The Inner Frown

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An episode from a spiritual lore: A disciple asks the Master: “Sir, why is there so much friction in our community?” The Master does not reply directly. First he says “What is the use of sweet words and pleasant courtesies when there is a frown on your face?” After a pause he says, “What is the use of a smiling face when there is a frown in your thought and feelings?”

For those who are pursuing an inner moral, psychological or spiritual discipline here is a test to see how far and to what extent they have progressed inwardly.

The test is the inner reaction and not the outer behaviour. For the society and culture of average humanity is made of cultivated hypocrisy. We are forced by society and culture to suppress our negative feelings and present a pleasant outer appearance. So we get along with life hiding our negative feelings behind a mocking, cynical or angry smile or an impassive face, which are some of the common deceptions of culture. Sometimes we are not even aware of our negative feelings. We think we have goodwill for a person. But in a little corner of our mind of which we are not conscious, there is a dark spot of spite or resentment. And since we are not conscious of this dark spot or until we become conscious of it, we may sincerely believe we have goodwill for him. And when we feel an inner friction for the person we wonder “Why, I thought I have only goodwill for him.”

Our inner reaction to someone whom we dislike is usually anger, resentment, scorn, sarcasm, disapproval, sense of superiority or harsh judgement. If we are not pursuing any inner or higher discipline, then such reactions are “natural”. But if we are making an effort to rise beyond this “natural” state made of likes and dislikes to a higher spiritual nature made of equanimity and calm, then such negative reactions have to be mastered. For, rising beyond likes and dislikes is one of the first conditions of spiritual development. So the test is what is the extent of our mastery over these reactions? How intense is it? How long does it linger? Can we detach ourselves from it and let it pass or are we overwhelmed by it? If we are carried away helplessly by these reactions and cannot do anything about them, then we have not progressed much inwardly, especially in our emotional being, whatever may be the ideas we have in our mind.

We must remember that it is very easy to have good feelings for someone we like, as long as we like. Even a hardened criminal will have good feelings for someone he likes, as long as he likes. This does not mean we have to reject good feelings for someone we like or love. Good feelings, goodwill are the source of harmony in a community. But there is nothing great about having a superficial good feeling for someone we like or love. Our spiritual mettle is tested only when the relations go sour, when we rub against the ego of others and sparks of negative feelings like anger and resentment, critical judgement and condemnation rage and ravage our inner being. In most of the communal life much of this wrestle and clash of the ego and the spark of negative feelings happen within and sometimes nothing of it may be visible outside. The outer life goes on with a deceptive smoothness or even with a lot of laughter, smile and banter. There cannot be true harmony in communal life, unless this inner quarrelling is stopped.

But how to stop it? Before answering this question we have to first of all understand the deeper causes of the inner dislikes, and also our likes. We will not enter into the causes of open quarrel or violent conflicts. We are here mainly concerned with inner quarrels which remain suppressed, hidden and unexpressed outside, creating a constant inner friction between people. One of the grosser forms of inner dislike is jealousy. Among the subtler causes are factors related to what we may call psychic chemistry. When two psychological substances or energies do not harmonise with each other or vibrate at different rhythms it creates an inner friction which translates itself in the feelings as an irrational inner dislike. Similarly when two persons think, feel and behave very differently due to variations in temperament then also it creates an inner friction. For example, in most of the communities there is an inner conflict between the reserved and the talkative types or the introvert and the extrovert. Someone who is calm, reserved and doesn’t talk much becomes an object of inner resentment for others who talk and gossip, though they may not express their feelings openly. Similarly, the extrovert looks down upon the introvert as the negative type and the introvert scorns the extrovert as superficial and immature. When they work together they live in a state of mutual irritation. However, this happens perhaps when we are at the lower stages of evolution in which we are attracted towards people of a similar nature and temperament. But at a higher stage of growth, when we are more inwardly mature we are drawn towards people of complementing nature and temperament. For instance, there was mutual respect and harmony between the Brahmins and Kshatriyas, the cognitive and warrior types in ancient India. This was probably because, Brahmins and Kshatriyas of ancient India were much more mentally and spiritually developed than their counterparts in other civilisations.

The other cause is the very common habit of trying to impose our own personal ideals on others. Each one of us has our own ideals of truth and goodness. We tend to think and feel all those who are in tune with our own ideals are good and others who are not, are not good. So, whenever we come across someone who doesn’t conform to our ideals in thought, feeling, speech or behaviour it creates an inner friction. We don’t realise how ridiculous it is to want others to live according to our ideals and feel irritated when they don’t. We must remember that unequal diversity is a fact of life. Individuals differ in their nature, temperament, viewpoints and the level of inner development. What is good and right for a mild, gentle and peace-loving Brahmin may appear as cowardice and weakness to the aggressive warrior-temperament of a Kshatriya. A moral code or religious ideal which may be helpful to my progress may appear as dogmatic or restrictive to someone who is at a higher stage of spiritual development. What is felt as offensive to my sensibilities and harmful to my progress may be pleasing and beneficial to others who are at a different stage of evolution. What I consider as truth, wisdom, balance, maturity may appear as petty and narrow to someone who has a deeper, vaster and higher vision of life.

If we are part of a spiritual community we have common ideals given by the founders of the community. But here also each member of the community understands the ideals of his Master according to his level of inner development. He may think his own understanding as the best and judge other members of the community according to his understanding which could be very faulty or partial. We are not here justifying or condoning gross violation of ideals or fundamental human values which any one can see, like lying or creating violent disturbance in the outer life of the individual or the collectivity.(1) We are trying to understand the causes of inner friction created by differences in understanding, perspectives and viewpoints.

Once we have understood clearly the causes of our likes and dislikes, the next step is to desist from converting our likes and dislikes into moral opinions and judgments. When we observe ourselves carefully we will find most of our moral judgments like good and bad, are based either on vital affinities (likes and dislikes) or mental conceptions and ideals. When we say, “he is a nice person” it means simply either we like him or he is in tune with our ideals of goodness. Similarly, when we have a strong inner dislike for a person it is like wearing a dark glass. His small defects are blown out of proportion and even his good qualities appear in a negative light. So, we must realise that all those whom we dislike are not necessarily bad and others whom we like are not always good. Someone who doesn’t conform to my ideals of goodness need not be bad. Sometimes he may be very good, a better human being than me because he may be living according to a deeper and broader understanding of goodness! Remember the well-known words of Christ when men tried to throw stones at a prostitute or when people mocked at his disciples saying how could they be so stupid to follow a “winebibber” or the hostile reactions of the Pharisee when Christ asked his disciples to feast and drink and revel during the Sabbath day when according to the Jewish tradition we have to mourn and fast and remain grave? We may not outwardly throw stones at a “sinner” or nail a prophet on the cross if they do not conform to our ideals, but we may still inwardly persecute them by throwing harsh and critical judgments at them in thought and feelings. Interestingly, what is less known in the stone-throwing episode in the Bible is that the Son of God, after rebuking the self-righteous mob with the famous words “Let those who have not sinned throw stones at her”, says further “O Ye people who judge, I judge not”.

This brings us to an inner attitude or discipline which can be helpful in tackling the inner frown. It is to feel and experience the other people around us as mirrors in which we can see our own hidden weaknesses and imperfections. As the Mother explains:

“It is rather remarkable that when we have a weakness, for example a ridiculous habit, a defect, or an imperfection – since it is more or less a part of our nature, we consider it to be very natural, it does not shock us. But as soon as we see this same weakness, this same imperfection, this same ridiculous habit in someone else, it seems quite shocking to us…. In a general and absolute way anything that shocks you in other people is the very thing you carry in yourself in a more or less veiled, more or less hidden form, though perhaps in a slightly different guise which allows you to delude yourself. And what in yourself seems inoffensive enough, becomes monstrous as soon as you see it in others. Try to experience this; it will greatly help you to change yourself.”(2)

When we have this experience then it is perhaps easy to feel (and do) what Sri Aurobindo says in a terse aphorism:

“Examine thyself without pity, then thou wilt be more charitable and pitiful to others.”(3)

But none of the things which we have discussed so far can eliminate entirely the inner frown. They can perhaps minimize it but cannot dissolve it. Quarrels, inner and outer, can cease entirely only with the advent of true love founded on the unity-consciousness of the spirit in which “others” are no longer others but become part of our own self. We must note here the so-called “love” of our emotional being, which is full of misunderstandings, quarrels and hurt-feelings cannot eliminate friction and bring harmony to the communal life. All that unites and leads to harmony, for example, higher emotions like goodwill, kindness, generosity, sympathy, compassion, are undoubtedly helpful as steps and stages on the way. But ultimately, only a deeper love based on the inner experience of spiritual unity can bring perfection to our communal life. As Sri Aurobindo points out with his inimitable humour:

“Love is not enough. Something more than love is necessary. Unity of consciousness is more important than love… love also leads to quarrel. Nobody quarrels more than lovers. You know the Latin proverb that each quarrel is a renewal of love. Love is a fine flower but unity of consciousness is the root”

(M.S. Srinivasan is a research associate in Sri Aurobindo Society.)

Notes and References
1. Here also, a spiritual seeker should desist from moral judgments and try to understand objectively the deeper causes of the event or behaviours.
2. The Mother, CWM, Vol.10, p.21-22
3. Sri Aurobindo, SABCL, Vol.16, p.66
4. Purani, Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, p.626