Indian philosophy has lots of numbered lists. For example, there are 8 limbs of yoga, 5 koshas, 36 tattvas, 3 malas, 10 yamas and niyamas, so on and so forth. I think this is because if something can be named and listed, it can begin to be understood. One such example of a numbered list is the list of 9 rasas. These are the 9 basic emotions that can be felt. The word Rasa can also be translated to mean “flavor” or “taste,” which suggests that all of these emotions should be tasted in order to enjoy the fullness of life.
One of the 9 rasas is called Raudra Rasa, and it is the emotion of anger. Having 2 adolescent boys still living at home, you can imagine that I get my share of this particular rasa around the house! The other day, one of the kids came home, frustrated about something that had happened during the day, and he was fully embracing the flavor of anger!
My husband and I were trying to console him, to get him to look on the bright side, to try to see what was good about the situation in an attempt to help him feel better. But it wasn’t working, our attempts were actually making him more frustrated. Finally, he shouted out that he didn’t want to feel better, he wanted to rant and complain, and just have us agree with him that sometimes life sucks. He wanted to explore the Raudra Rasa.
So, why do I think this is cool? In my experience, many people (including myself) spend a lot of energy trying to avoid negative emotions. We shy away from the Raudra Rasa, the Karuna (sadness) Rasa, the Bhavanaka (fear) Rasa, and the Vibhatsa (disgust) Rasa, in favor of some of the more enjoyable tastes, like the Shringhara (love), Hasya (joy), Adbhuta (wonder), Shanta (peace), and Veera (courage) Rasas. In cuisine, we sometimes avoid the sour and bitter tastes in favor of something sweet or salty! But, just like those sour and bitter foods are good for us, it is also healthy to explore the more negative emotions or tastes. That we can experience them at all indicates that they are a normal part of life.
We live in a world of opposites. We have to experience pain to fully appreciate pleasure. We have to know sadness to appreciate joy. If we never knew anger, how would we understand contentment?
But I also think the key to living a pleasurable life is not to get stuck in any of the flavors. Don’t you know someone who is always angry, sad, and disgusted? They’re not much fun to be around, and they’re probably not experiencing much wonder, joy, or peace. On the flipside, a person who is nothing but love and unicorns and rainbows may not have a firm grip on reality, and also might not be all that interesting to be around.
I was impressed that my son was able to see that he was angry, see that he was choosing to remain angry, and he even said that expressing his frustration was the best way for him to get through it. He said that without the opportunity to experience his anger, he would just repress it and ultimately feel even worse. As a mom it’s hard to not just want to make everything better, but I’m learning that when he’s upset about something, one of the best things I can do for him is to empathize and let him express his feelings. That’s yogic!
How do you experience the rasas?