Understanding Emotions and the Self: Insights from Indian Psycho-Philosophy and the ‘Rain man’ Movie3 min read

Higher self as compass: generated by author using DALL.E.3

Emotions are a fundamental part of our human experience. They are the internal weather that shapes our days, influencing our decisions, actions, and interactions. But what if we told you that emotions are not directives, but signals? And that understanding this distinction can lead to a profound journey of self-discovery and personal growth? Let’s explore this concept further, drawing on the wisdom of ancient Indian psycho-philosophy, the concept of Nishkama Karma, and the narrative of the movie “Rainman”.

Emotions as Signals

Emotions, whether they are anger and jealousy (associated with the Lower Self) or peace and joy (associated with the Higher Self), are signals. They are not meant to dictate our actions but to inform us. They are like the changing weather, not always within our control, but always providing us with valuable information about our internal state. The key is to recognize these signals, understand their source, and respond thoughtfully rather than impulsively

Lower Self and Higher Self

According to Indian psycho-philosophy, the Lower Self is our connection to the external world, driven by deficits and insecurities. It is the part of us that is mean, fearful, and small. On the other hand, the Higher Self is our connection to the internal world, the source within us. It is eternally perfect, constantly blissful, completely autonomous, and identical with the higher self of all others. The challenge lies in recognizing the signals from our Lower Self, understanding their source, and choosing to respond from our Higher Self.

Nishkama Karma: The Art of Detached Action

Nishkama Karma, a concept from the Bhagavad Gita, teaches us to perform our duties without attachment to the outcome. It encourages us to accept both success and failure with equanimity. This concept aligns closely with the idea of responding thoughtfully rather than impulsively to our emotions. It’s about doing what needs to be done, without worrying about the results. This is an essential aspect of moving from the Lower Self to the Higher Self.

Lessons from the Silver Screen: The ‘Rain Man’ Movie

The movie “Rain man” provides a powerful illustration of these concepts. Charlie Babbitt, the main character, initially allows his Lower Self, driven by greed and resentment, to dictate his actions. But as he spends time with his brother Raymond, who has savant syndrome and autism, he begins to understand and appreciate him.

This leads to a pivotal moment of reflection, where Charlie chooses to value their relationship over money. He moves from his Lower Self to his Higher Self, responding thoughtfully rather than impulsively. It’s a powerful example of emotional intelligence in action.

Wrapping Up

Interpreting emotions as signals and not directives, distinguishing between the Lower Self and the Higher Self, implementing the principles of Nishkama Karma, and extracting lessons from narratives such as the Rainman movie can offer intriguing insights into our own selves. This exploration may not always be straightforward and may require some resilience. However, it can lead to a more nuanced understanding of ourselves and a refreshed perspective on how we interact with the world.

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Emotions Table derived from the concepts in “Management by Human Values” by Sri SK Chakraborty (Attended this course in 2001)

EmotionGunaSelfType of KarmaRelated Indian Philosophical Concept
AngerRajasLower SelfSakama KarmaKrodha (Anger)
EnvyTamasLower SelfVikarmaIrshya (Envy)
JealousyRajasLower SelfSakama KarmaMatsarya (Jealousy)
LustTamasLower SelfVikarmaKama (Desire)
CompassionSattvaHigher SelfNishkama KarmaDaya (Compassion)
JoySattvaHigher SelfNishkama KarmaAnanda (Joy)
PeaceSattvaHigher SelfNishkama KarmaShanti (Peace)
LoveSattvaHigher SelfNishkama KarmaPrema (Love)
Emotions Table

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