Question: How should one deal with negative or uncomfortable emotions like anger or hatred? Especially when they arise because of social injustice.
Feelings of anger and hatred, while understandable reactions to social injustice, are still problematic as they make it difficult to rationally approach the situation at hand and make meditation and spiritual ideation nearly impossible. Fortunately, these emotions can be effectively transformed.
It is helpful to understand that anger is classified by the yogis as one of the six inner (inherent) enemies of the mind. These are: lust, anger, greed, worldly attachment, vanity and envy. Being innate to us, their removal is not possible and their suppression is dangerous but we can learn to control and eventually transform these feelings.
Hatred is one of the eight imposed (created by contact with the world) fetters of the mind. These eight are: hatred, doubt, fear, shyness or shame, hypocrisy, pride of lineage, pride of culture, and false sense of prestige. As these are not intrinsic to the mind, but arise from outside, they can be successfully resisted.
“Overcome censure by praise, darkness by light.”
Step 1: The first step in learning to control anger and resist hatred is to do your best to cultivate the opposite tendency; to replace a negative feeling with its opposite. This is key to dealing with any feeling or emotion we wish to control or transform. For example, overcome anger by patience; dishonesty by honesty; greed by generosity; falsehood by truth.
So when you find yourself feeling anger over social injustices and hatred toward the perpetrators, try to replace it with feelings of love and compassion for those who are oppressed and exploited. This will be much easier if you use your energy to do whatever you can to help. Service work such as feeding those without enough food or building shelters for the homeless is a wonderful way to encourage these feelings to blossom. Also, by generously giving up some of your time, energy and money you may overcome feelings of greed and attachment too.
Step 2: Step 1 is not sufficient. Replacing a negative feeling with its opposite is a vital step, but is only the first step in the transformation. The next step requires that you carefully follow a strong moral code. Yogic tradition recommends Yama and Niyama. This is explained in the article on Rajadhiraja Yoga.
Step 3: Spiritual practice is the only way to gain complete mastery over these and other emotions, as this enables you to eventually sublimate all such emotions into higher spiritual ideation. We recommend meditation and selfless service, along with associated practices (diet, yoga postures, chanting, etc.). Through meditation and these other practices the mind becomes more subtle, allowing the small “I”, or ego, to gradually identify more completely with the universal “I”, the Divine. The more complete this identification the more these emotions transform into love for all creation. You may ultimately find that you even feel compassion for those who exploit and oppress. This does not mean, of course, that one should condone social injustice, or that one should stop working for social change. But one can accomplish this work even better when guided by love and a calm, rational assessment of what is needed.
These three steps are most effective when understood as part of a single process of spiritual growth and transformation.