Não violência

The emotional Self: main obstacle to Non-violence [2]
Joep Ingen Housz

In the first article on Non-violence[1] I have explained that if one aspires to attain ultimate happiness and liberation it is imperative to adopt Non-violence as a guiding principle for life. This knowledge is not new, it is as old as mankind. So, if we know for ages how to attain the ultimate happiness that everyone is longing for, why is it that most humans act in such a way that they move away from that goal?

Why is it that we act so often contrary to the fulfillment of our deepest wish? This article is an attempt to deal with this essential question. What are the obstacles that keep us from applying consequently Non-violence in our lives, since Non-violence is the key to liberation? If we want to integrate Ahimsa[2] or Non-violence as our guiding principle it is important to understand how Himsa[3] or violence arises and what can be done about it. If we know why things go wrong, we are able to correct them and take the right path.

During the course of evolution our human consciousness has been shaped into the form and function it has today. We have the capacity to be conscious of our senses, we can see, hear, smell, taste and feel. We are able to be conscious of our thoughts (or get lost in our thoughts). Above all we humans are conscious of ourselves. This is what differentiates us humans from lower forms of consciousness. We have this idea to be somebody living in a world to which we belong but from which we feel separated.

After we left the womb of our mother our consciousness started to emerge from the unconscious. We began to realize that we are a being, separate from our mother and from the rest of the universe. We got conscious of our Self. At that moment we started our lonely trip through a life full of suffering and unconsciously longing to get re-united with the Divine Universe from which we came.

The Self

If we bother to count how many times a day we use the pronoun “I” or “Me” or speak in about “Mine” or “My”, we very soon find out that it is almost uncountable. Who is this person we call “I”, who is the owner of “Mine”? The main lesson Sri Ramana Maharshi[4] taught his disciples in the last century was to search for the source of this “I” in order to find the source of the entire creation. Every time “I” or “Mine” is pronounced it is the Self that speaks. Who is this Self?

For most people the Self consists of the so-called body-mind complex: I am my body and my mind, and have a name, an identity. But when we do some serious introspection we find out that this is all our thought, a product of our mind.

The Self is nothing more and nothing less than a thought of who we are.

Our mind divides the world into me and others, inside and outside, in what is mine and what is not mine. Our mind draws a borderline between the Self and the world. This borderline is not fixed but changes in the course of our life due to the working of the psychological forces[5]. Our Self has the habit of constantly judging the world in which we live and also ourselves. The Self divides the world and ourselves into what we like and what we dislike. The Self gets attached to what it likes and develops revulsion of what it dislikes. Life does not always take into account our likes and dislikes; often we get what we do not want and cannot get what we desire. We loose that what we are attached to and cannot get rid of what we hate.

Our likes and dislikes and the emotions emerging from them are the prime source of suffering!

We don’t like to get sick or to loose our possessions when we have them, we do not like to be separated from our loved ones. We do not appreciate criticism. Nobody wants to die but all of us do. And even when we get what we desire the happiness that springs from it does not last. Once that good feeling is over we start desiring something else to satisfy the needs of the Self. When we are cured from illness our happiness of being healthy again does not last and often we return to our unhealthy habits that cause illness. When we receive the attention or love we were longing for, the happy feeling that comes from it does not continue forever so we go on to search for attention and love from others.

When through our sense consciousness we perceive something that we want, an emotion of desire arises. If we cannot get that object of our desire the emotion will grow stronger and stronger. Consciously or unconsciously we will seek to satisfy that desire until it is fulfilled. Equally if we notice a potential or a real threat an emotion of fear, anger or even hatred arises. We will do anything to avoid a painful confrontation or to run away from it once we are involved in one. Strangely enough we often meet in our lives what we fear most and do not attain what we are most longing for.


vajrapani_1Once the Self has perceived and judged an object of desire or revulsion an emotion arises in our mind. The emotions have a tendency to take control over us. What started as the observation of a dislike can become a raging fire of hatred and equally an object we like can provoke a raging fire of passionate desire. Our thoughts, words and actions are driven by those emotions. Our emotions turn us into selfish beings. If we let our emotions be our master, we want to satisfy our own needs at any cost even if it this implies that we bring directly or indirectly harm to other beings.

One does not need to be a genius to understand that selfish behavior of others and ourselves is the prime cause of suffering in our world. We harm and even kill people whose beliefs or behavior we do not approve, although in their opinion they are right. We kill animals because we desire to fill our belly with their meat and ignore that also animals want to live and be happy. Or we strip their skin of while they are still alive because we want to be admired by others wearing their fur. We kill animals just for fun and call it sports. Plants and animals that populate our world go extinct every day because we use them for our personal needs, or we take their space for us or just because we don’t like them. We gossip about others or criticize them in the hope to aggrandize our self.

Some years ago I went with a friend to a shop in France to purchase a stove. We went to see the lady in charge of the sales of stoves. She was on the phone and ignored us completely, made even some more calls. I became angry with the woman and after a while even outraged. I went to find the manager of the store but fortunately for him and me he was not in. After a while I got this astonishing insight that my emotion was not in proportion with the behavior of the saleslady, but that it was my ego that was severely hurt. I praise that day because it was the day I became aware of the whims and fancies of the Self.

Viewing the true nature of others

It is not because they are bad that people harm others and me, they do so because they are equally ignorant like me. As much as I believe that my view is right they believe in theirs. Their Self has the same relative view of the world and the same self-centered mode of operation as mine. Mostly we blame others and their behavior when harm is done to us and we do not see that the real cause of our suffering is because of our mind that created the idea of the Self with its likes and dislikes. So instead of waiting for others to change their pattern of behavior we should look into the behavior of our Self. Once we understand the functioning of our Self we have found the golden key to liberate our selves.

Normally we do not perceive others as they really are but only as a projection of our Self. We see them filtered through the glasses of the likes and dislikes of our Self. It is our relative view of others blinded by our emotions that hinder us so much to see the true nature of the our selves and others.

For the wellbeing of others and myself it is important to develop understanding of the true nature of others and to understand the cause of their behavior. To this end it is required that we develop respect and understanding for the differences and suffering of the other. I do not mean that one should tolerate intolerable behavior. But it is quite different if I react with understanding for the blindness or erroneous view of someone or I react blinded by my own emotions. In other words it is important that I learn to react out of compassion and not directed by selfish emotions.

During my quest I have learned to appreciate other people and animals as my teachers. When they irritate me or make me angry, I know that my Self is generating these emotions. They teach me that I have to develop understanding for the limitations of other beings, rather than let my emotions reign my acts.

The law of cause and effect (Karma) teaches us that if we harm other beings sooner or later we will have to face the consequences Our negative acts will cause our own suffering in the future. This is not so much to punish us, but more to give us an opportunity to change our ignorant negative behavior for an intelligent behavior that will cause lasting happiness for others and for me. In a separate article I will deal with the law of cause and effect which is so important to understand.

The Nature of the Self

There are many theories on the nature and origin of the Self and the body-mind complex from prominent biologists, neuro-scientists, psychologists, philosophers and others. There is quite some interesting literature available and even more literature that exposes the ignorance of scientists and others regarding the true nature of the Self.

Why is there so much ignorance about the real identity of the Self? That is because the Self is a product of the mind, it is no more than the thought of who we are. This thought springs from the mind like all other thoughts one can have. When we want to see where the thought of “I“ originates we have to look at the mind itself, the mother of all thoughts. But looking at the mind by reflection is as impossible as it is to see your eye with your eye. You can try but will soon find out that you need a mirror to do that, and in a mirror we see only a projection of the eye, not the eye itself. Equally, thoughts are only a projection of the mind. So people who try to understand the true nature of the mind by reflection will never discover its true nature.

It is with a combination of continuous study, contemplation and meditation that we can realize the absolute selfless nature of the mind as we can learn in Buddhism or the supreme Self of pure awareness as it is taught in Vedanta Joga.

The authentic nature of every one of us is a nature of non-violence, love and compassion. It is through the obscurations of the emotional Self that we lose sight of this true nature and become selfish. This is the result of our Karma, the consequence of our negative actions in the past in this life and in previous lives. When we follow the path of Dharma we can purify our Karma and take off the layers that obscure our true nature. It is this path that brings joy and happiness to others and us.

Non-violence as guiding principle

The day I discovered the tremendous negative impact of the Self on my wellbeing and that of others, I decided to do something about it and started my quest to find the right means to heal myself. My experience until today taught me that there are two parallel approaches that reinforce each other.

The first is gaining insight in the working of the mind, the nature of the Self and its emotions and train ourselves in controlling our emotions. We can learn to intercept our emotions at an early stage when they arise before they are amplified by an uncontrolled mind and get out of hand. Once we recognize our emerging emotions in the beginning we can tame them and think, speak and act with a clear mind.

The second approach is adopting non-violence as a guiding principle. This means to develop the firm aspiration to live without harming other beings. Everything we do, every word we speak and even every thought that arises in our mind we have to check to see if we harm other living creatures.

Once we become aware that we deviate from the path of non-violence and instead behave selfishly, we can correct ourselves. In this way we train our minds to become more open to the needs of others and we implement the value of non-violence in our daily lives. Some may say that this is a very idealistic approach and even masochistic. Such a reflection is understandable but arises from ignorance. The reality is that our true nature is altruistic. And that when we develop an altruistic way of life we approach more our very nature. By doing so will experience more joy and happiness and less suffering in life. Try it, nobody suffers from not harming sentient beings.

Living a life guided by the value of non-violence requires faith and courage. Faith that this is the genuine path that leads to liberation and ultimate happiness. Courage to overcome the obstacles we will meet on our path and to subdue our Self. The Self will react with gross and subtle trick in order to survive your efforts to take over control.

You have nothing to loose by not harming, only your suffering and that of others.

[1] Non-violence – The Heart of Dharma, Joep Ingen Housz, April 2007

[2] Ahimsa – Not harming life, other sentient beings, through thought, speech or act.

[3] Himsa – Harming life, other sentient beings, through thought, speech or act

[4] The collected works of Sri Ramana Maharshi (1889 – 1950); Ed. Sri Ramanasramam (December 1, 2002)

[5] No Boundary - Ken Wilber; Shambala 1981

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