The Eight Fetters, Pt. II

This concludes our examination of what are known in Hinduism as the eight fetters, which are: shame, hatred, fear, pride of class, pride of upbringing, pride of good character, grief, and doubt. We will conclude by reviewing the latter four fetters.

Pride of Upbringing: We come from a lineage of “important” persons. We were educated at a fine university. We mingle with well-to-do, cultured peers. We live in a custom-crafted home. We never shop at Walmart or eat at Denny’s. We think, “Thank God we live so much better than those hillbillies who live on the other side of the tracks.” Well, once this thought crosses your mind, you behave far worse than those so-called hillbillies, who may in fact be morally superior to you because they lack your haughtiness. If you embody all the graces and manners inherent in gentility, but if you are an arrogant snob, such overweening pride may be your spiritual downfall. Don’t even think of wearing your upbringing as a badge of honor. Your snobbishness will impede whatever spiritual progress you hope to achieve. Jesus dined with sinners and tax-collectors (the latter of which were loathed in Jesus’ day, and it appears, by and large, they still are today). Get off your high horse and strip yourself of these nonsensical pretenses.

Pride of Good Character: We don’t steal, we don’t murder, we don’t slander, we don’t lie, we don’t cheat on our spouse. Great! But if you pride yourself on your good conduct, your very pride may lead to your spiritual ruin. “Pride goeth before … a fall” (Prov. 16:18). It’s imprudent to parade any supposed holier-than-thou achievements in public; they could come back to bite you. The cure: humble yourself and approach each day as though you are a novice on the spiritual path.

Grief: There are major events in our lives that cause tremendous sadness: the death of a loved one or a beloved pet; the loss of a job; a permanent medical injury. The list is endless. Buddha created a whole philosophy of life based on dukkha – the frustrations, sufferings, and losses of life. If we allow grief to overwhelm us, it will paralyze us. If we wallow in sadness, we will have ceased to move ahead on the road of life. Grieve as necessary – some losses can never be overcome, so we can’t ever be expected to “get over” them. But move forward in life – the clock is ticking, and it’s up to us to come to terms with our losses while not allowing them to overtake and cripple us.

Doubt: Maintaining a healthy skepticism can be a valuable ally in today’s world of scammers, con artists, hackers, and the like. But when this becomes an ingrained trait, it can border on catastrophic thinking, and this kind of predisposed negative outlook colors our entire attitude. In a spiritual context, doubt can kill one’s faith as well as one’s enthusiasm for practice. Some practical tips: avoid negative people – those who drag you down, or as singer Diana Ross once said, those who “[void liquid waste matter] on your dreams.” Don’t listen to those who instill doubt in you. These people are toxic and serve no purpose in our lives. In addition, try not to allow self-doubt to take hold. Be positive, upbeat, and optimistic, and do not allow the trials and travails of this world to beat you down. Once your self-confidence is shaken, or worse, destroyed, you might as well crawl under a rock and give up. So, never allow doubt to take hold.

One more: I don’t have a name for this. There is an undercurrent of a certain harshness, self-centeredness, meanness, ruthlessness, callousness, and cynicism; a reveling in the superficial and the trivial; the shameless worship of money and self-indulgent luxury; and a rampant maliciousness, often teetering into blatant schadenfreude – all of which collectively runs through certain segments of our present American society. Perhaps aided and abetted by media pot-stirrers and social-media “influencers,” this wholly negative sentiment erodes any sense of community and commonality, goodwill and empathy that should serve as a primary ethical cornerstone of a flourishing society. Spiritual aspirants must not succumb to this aberrant mindset.

One remedy to counteract the influence of this pernicious social disease is to practice compassion and to maintain our own ethical code no matter what, so we thereby immunize ourselves against these malignant influences. According to Hindu belief, this age is known as Kali Yuga – a dark age where only one-quarter of spirituality prevails – so we can expect this very kind of widespread uptick in brazen materialism, unprincipled self-indulgence, the mindless adulation of secular values, and role models often personified by those who lack both a steady moral compass and any smidgen of concern for others. If aspirants are affected by this nameless syndrome or in any way caught up in its downward-spiraling effects, they can easily lose sight of their spiritual goal, and therefore this constitutes a fetter.

(Ah, I see I’ve just tiptoed across my self-imposed prohibition against politicizing the content of these blogposts, so I’ll dismount my soapbox and go meditate in order to expunge my soul of yet another fetter—sermonizing.)

In conclusion, succumbing to any of these eight – nine – fetters can hinder and create downright impediments on our spiritual path, and thereby halt our spiritual progress. However, they can be overcome by first recognizing them, then by practicing single-minded determination in our daily spiritual lives as well as embodying an optimistic outlook that is nonetheless grounded in realism. We can, through conviction and persistence, resist succumbing to the insidious influence of these and all fetters by keeping our mind fixed on our spiritual goal at all times.

2 thoughts on “The Eight Fetters, Pt. II”

  1. That ninth fetter is so very important! Not only is it a hindrance to spiritual growth, it is a reliable indication of a “false prophet” or inauthentic guru. As you have noted in previous posts, and as Fr. Christopher so clearly explains in Dialogues with the Lord of Time, the world is full of false teachers, and if we detect these signs of materialism and egotism we can avoid their influence.

    • Dear Elizabeth,
      Thank you for your thoughtful and supportive comment! Some scientists have posited that, as of the 1950s, humans have entered a new epoch, the Anthropocene. This is marked by the global impact of the human species, which has significantly altered our planet’s geology, biosphere, climate, etc. Widespread technological breakthroughs have led to a similar revolution in the ways humans communicate – the internet, conventional media, social media. These events are touted as progress, but philosopher Gerald Heard made this critical observation approx. 60 years ago: “Solve the technological dilemma and you expose the psychological enigma,” meaning that humankind does not evolve pari-passu with the gadgets it creates. A certain swath of humans are no more evolved that toddlers throwing tantrums and teens getting into fights.

      Now, St. Paul advises, “Detest what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9), and “If possible on your part, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). The trick is to rise above and remain immune from the maelstrom of current events while not lowering ourselves to engage with them or with others to the extent that we lose our spiritual bearings. As you point out in your good comment, the first step is to “detect these signs,” whether they pertain to false teachers, as you note, or more broadly to hate mongers, divisive factions, and the like. Once detected, we can, as you write, “avoid their influence” – whatever that negative influence be – and not stray from where our spiritual compass points. – John Roger Barrie


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