Taming the Beasts Within to be Fully Human – Fr. Dr. Bijesh Philip


MOTV – 23/8/17

Lynching innocent people in the name of cows, fall of great leaders due to corruption or moral degradation, the discussion of a ten year old girl’s abortion even in the Supreme court, uploading heinous crimes in social media by the criminals themselves etc. are very painful and horrible news. These are just a few indications and symptoms of the inner moral deterioration and the failure to cultivate and manage inner life. Those who suggest quick fixes and immediate solutions maybe suggesting stricter laws and implementation of them with strong police interventions. Of course such steps are good and necessary but the great spiritual heritage of mankind reminds us about the need of inner warfare and purification of life as the solution. It reminds us that our real enemies are not anyone from outside. In fact it is an undisciplined mind with monkey like thoughts which is more horrible than terrorists who attack us.

Jesus taught us to purify and beautify not only the externals and the outside but also our thought world. He enlightened us to be concerned not merely about our activities but also about the purity of our thoughts and intentions. In a similar tone, Sri Buddha taught that‘neither pleasant words nor a pretty face can make beautiful a person who is jealous, selfish or deceitful.’ In other words, beauty needs to be assessed based on the victory over selfish desires.

The spiritual wisdom glorifies the victory over own selfish urges and cravings for more sensuous pleasures as the real success of life. That is why the enlightened ones like Buddha taught that, “One who conquers himself is greater than another who conquers a thousand times a thousand men on the battlefield. Be victorious over yourself and not over others” (Dhammapada 103,104). St. Basil the great interprets the power to rule given by God to man as power to tame the beasts within. He describes anger, greed, hypocrisy, lust etc., as beasts and asks the question “Have you truly become ruler of beasts if you rule those outside but leave those within ungoverned?” With regard to this he further instructs, “Rule the thought in yourself…. It is misplaced to be governed at home and govern nations, and to be ruled within by a prostitute and be mayor of the city by public consent…. Nobody is condemned for not catching a lion, but one who will not govern anger is ridiculous to everyone. So one who does not prevail over his own passion is led to condemnation, while one who cannot prevail over wild beasts does not appear to have done anything worthy of blame.” (Basil, On the Origin of Humanity, in On the Human Condition,translated byNonna Verna Harrison. (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2005), p.47, 48.).

There are many steps for achieving a victory in spiritual struggle and unseen warfare, which brings about lasting peace and happiness. They are:

Watchfulness (Nepsis):Watchfulness is very important in the ancient Christian tradition. The spiritual classics like Philokalia beautifully explains the need of constant spiritual alertness, vigilance and an attitude of attentiveness whereby one keeps watch over one’s inward thoughts and fantasies.

Stop entertaining and enjoying fantasies and negative thoughts. Arising fantasies and dehumanizing thoughts can be compared to the occurrence of an accident or a robbery. But no house owner enjoys the company of a robber, who broke his house. The owner of the house never permits him to stay there. Likewise, sometimes without our invitation, certain negative thoughts come to our mind. However, if we are mindful and taking our spiritual life seriously, we can immediately stop commune and enjoying with them.

Carefulness with regard to feeding the mind is also essential. ‘We reap what we sow’ is a universal principle. Our thoughts are produced using the raw materials brought to mind by our senses. The memories of those experiences are also used for producing thoughts. Perhaps, the best Indian traditional image for mind control is that of a charioteer who controls its five horses which try to push the chariot to different directions. The horses represent five senses. Only by controlling these senses we can stop mind pollution. Most of the mentally challenged even when they become teenagers or adults are innocent because, they are not corrupting their inner self with negative feeding. Once a holy Christian monk was asked about his inner life by a visitor. The old man said, “My inner life is two dogs constantly at war, a good one and mean one”. The questioner reacted with another immediate question, “Which dog wins?” The old holy man thought for a moment and his answer was “the one I feed the most”.

Communion with the Lord and God:Constant communion with our Lord Jesus Christ is a glorious grace to be successful in this warfare. Jesus Christ not only taught about inner purification but also showed us through His life example that perfect victory in this spiritual warfare is possible. If we admit our helplessness and seek His grace, we shall easily conquer our thoughts with the One who conquered the world. Through Him a new way has been opened to the eternal Father and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who dwells at the center of our being helps us in this warfare leading us to perfection. Repentance, unceasing prayers, meditation and sacramental life are ensuring this grace to the primary greatness in life.

Cessation of actions:If the thoughts are not controlled, it leads to action and when repeated, it becomes habit deciding our character and destiny. By realizing the fact that every selfish action consequent to our negative thoughts to fulfill base desires will be strengthening further the urge and craving for such actions leading to a miserable life. That is why genuine repentance and renewal are recommended as early as possible.

Replacement thoughts:If an undesirable thought, a thought which is not in our best interest, comes to us, instead of dwelling on it, we can begin of thinking something else which is desirable and good. In other words through a very alert practice, an undesirable thought can be replaced with a good thought. Through this “crowding out technique” we ‘crowd out’ thoughts of hatred, revenge, greed, lust, arrogance, fanaticism and other unproductive and time wasting thoughts and fill our mind with thoughts that are good in tune with gospel teachings.

On the one hand we have to be aware of the tactics of the fanatics who misuse religions to teach a fight against the so- called ‘others’ beyond the borders of one’s religion. On the other hand, the popular consumerist world view which globalizes ‘American dream’ which glorify self- gratification and selfish desires. The Gospels shed light to see these two extreme illusions and to focus on the unseen warfare unceasingly leading us to the joy and peace of heaven or Nirvana or Moksha right here itself. But this is not only a joyous experience for the individuals only but to the whole society because inner transformation is integrally connected to the social justice and transformation.

(Editorial of Sahayatra magazine from St. Thomas Orthodox Theological Seminary, Nagpur August , 2017, written by Fr Bijesh Philip).