The Eight Fetters, Pt. I

In the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, the great Hindu saint Ramakrishna (1836-1886) frequently mentions the “eight fetters.” The eight fetters, or aṣtapaśas, are as follows: shame, hatred, fear, pride of class, pride of upbringing, pride of good character, grief, and doubt. We will examine each of the eight fetters in this and my next posting. I should note that Buddhism has its own lists of fetters, such as belief in a permanent self, attachment to rituals, and so forth, which I’ll hope to review down the line. But our focus today is on the Hindu compilation.

Shame: We do something that causes us embarrassment or disgrace, then we feel humiliated. Actually, this humbling experience is a positive response, essential for curbing the ego and retraining ourselves to embrace more productive behavior patterns. However, if we wallow in feelings of shame, this can create a sticking point in our character. If we have acted badly or in a hurtful manner, we should indeed express remorse and apologize as necessary, and also change our ways, but we should not wear our sense of shame around our necks like a millstone. Make amends, don’t repeat the objectionable behavior, chalk it up to a learning experience, then move on.

Hatred: We feel a strong aversion toward something or animosity toward someone or a group of people. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, for not particularly liking someone or something, or not wanting to chum up to certain group of people. A person doesn’t necessarily have to like their boss; we aren’t required to chum up to our kid’s arch-rival soccer team. Sometimes we feel a strong resistance toward performing tedious tasks, such as packaging a defective item to return to an online seller, or placing that fifth follow-up phone call to our internet provider to find out when our service will be restored following an outage. But when our aversions turn into a visceral, knee-jerk outpouring of negative, often villous feelings toward another or toward something, we are caught up in hatred. Hatred is like a festering wound that won’t heal. We must be more neutral toward nettlesome people or vexatious situations that we find bothersome without crossing that fine line and triggering a response of hatred within us.

Fear: Fear can cause crippling effects in our lives. Repeated feelings of fear or ongoing exposure to a fear- or anxiety-producing situation can cause PTSD, which is difficult to overcome because it overstimulates and can even impair the functioning of the amygdala in the brain, which, when injured, can create a vicious circle of heightened anxiety-related responses. We can overcome certain fears and anxieties through dedicated training. However, if fearfulness is severe and persistent, then seeking competent medical treatment can be a viable option. The goal is to free ourselves of fears while prudently retaining a cautionary approach as warranted when navigating the byways of our daily lives.

Also, it should be noted that some nutritionists believe our intake of certain foods and foodstuffs like sugar can alter one’s mood, as can nutritional deficiencies. There are various theories of foods and their effects on humans in Hinduism (Ayurveda) and China (Traditional Chinese Medicine), which are worth reviewing. According to these theories, eating certain rajasic foods, for example, such as hot spices or hot peppers, can stimulate irritability. Other foods that are too yin, such as many fruits and vegetables, can induce anxiety. The ideal is to find food combinations that agree with one’s constitution and one’s biochemical individuality, and that produce a balanced, calm state of body and mind.

Pride of Class: We are born in an upper-middle class household, and we feel superior to those who are situated in a lower social stratum than ours. Well, the cure is to look no further than those who are wealthier than us, which will readily deflate any pride we feel. But, counterproductively, this can also produce envy: “Ah, if I were only as rich as that Powerball jackpot lotto winner.” The remedy, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wisely observed, is as follows: “There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion …” (Note: Vis-à-vis contemporary usage, the words “man”, “he”, etc., can be interpreted here in a gender-neutral sense.)

The Eight Fetters, Pt. II will follow later this month.

Please check out my new YouTube video reading, opens in a new windowYour Greatest Attachment.

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