtle entities actually affect the body. Some people’s thoughts, desires, and activities are so degraded and low that they invite or allow very negative and sinister entities to enter into their bodies and influence them to partake in extremely negative activities. Therefore, individuals who are not becoming more spiritual are gradually losing some of their free will and their creative expression of consciousness. The bombardments of different types of influences and propaganda intrusion will have a greater effect on them. These increasing phenomena also can cause mental illness.
Women More Prone to Depression
Women usually suffer from depression more than men and have a greater susceptibility to fall into states of depression. One reason is that they usually have less control of their environments and tend to be more emotional. When a person has issues such as economic, political, social, or religious problems, it will affect them a little less if they have some control of the situation. However, when a person finds him or herself in the middle of a problem and must simply remain at the mercy of the situation, it causes so much more stress on the consciousness.
The World Health Organization reports that 20% of the world’s female population has been physically or sexually abused by a man at some time in their life. If a woman has repressed certain aspects of her past, these memories may begin to surface between her late thirties and forties which can lead to some disturbances in the mind or consciousness. A man may not understand the woman’s struggles during this period since some of her problems stem from issues of abuse during her childhood.
Misuse of Vedic and ancient cultures is another serious area that leads to problems and facilitates depression. A culture which adheres to the idea that the man provides and dominates in a monarchical or autocratic arrangement can become very destructive if the people abuse this philosophy. Instead of caring for and facilitating the women, the men can create a completely opposite situation, which then leads to various types of abuse. When this happens, it of course produces great depression among the women. In many cases, the men just accept the arrangement as traditional culture without thinking deeply on the matter or feeling at fault.
Healthy Ways to Cope with Depression
Spiritually Minded Therapists
We now want to spend some time looking at solutions or at least ways of dealing with depression in a healthy manner. First of all, we have a need for spiritually minded therapists, or therapists who are appreciative of the spiritual culture, and most importantly, who are actually following such a culture. Although some of these mental challenges are physiological or biological, other mental disturbances stem from the mind, which means that talk therapy can help a person work through them. However, it can be dangerous to go to a therapist who does not understand or appreciate the spiritual dimension because they can even make one’s situation worse.
For instance, when a saintly person starts speaking in a spirit of humility, the average therapist will categorize this as low self-esteem and begin to treat the problem as low self-esteem. They do not understand that humility is a part of the wealth of a saintly person. The saint’s gratitude and closeness to God ultimately make him or her humble. The aspiring spiritualist may be fixed in simplicity and renunciation, but the therapist may see this as anti-social behavior. The saint may be pursuing chastity or celibacy, but the therapist may see this as unhealthy sexual repression. The list goes on and on. For these reasons, there is a need to have godly devotees with special expertise so that they can service their own communities and keep the devotional focus.
Maintaining Both the Body and Soul
We sometimes think that we can solve all of our problems simply through the execution of the rituals, and actually such practices can provide the essential help if we perform them with sufficient depth and purity. However, since such depth is very rare, additional help is needed to assist the practitioner in the removal of various blocks. As spiritual institutions and communities expand all around the world, we need to maintain body and soul together. The Vaishnava saint, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, explained that, in order to develop a healthy community, we need to balance the following four needs:
- We need to take care of the body.
- We need to properly stimulate the mind.
- We need to have a sense of social well-being.
- We need to study the sastra.
As we embark on the devotional path and experience certain types of challenges that go along with normal association, we should also seek out help, and if possible, search for those in the community who have a little more understanding of the physical and psychological needs as well as the spiritual aspects.
The Enemies of the Mind
Imagine a situation in which six enemies constantly surround you and incessantly wait for the opportune moment to attack when you put your guard down. The six enemies are lust, anger, greed, bewilderment, intoxication, and envy. These are some of the ways in which depression, anxiety, gloom, and frustration affect the mind. As soon as you become lackadaisical, they will swiftly approach. However, we can try to sufficiently reinforce ourselves and strengthen our weak spots if we know that maya will attack us in these weak areas. If we know the enemy’s hiding place—the mind--we can keep our distance instead of remaining in an insecure position or allowing the enemy to constantly attack from an ambush.
Many mental breakdowns deal with the mindset of lust because unsatisfied lust turns into anger and then turns into great illusion and confusion. We can also understand depression as anger turned toward oneself. Enviousness also creates an imbalance within us. We should be para-duhkha-duhkhi-kripam-budhir which means that we should feel the misery of others as well as their happiness. We should feel happy for another person when we see something positive happen in their life. Actually, we should feel the same happiness for them that we would feel for our own selves in that same situation. This type of mindset can help prevent depression and mental disturbance. If we learn how to weed out these negative tendencies, we will find that it will lead to some wonderful solutions.
If we find ourselves in a state of depression, we can also examine our degree of self-centeredness. There are two ways to play God. We play God when we see ourselves as superior and as the most important person. We also play God when we place ourselves in the center by thinking of ourselves as the most inferior or most unfortunate person. Other times people play God by considering that everything revolves around their problems. If you ask them, “How are you?” they will respond, “I am so glad you asked! I have a headache, stomachache, and a pain in my leg. I need a raise and my son is giving me such problems.” By focusing too much on our misfortunes, it will reinforce our problems rather than eliminate them. On the other hand, if we try to help someone else or try to go beyond our own immediate situation, we will see that Krishna will give us the help we need and even take away our own particular issues. Depression means that we are focusing too much on our own problems and withholding our love from others.
Faith is Most Important
We will not have the ability to persevere without faith but we cannot fake faith. When certain aspects of a person’s life are not going so well, his or her faith does get weaker. Our faith relates to what has happened in the past, what is happening in the present, and more directly with what we are anticipating in the future. If our past has been rough and our present is incoherent, our faith in the future will be weak. However, if we see positive events around us that we feel good about, we will have strong faith. Only a rare person can maintain strong faith when they have had a difficult past and a rocky present. In our communities, we want to create environments that will energize us and help increase our faith.
Gratitude as a Way of Life
Sometimes our mental challenges become very stagnant because we do not move through them. We do not appreciate the past, but the more we have gratitude, the more we create auspiciousness in the future. Sometimes the Supreme Personality of Godhead gives to us and sometimes He takes away. As devotees, we want to have such a grateful mindset that when God gives us so much wealth, we say thank you. When God takes it away and puts us into a state of impoverishment, we thank Him for protecting us from false pride. We thank Him for any situation that allows us to keep a simple life.
If we can just develop this consciousness and constantly thank the Supreme in any situation, we will be able to learn and grow from any circumstance. We will make the auspicious situations more auspicious and we will turn any inauspicious situations into auspicious ones. It will become a learning experience, and as we honor it with gratitude, Krishna will naturally make arrangements for us.
The mind is the greatest enemy although we can make it our greatest friend. It all depends on attitude. Setbacks happen in institutions, families, and to us individually but we want to avoid getting too depressed, discouraged, and disappointed. We should try to thank the Lord and try to learn from our circumstances. We wait for the Supreme to do more than we could have done for ourselves. This means that we need steady faith and perseverance. We can all encourage each other by first trying to have that faith and that faith will spill over and help someone else. In this way, we all inherit the Kingdom of God.
by Arcana-siddhi Devi Dasi
A therapist draws on Lord Krishna’s teachings to help a child control his rage.
The hospital room smells strongly of antiseptic as I walk in. Chris sits on his bed, immersed in rapidly pushing buttons with his thumbs.
“Nintendo?” I ask nonchalantly, breaking his concentration.
“Play Station,” he replies, continuing to madly push buttons.
I sit in a chair next to his bed, observing his strategy for blowing things up.
After a couple of minutes, Chris slams the game paddle to the floor.
“I hate this game,” he snarls, with a few expletives thrown in.
Instinctively I reply, “Hmm, sounds like you’re really angry.”
My statement of the obvious sounds ludicrous to both of us. Chris ignores me. He covers his head with the bed sheet and mumbles to himself.
I feel uncomfortable and don’t know what to say to draw him out. Chris is an eleven-year-old boy I’ve been working with in mental-health therapy for the past year. He has a history of explosive, raging outbursts. Recently he kicked a brick wall so hard he broke the femur in his right leg. Now he’s confined to a hospital bed with pins in his leg.
I make another feeble attempt to connect to him.
“Anger is a powerful feeling. Looks like we need to explore new ways for you to control it, rather than it control you.”
After enduring a few more minutes of silence, I decide to try a different approach.
“ I brought you some cookies,” I say with as much enthusiasm as I can muster.
At this, he peers out from under the sheet and asks, “What kind?”
Relieved to hear some response, I reply “Peanut butter.”
He puts his hand out, and I place the cookies in it. Both he and the cookies disappear under the sheet. The muted sound of his munching fills the sterile room.
Since Chris and I began working on his anger, he has learned to identify things that trigger it. Getting teased at school makes him furious and inspired him to kick the brick wall. He has also learned to recognize that when he loses control, his fists and teeth clench and he feels flushed. He has developed a repertoire of positive ways to deal with his anger: walking away, positive self-talk, running around the block, visualizing a peaceful place. Despite this arsenal of anger-management skills, he still fails to control his anger in real-life situations.
Because I’m a long-time student of Bhagavad- gita, Chris’s problem reminds me of the verse in which Lord Krishna tells His friend and disciple Arjuna that anger comes from lust. People generally think of lust as sexual longing. But Lord Krishna’s definition of lust extends to any ungodly desire to gratify the senses.
Lord Krishna further explains that although the senses require a certain amount of satisfaction, unless regulated they become like wild horses, forcing one to obey their whims. Craving the objects of their satisfaction, the senses take control of the mind and intelligence, leading to frustration and anger when their impossible demands go unmet. From this anger, Krishna continues, delusion arises, and from delusion, bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, human intelligence is lost, leaving one in a hell of irrational behavior.
Anger in Littleton
Modern society is full of people plagued with sensual addictions. When such people can’t satisfy their urges, they become frustrated and anger takes control. As a result, we are currently witnessing unprecedented acts of violence throughout society. Even our middle-class suburban schools have been victimized by a rash of killings perpetrated by children from their own communities.
On April 20,1999, two students of Columbine High School in affluent Littleton, Colorado, opened fire on their fellow students, killing eleven and injuring many more. For the climax of their orchestrated massacre, the boys shot and killed themselves.
Like my client Chris, the Littleton boys had experienced peer rejection. One of them had graduated from an anger- management class. Still, rather than seek out ways to be accepted, they chose to retaliate with vengeance. They identified with hate groups and then planned a diabolical scheme to persecute those they imagined had smitten them.
This is a modern illustration of the Gita’s timeless words: a thwarted desire for adoration and distinction emotionally evolves from lust to anger, then to delusion, and finally to insanity.
Graduates of the study of the Bhagavad-gita go on to the Srimad-Bhagavatam. The Bhagavatam narrates several accounts of how anger bewildered the intelligence of even great personalities. Once Durvasa Muni, a powerful yogi, approached the palace of Ambarisha Maharaja, a saintly king and exalted devotee of the Lord. Ambarisha prepared a reception with sumptuous food for Durvasa. As was the custom, before accepting his meal Durvasa went to bathe in the river. While bathing, the mystic Durvasa entered a yogic trance and stayed in the water for some time.
King Ambarisha had been observing a religious fast, and the proper time to break his fast was approaching. Not wanting to offend Durvasa by accepting his own meal before feeding his guest, Ambarisha Maharaja drank a little water—an action that simultaneously breaks and does not break one’s fast.
By his yogic abilities, Durvasa came to know of this perceived transgression. Thinking the king’s action disrespectful, Durvasa became insulted, and to retaliate he went before Ambarisha with angry words. He then invoked a fiery demon meant to destroy the king. But Lord Krishna protected His devotee Ambarisha and released His razor-sharp disc weapon towards Durvasa. After fleeing for his life, Durvasa came to his senses and realized how his pride and lust for adoration and distinction had provoked his needless wrath. Understanding the ramifications of his anger, Durvasa Muni fell at the feet of Maharaja Ambarisha and received forgiveness.
Anger as a Symptom
There are rare instances where anger is spiritually appropriate, provoked by injustices against the Lord and His devotees. Most anger, however, is a negative emotion manifested from frustrated attempts to enjoy sensually in the material world. Such anger must be checked and controlled. Teaching people anger-management skills can help. Chris sometimes successfully avoided confrontation by remembering to use them.
But as fever is a symptom of some disease in the body, anger is a symptom of ongoing material hankerings. Just as treating fever alone will not cure the disease, treating anger without understanding it to be a symptom of lust will not extinguish the unwanted behavior. To conquer anger, we must first ask how we shall conquer lust.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam describes many persons who conquered lust and were unaffected by anger. Foremost among them is Prahlada Maharaja. At the age of five, Prahlada, a selfrealized devotee, had no interest in worldly gain—just the opposite of his lusty, atheistic father, Hiranyakashipu. In time, the godless Hiranyakashipu began to look upon his saintly son as an enemy and plotted to kill him.
Although harassed in various ways by his father, Prahlada never became angry with him. The Lord, however, appeared as Nrisimhadeva and killed Hiranyakashipu. Afterwards, He offered a benediction to Prahlada, who, being self-satisfied in love of God, asked only that his evil father be liberated from his sins.
To be free of any negative emotions towards a person who tries to kill you may seem impossible. Yet a pure soul sees things differently. Pure devotees of God know they are spiritual beings, separate from the material body, and they see others in the same way. They understand how karma forces everyone to act according to a particular conditioned nature. They have full faith that the Lord is orchestrating everything and that He will protect them. Self-realized souls such as Prahlada are satisfied, so they don’t need to exploit anything or anyone.
While this portrait of a pure soul may seem foreign, it is nevertheless our actual nature. Layers of dirt may cover gold, but when thoroughly cleansed the gold resumes its brilliance. Similarly, those who become cleansed of material desire again exhibit their original purity. Such purification is possible by engaging the demanding senses in serving the Lord. Without using the senses in God’s service, trying to control them will end in frustration and failure.
I realize that Chris’s success hinges on his turning to God, Krishna. Chris can now go in a direction that will elevate or degrade his consciousness. He can allow his anger to consume him and follow the teenage murderers of Columbine. Or he can follow in the footsteps of Prahlada and Ambarisha.
Right now I can’t imagine Chris sitting down to chant the Hare Krishna mantra on beads. But I can introduce prayer to get him started.
When Chris finally emerges from under the sheets, I suggest a new tactic: praying to God for help with his anger. Together we formulate the prayer: “My dear Lord, please help me to stay in control of my anger. Help me to be calm and peaceful even when I’m being teased.”
Chris repeats the prayer several times out loud and gives me an approving nod.
“Maybe this will help.” he says with a new confidence.
“I’m sure it will,” I respond, getting up to leave.
He waves enthusiastically.
“Come again,” he says, “and bring more cookies!”
I make a mental note to bring cookies offered to Krishna so Chris can be purified. I’d hate for him to be angry with me.
"Mundane anger does not exist" - reading from Bhakti Tirtha Swami's book Spiritual Warrior 3 with Indrani devi dasi. Anger is one of the mind's main enemies, and being able to manage our anger can help us live much more peaceful and productive lives.
**Important Note: This video needs further editing; turn your computer's sound off for the first ten seconds, as there is some very loud feedback.
video discussions of Bhakti-tirtha Swami's Spiritual Warrior book series
hosted by Indrani dasi
Our Spiritual Warrior video series, hosted by Indrani dasi, discusses the book series of the same name by the late Bhakti-tirtha Swami.
This episode examines a section of his book Spiritual Warrior 4, "Conquering the Enemies of the Mind," and deals with one such enemy, anger. Anger management is an essential technology for the spiritual warrior.
Why does anger develop?
What triggers it?
The Srimad-Bhagavatam says this about anger:
"A person who desires liberation from this material world should not fall under the control of anger because when bewildered by anger one becomes a source of dread for all others." (Bhagavatam, 4.11.32)
Spiritual Warrior 4 goes on to explain that envy, greed, madness, illusion, fear, and lust all lead to anger. There are ways to recognize anger and its effects. Anger causes an adverse chain reaction in our consciousness. But all anger-related troubles can be avoided simply by honoring and addressing the situation properly from the very beginning.
by Laxmimoni dasi
Anger is generally generated from contact with the three modes of material nature - goodness, ignorance and especially the mode of passion. It is described in the Gita that anger comes from contemplating some desire for sense pleasure. After not having that desire fulfilled we become angry. Also we become angry, and/or frustrated when we try to control that which is beyond our control...like the behavior of another person, or some situation that we want to go one way, however it goes another way...then we become angry.
Rarely, although it happens, we become angry because we hear the Lord or His devotees blasphemed and this anger is not created by the modes of nature.
This anger is what Lord Nrsimhadeva felt when He saw that His devotee was being harassed and hurt. It caused the Lord to feel such great anger that He appeared as half lion and half man to kill the great atheist, Hiranyakasipu. Of course we cannot kill anyone but we can try to defend the truth and protect the devotees, if this type of righteous anger ever arises.
When we become angry as described in the first paragraph of this letter it is best not to say or do anything. Best thing is to go away, if possible, from the source of anger and just chant and contemplate what is the root cause of our feelings. So many times we become very angry and then when a small amount of time passes we can see that our perception of what we thought was a very great thing, actually changes with the passing of time and we can see that it was not very significant after all. This helps to reduce our anger and puts the reason for becoming angry in proper prospective.
When we act pushed by anger, krodha vegam, then we are bound to do something we will regret later. We will say or do something that will cause us to be sorry, or experience sadness and grief in the long run. So it is always best to avoid acting or speaking out of anger.
Looking deeply within the heart to see why we are being affected in this way is often helpful. Trying to find our own attachment and material desire that is causing this anger is helpful...and stops us from blaming someone else, even Krishna, or some other circumstance, for the anger which we are feeling.
I hope these tips are helpful. Ultimately if we can chant
then that will help to purify the heart and give us relief from the pushing of passion and anger by bringing things into a more transcendental perspective.