A tentative overview of rasa psychology

Whiteboard from class on rasa.
[Earlier articles on psychological models in the context of Radha Krishna can be found here and here.]

We have been studying Madhusudana's Bhakti-rasāyana and some other texts on rasa and I finally managed to diagram things in a way that seems to me to explain the idea as a kind of psychological model, and which can be used to include all the rasa theorists from Bharata to Rupa Goswami.

Actually Madhusudana does not fit this model exactly, even though he provides an important element in the understanding of the interface of rasa and psychology. There are a number of posts that explain aspects of this model, others that are forthcoming and hopefully we will be able to tie them all in together eventually.

The overall idea is based on the concept that the personality is formed by impressions that are the result of emotional experiences that leave imprints on the unconscious mind.

There are, according to Bharata, eight rasas, with śānta in a separate category that later scholars like Abhinava Gupta, the Kashmir Shaiva, elevated to full status as a rasa. Abhinava Gupta not only promoted the concept of śānta-rasa, with the sthāyi bhāva of nirveda or the disillusionment with material life, but argued that it was the beginning and end of all the rasas.

Of course, the countervailing view, which dominated, progressively gave the primary status to rati, or love. Mostly, when speaking of the arts and entertainment products, this is a reference to romantic love. But any perusal of a book on the dramatic arts will show the extent to which śṛṅgāra dominates discussion. Where only a few paragraphs are sufficient to deal with the secondary rasas, the bulk of most authors' energy is in describing the nāyaka and nāyikā and so on. Nowhere is this more clear than in Rupa Goswami's work, Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi.

We are also in philosophical agreement that śṛṅgāra is the ādi-rasa, the primary and original sentiment. It is the basis of phenomenal existence and therefore stands at the opposite extreme from śānta. We hold that uniting these opposites is the goal of human psychology, which seeks homeostasis. But we do not believe that this is possible within the material framework alone. Bhakti and Radha-Krishna are, for us, the process and ideal through which the proper psychic equilibrium and experience of Prema, Divine Love, are possible.

Nevertheless, since the two are connected as archetype to type, without understanding the dynamics of love in the psyche, for which purpose we take shelter of rasa theory, it would be impossible to see the development or evolution towards Prema.

It should be noted, however, that in the following schema, we are not talking about bhakti-rasa, at least not in the first instance. Bhakti-rasa is about transcendence, where the opposites have been reconciled. Here we are simply classifying the different sthāyi-bhāvas in a global scheme, which will have its application to bhakti-rasa  (not shown on this board).

In the history of the rasa-śāstra, there are various suggestions about bhakti, which in its broadest and original definition only means the respectfully affectionate relation of a subordinate to a superior -- God, gods, guru, parents, teachers, kings, brāhmaṇas, employers, etc. Prior to Rupa Goswami, despite such works as Muktā-phala of Vopadeva, there is little or no defense of bhakti as a separate rasa. Most authors subordinate it either to rati or śānta, calling it a bhāva, by which they mean a sañcāri bhāva, or a minor emotion that serves the purpose of the dominant sthāyi.  Different arguments are given for this, which we will deal with at a different time.

The mukhya rasas

Clearly śānta and śṛṅgāra stand at opposite poles as other-worldly and worldly concepts of rasa. Spiritual perfection, by the transcendentalists' axiomatic definition, has to be the highest peace and highest joy, ergo rasa.

But from the natural perspective of entertainment products, Eros dominates everywhere. Rupa Goswami's idea is that in bhakti-rasa, śānta and śṛṅgāra represent opposite poles of love. He includes śānta-bhakti as the bottom rung of kṛṣṇa-rati. Though the traditional concept of śānta fits more closely to the model of Advaita-vedānta, or even more closely to that of Patañjali's yoga system, the fundamental similarity of mood is similar. It is the result of the nivṛtti process of rejecting the world. Śṛṅgāra, whether taken materially or spiritually, is a confirmation of the pravṛtti mārga, the optimistic world view.

So keeping these two rasas as the poles of emotional experience, we can construct the following dualistic table:


Yin Yang

The presence of the yin yang symbol at the very center of this diagram is not an accident, since the dualisms shown above are the field of our activity here. The parallels will not necessarily be exact, as yin/yang attributes will be different, especially in the "gender assignation" part of the duality here.

For the moment, anyway, I take the nivṛtti path as being essentially masculine, intellectual, inclined to the jñāna-mārga and sāṅkhya-yoga, which negates the world; it aims at apavarga or liberation as a result of a pessimistic (nirveda) view of the world-view; it has a tendency to find solace in the other-worldly. Its perfection is to erase all distinction, abheda. To equate it with tamas and Thanatos is not, I believe, a stretch.

The pravṛtti-mārga is feminine, positive, organic. It takes the world to be real, not false. It revels in bheda, bhoga. It is optimistic, despite the ample evidence to the contrary. It can be associated with rajas, action and creativity. It is Eros.

So the bhedābheda problem is that of unifying these two opposites, as the goal being sought is the coincidentia oppositorum. The śānta-rasa, in this scenario, is considered a rati, but perceived in a negative way. One loves by universalizing love and by negating its material implications, particularly those of Eros, which is temporary and spiritually unsatisfying. We will post a separate article on śānta-rasa and compassion that will hopefully clarify what I mean here.

The rasas are paired with their opposites (across the circle). The right hand side is the path of pravṛtti, the left hand side to nivṛtti. Nivṛtti leads to śānta through the process of nirveda, pravṛtti to śṛṅgāra or madhura. More on nivṛtti and pravṛtti here.

Of course, yin-yang is an archetype also. The central line probably squiggles a lot more than that as it looks for balance between the conflicting personality traits.

The rati complex

Besides bhakti, two other candidates for rasa historically have been sneha (love between equals) and vātsalya (love of a greater for a lesser). Again, like bhakti, these have also generally been subsumed by those who accept the eight or nine rasa dogma into rati.

Taken as a trio, however, bhakti, sneha and vātsalya can be seen as equivalent to the brahma-vihāras and parikarmas of YS 1.33 and the madhyama-bhakta's attitudes of prema, maitrī, karuṇā (leaving out upekṣā as already being present in śānta).

They are also equivalent to Rupa Goswami's prīti, preyān and vātsalya.

The three modes of relating
Rasa śāstra Sthāyi/rasa (BRS) Common name Parikarmas (YS 1.33) Madhyama Bhāgavata
bhakti prīta/prīti dāsya muditā to the pious prema to God
sneha sakhya/preyān sakhya maitrī to the happy maitrī to devotees
vātsalya karuṇa/vātsalya vātsalya karuṇā to unhappy kṛpā to bāliśa

The 'prema to God' (īśvare prema) here means bhakti as defined above, not the same prema as understood in Rupa Goswami or Sri Chaitanya's teachings.

As the madhyama label indicates, however, these modes of relating serve as a medium for the sādhaka to progress from the lower to the higher level. They themselves contain an implicit hierarchy also, with bhakti at the bottom and vātsalya at the top. As the yoga and Buddhist systems indicate, these would be subordinate to their highest truths of nirvāṇa or kaivalya (which frankly seem barely distinguishable), i.e., śānta.

The gauṇa-rasas

The bottom circle shows the seven other rasas, which are universally accepted. For Rupa Goswami, these are the secondary rasas because they are not relational and so do not fit the bhakti model, which is based on a development of the concept of love, or rati, as the primary organizing principle of the psyche. So he speaks of them as being almost like sañcāri bhāvas, coming and going. This is why I have separated them also.

Rati is primarily relational (dual), i.e. Gestalt. The other rasas fall into the realm of individual psychology.

These are paired as opposites. Though Bharata and other poeticians have made some effort to pair the eight rasas into four couples, I have taken an independent approach here. On the one hand I see them as forming a linear progression which can be viewed as moving in either direction, and on the other, they are related to each other as opposites.
  • The opposite of comedy (hāsya) is anger (krodha). To understand this you only need to think of a bad joke gone wrong. The line between joke and insult is indeed thin, and often comedians project anger in order to get laughs.
  • The opposite of wonder (adbhuta) is fear (bhayānaka). 
  • The opposite of compassion or empathy (karuṇa) is disgust (bībhatsā). Bībhatsā
  • The opposite of rati is vīra (heroism)

Special significance of vīra-rasa

The bottom of the tableau shows vīra, the quintessential male rasa, and rati at the top as the quintessential female rasa. To understand the male and female rasas, one has to simple meditate on the idea of a chick flick romantic comedy and a guy's action flick and you will get the picture. The rasas on the left side of the chart are more often associated with the masculine taste, those on the right with the feminine.

The purport of having vīra at the bottom is that this rasa is associated with heroic effort, vīrya. This is made somewhat clearer by the name given to the sthāyi-bhāva of this rasa, which is utsāha or enthusiasm. The sublimation of this energy is the secret to the middle path. The nivṛtti path negates, the pravṛtti mārga affirms (materially). The central channel is the balance.

The path, as always, to auspiciousness, follows the middle. Nor is the implicit reference to the chakra system and the suṣumnā, etc.

The central channel

You have to travel in the middle to find the place where the two meet. The [generic] jnani's assumption is that everyone should finish in śānta rasa, while the goal of the pravṛtti-mārgī (karma-yoga) is kāma (in both the broadest and narrowest sense).

Where desire and desirelessness meet is the desirable goal.

But this diagram is entirely for the āśraya, because it represents sthāyi-bhāvas, not rasas. It is the subjective mind, including both conscious and unconscious.

The diagram as a whole represents the [conscious and unconscious] mind. According to Madhusudana, our psychology develops according to emotional upheavals that produce transformations in the citta. So one's mental diagram, one's personality, will be formed by the eight triggers, of which love is the most important and highly developed.


Anonymous said…
Very nice theory Jagananda Das, may one ask if you have any knowledge of this?

दूसरा शतक

(dūsarā śataka)

चुम्बन्ती यदि लम्बिकाग्रमनिशं जिह्वा रसस्यन्दिनी
सक्षारं कटुकाम्लदुग्धसदृशं मध्वाज्यतुल्यं तथा।
व्याधीनां हरणं जरान्तकरणं शास्त्राङ्गमोदगीरणं
तस्य स्यादमरत्वमष्टगुणितं सिद्धाङ्गनाकर्षणम्॥ ४८॥

cumbantī yadi lambikāgramaniśaṁ jihvā rasasyandinī
sakṣāraṁ kaṭukāmladugdhasadṛśaṁ madhvājyatulyaṁ tathā |
vyādhīnāṁ haraṇaṁ jarāntakaraṇaṁ śāstrāṅgamodagīraṇaṁ
tasya syādamaratvamaṣṭaguṇitaṁ siddhāṅganākarṣaṇam || 48 ||
Ramananda Das said…
Amazing dear Jagadanand Prabhu, have you developed this model since then?

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