By Dr. Rita Khanna
A vicious circle is a chain of events, in which the response to a difficulty creates a new problem that aggravates that original difficulty. The virtuous circles do just the opposite. The response to an occurrence creates a positive result that improves the whole situation; and as it repeats, the whole thing becomes better and better. The fundamental reality is that some people just seem to go up; their timing is excellent, the right people and the right things come their way, they are surrounded by smiling people who love them, and they even maintain abundant good health. Life for them, and the people they influence, just gets better and better.
However, some other people, who grow up in the same kind of situation, just go from one disaster to another. Things rarely come together for them; nobody is there to help them when they need it, their lives are a long string of fractured relationships, and to make matters worse, they are sick most of the time. Their life just gets worse and worse, as they are stuck down in a morass of trouble.
Why do Some People Get Stuck?
According to Yogic philosophy, everything is made up of the Gunas in different proportions. Gunas are the intertwining forces that weave together to make material nature, including human consciousness. These forces are divided into three categories, which are defined by Sattwa, Rajas, and Tamas: Sattwa, the state of truth, simplicity and equanimity in action; Rajas, the state of dynamism and activity combined with full ego involvement; and Tamas, the state of inertia and ignorance.
Lord Krishna said in the Bhagavad Gita (14:18), “Those who are seated in Sattwa go upwards; the Rajasic dwell in the middle; and the Tamasic, abiding in the function of the lowest Guna, go downwards.” How does this happen? Maybe the main causes are the vicious circles that are the curse of Tamas, and the virtuous circles that are the blessing of Sattwa.
In Rajas, the vicious and virtuous circles are about equal, so they average out as Lord Krishna implied; but things go from bad to worse in Tamas, and from good to better to best in Sattwa. This is why people, who get stuck in Tamasic qualities in some of their personality aspects, need to become involved in Yoga to lift themselves up out of that morass.
Can Yoga be Helpful in Changing Vicious Circles into Virtuous Circles?
There is no doubt that Yoga can be helpful in changing vicious circles into virtuous circles. If we look around us, we can see many examples of the way Yoga changes vicious circles into virtuous circles, and how this allows us to get out of the downward spirals of Tamas and evolve towards our best.
In Tamas, the vicious circles go on three levels of the individual: the physical body (Annamaya Kosha), the vitality body (Pranamaya Kosha), and the mental body (Manomaya Kosha). The same applies to the virtuous circles in Sattwa, which in addition, have also the benefits of the intellectual level (Vijnanamaya Kosha) and the bliss level (Anandamaya Kosha).
The basic mind aspects of Manomaya Kosha are:
The sense of ‘I’-ness (Ahamkara)
The vicious circles of Tamas: At the Tamasic level, people experience themselves as isolated from others. They may be alienated if there is a lot of fear, or maybe even paranoid, if they project anger. Vicious circles can come from disregard for the needs or rights of others, because of emotional distance. As a result, other people retaliate with their version of disregard, and this bounces backwards and forwards, getting worse as it goes along. Yoga relieves the emotional tensions that feed the feelings of isolation, and so, improves sociability. Another source of vicious circles in this modality is low self-esteem. This leads to lack of confidence, which, in turn, leads to failure and more loss of self-esteem. The great Yogic panacea for this is Karma Yoga, where self-esteem is guarded by non-attachment to outcomes, and is increased by the good work one is doing.
In some people, the problem may not just be isolation – it may be alienation. Very Tamasic levels of ‘I’-ness can give a strong experience of ‘self-reference,’ in which people imagine that events happening ‘out there’ in some way refer to them. They may misinterpret innocent actions, remarks or gestures as intentional slights, insults or contempt directed at them. Yoga creates a general reduction in negative emotions that can help people in this state – for instance: by balancing Ida and Pingala Nadis.
The virtuous circles of Sattwa: In the Sattwic state, the ‘I’-ness is not isolation – it is union – an experience of ‘I’ as a part of ‘us’. There is an awareness of ‘we’ rather than ‘me,’ so this unitive relationship with other people raises our compassion, helpfulness, kindness, cooperation, and friendship. Usually, other people return these, so we are receiving all these beneficial ‘gifts’ from those around us. This benevolence builds up, in the form of a virtuous circle, for all concerned.
The vicious circles of Tamas: People don’t usually realize – but what goes into forming our perceptions of what we sense outside is what is inside us! So, what I ‘see’ out there is, to a great extent, created from what is going on inside my own mind. Freud called this process ‘projection’ and was interested in the ‘sick’ stuff we ‘see’ out there because it is really inside. The exploiter sees the world as exploitative or exploitable, the hostile person sees it as hostile, the ‘power freak’ sees power games everywhere, and so on. Then the person’s thinking, emotions, and behaviour will be, at least, partly determined by these perceptions. The vicious circle comes from the negative perceptions of what is out there, arousing negative responses inside, which increase hyper-vigilance. This results in projecting more negativity out there. By eliminating the negative content ‘in here,’ Yoga improves the quality of our perceptions of the world.
The virtuous circles of Sattwa: We can experience our world as frightening, angry, sad, power crazy, etc. because we project these Tamasic qualities from inside our own natures. However, if we have Sattwic qualities dominant in our natures, we may project those too. We have a positive experience of the world, so we respond to it in a like way. When we feel loving, we see love and lovability in the world. When we feel happy, everybody seems to be smiling at us. Everything around us responds to us in kind, so the quality of our experience goes up and up, and it all grows in the positive way of a virtuous circle.
The vicious circles of Tamas: The things that we remember most easily, at any moment, correspond with our current feeling state. If we are feeling depressed, our memories will be about past hurts and disappointments. If we are anxious, our memories will be about all the frightening occurrences in our life; if angry, all the affronts and anger from other people will be foremost. Now, remember that our assessment, of what we can expect in the future, is based mainly on our past experiences. So, the bad memories of past experiences, such as insecurity, material losses, sadness, helplessness, hurt, grief, isolation, etc. will paint an equally bleak future. We become pessimistic, give up trying, and become stuck in the inertia of Tamas. Bad memories also lead to bad behaviour, and retaliation from outside, gives more bad memories.
The virtuous circles of Sattwa: Because the things we remember most easily, at any moment, correspond with our current feeling state, our feelings in the Sattwic states of our personality aspects will be positive ones, so they will evoke positive memories. These will transfer into the future as optimism, so we will be motivated to do more in the Sattwic style of nurturing ourselves and helping other people and the world, with the obviou