Sample from the Winter 2008 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine
An Interview with Peter Marchand
Author and teacher Peter Marchand gives us an overview of Rasa Sadhana, an ancient practice of gaining mastery over the emotions that originated in India and that he learned from his teacher Harish Johari, a great Tantra Yoga master.
Integral Yoga Magazine: What are these nine rasas?
Peter Marchand: Rasa has different meanings in Sanskrit. The original usage in the Rig Veda is translated as, “essence, extract or juice.” We can refer to the rasas as emotional essences, or essential emotions—it translates the same way. When we say essence we refer to the energetic level, which is where the rasas exist. Another important translation of rasa is the blood plasma, the watery liquid of the blood. The plasma contains many nutrients as well as neurotransmitters and other chemicals affecting emotions. This juice reflects the essential energy called rasa on the physical level.
The nine rasas are: shringara (love), hasya (joy), adbhuta (wonder), shanta (calmness), raudra (anger), veerya (courage), karuna (sadness), bhayanaka (fear) and vibhatsa (disgust). From each rasa various emotions may emerge, but the rasa is the same basic energy even though there may be a different chemical makeup and mental aspect to the specific emotion. A good example is shringara rasa, in which you may have love for your partner or love of a friend or love of art. These are all different kinds of love, with different chemicals and neural patterns involved, but still the same essential emotion and supported by the same underlying energy, or rasa of love.
IYM: Is Rasa Sadhana something new or where does it come from?
PM: My teacher said that Rasa Sadhana originated thousands of years ago in the ancient gurukula (school system) system in India, where children of ages six or seven were sent to live with the gurus, or teachers. There, the normal household life was going on, and the children learned by helping in the household and getting some instruction here and there. It was like what we know as an apprenticeship type of system. When the students reached the age of adolescence, the guru would give them these kinds of emotional exercises. They would say, “Today no one will be angry.” It’s a simple practice. It’s a rasa fast; you are abstaining, or fasting, from a particular emotion for a particular amount of time. There’s not a lot of preparation needed but it’s very powerful. Later stages involve purifying and refining the agreeable rasas. For example, we can practice by loving everyone for a day or so. The next day, we are free again to discriminate, as people usually do. In this way, we can work with each of the rasas.
IYM: In your book you talk about the link between the body, koshas and emotions.
PM: There are five koshas or sheaths of consciousness. Pranamaya kosha—the second kosha after the annamaya or physical sheath—is the vital, or pranic, energy body. (The other three sheaths are mental, wisdom and bliss). The rasas exist on the pranic level and affect all koshas. The rasas enable communication between the physical body and the mind (manomaya kosha). When the body is in an angry state, we think angry thoughts because our energy body has become enflamed by the rasa of anger. Imagine that someone does something that makes us angry: The rasa of anger is generated in the mind, and this translates the emotion to the body. The body becomes rigid, we feel tense, the fire element starts dominating and we become red. This may cause us to even identify more with the anger, because we feel it in the body. Likewise, if someone is feeling hot because the weather is hot, it’s much easier for that person to get angry.
So, it’s a feedback loop. The mind and body are able to strengthen each other through the intermediary of the rasa. According to Ayurveda, the rasas affect the three humors or doshas in the body: kapha (mucus), pitta (bile) and vata (wind). For example, you can feel fine one moment and then you eat some garlic, and this may cause a disturbance of the vata dosha, making your mind a little more agitated. This may lead you to realize that it’s almost the beginning of the month and you’re not sure how you will pay your rent. You begin to worry and the mind gets deeper into it, the vata dosha becomes more and more disturbed, and then it becomes really difficult to stop thinking about your financial situation. That is an example of a negative feedback loop between body and mind.
IYM: Why is it so hard to get out of these feedback loops, and what can we do?
PM: The rasas create emotional residues in body chemistry and in the neural patterns of the brain. Imagine that someone has a fight with his wife in the morning and then he is driving to work. The car in front of him is slow to move after the light turns green, and he suddenly reacts in a very angry way. Why? The energy is still in his body from the fight with his wife. If our brain patterns and blood chemistries are already agitated, then it is very easy to become angry. That is why, when we do rasa sadhana, it helps to pay attention to our diet and to purifying the body. Ayurveda is very helpful for purifying the body, and it’s quite easy to work on the doshas in this way.
IYM: What is the relationship between the doshas, rasas and gunas?…
Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2008 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.