Rasa: The Primary and Secondary Modes of Aesthetic Consciousness

Part 1 – Analysis of the Aesthetic Experience

Continued from January 2020 Issue

Given the seership of the artist, what happens when it projects itself on the outer world? It splits itself into rainbow colours like a gleam of sunlight passing through a prism or sea-spray. Its white radiance (which is already less white than the whitest or purest) is stained for the time being by the dome of the many-coloured glass through which it passes.

It is said that the knowledge of an object presented to the senses consists in a co-ordination between the form assumed by the perceiving consciousness and the aspect presented by the object.* This correspon­dence between ideas and things tends towards identity at higher levels of reference but attains this identity only in the Absolute, experienced “like a flash of lightning”, as साधारण्य-sādhāraṇya and सायुज्य-sāyujya in the consummation (समाधि-samādhi) of contemplation (ध्यान-dhyāna).

When the consciousness of an individual projects itself on the external world it is confronted with a number of objects attracting it and seeking to be animated by it.

The human consciousness operates in the world on the planes of cognition, affectivity and the executive force of the will. Human activity is a purposive activity. The Hindu seers saw it directed inva­riably towards one or more of the four goals or पुरुषार्थ-puruṣārtha-s, – pleasure (काम-kāma), wealth (अर्थ-artha), right action (धर्म-dharma) and spiritual liberation (मोक्ष-mokṣa). They did not subscribe either to the ascetic denial of matter or the materialist denial of the spirit. They sought to integrate all human activity into a well-ordered scale of values, with स्वराज्य-svarājya and साम्राज्य-sāmrājya – the empire of man over self and his empire over his cosmic environment, always in view.

In the presence of objects producing attraction or repulsion, amazement or anger, human consciousness takes the form given to it by the potentiality in the object, – the वस्तु-आकारता vastu-ākāratā. The moon­stone melts in the presence of the moon, while the sun-stone blazes forth fiercely when the sun’s rays fall on it. The वस्तु-आकारता vastu-ākāratā is said to be called भाव-bhāva or वासना-vāsanā, propensity or instinct.

But we cannot say that the awareness of man always shapes itself according to the objects or situations that confront it. If it were so, the responses of several human beings to a particular object would have to be one and the same. But, as Blake [William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker] remarks, a fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees. There must then be varying levels of awareness depending on the inherent and acquired sensibi­lity of each individual. The अहङ्कार-ahaṅkāra or surface consciousness depends for its functioning on the system of sentiments that each individual evolves for himself. Greater the permeation and dominance of the psyche, purer are the sentiments by which he lives. Abhinavagupta remarks that certain वासना-vāsanā-s or instincts and संस्कार-saṁskāra-s or sentiments are implanted in the consciousness of every human being. Stimulants or objects conditioned in particular ways call forth the corresponding sentiments or what Kalidasa calls the भावस्थिराणि-bhāvasthirāṇi (Śākuntalam.5.2. 5) in the individual. This evocation is in the nature of an instinctive remembrance or an immediate intuitive perception.

In this connection, it would be useful to examine any system expounded by Western psychologists and see how far it helps us in our analysis of aesthetic experience. Western psychology is thorough in its own domain. But it starts with partial premises and leaves out elements that are vital to the composition of the whole. Behaviourist psychology believes in the primacy and even the monism of matter. Hormic psychology posits a psycho-physical energy. But it is concerned only with the empirical self and leaves the psychic entity (“psychic” in the sense that Sri Aurobindo has used) out of account. Here follows an account of human affectivity and personality from the point of view of McDougall’s [William McDougall (22 June 1871 – 28 November 1938) was an early 20th century psychologist] version of hormic psychology, frequently in his own words. What we believe are elements vital to the picture are set forth in their proper context.

McDougall postulates a mental energy which is purposive or psycho-physical energy. This energy strives for certain natural goals such as food, shelter, etc. These needs and the tendencies to satisfy them are inborn in all human beings and are called propensities. When a propensity becomes active, it generates the specific tendency or energy directed to a special goal. Impulses or desires are active tendencies. Every propensity is geared to an innate ability which is both cognitive and executive. Knowing, striving and feeling are the three aspects of all mental activity. McDougall posits the following innate propensities: (1) the food propensity, (2) the gregarious pro­pensity, 3) the collecting and hoarding propensity, (4) the construc­tion propensity, (5) the rest or sleep propensity, (6) the propensity subserving bodily needs such as coughing, sneezing, etc. (7) the migratorv propensity, (8) the comfort propensity consisting in removing oneself from whatever produces discomfort, (9) the laughter propen­sity, (10) the appeal or crying for assistance propensity, (11) the fear instinct, (12) repulsion, (13) curiosity, (14) pugnacity, (15) self-abase­ment and self-assertion, (16) tender emotion or the parental propensity, (17) the attraction or sex propensity.

McDougall does not mention the religious propensity which is posited by some psychologists. But the persistent experience of mystics all over the world demands the recognition of two propensities: (i) the urge for ineffable peace, (ii) the urge for pure Ananda or the bliss that transcends both pleasure and pain. These propensities function obs­curely in all human beings. They are responsible for the eventual sublimation of all the other propensities and are seen at their clearest in highly cultured individuals or mystics. Humanity itself is in a state of evolution towards an ultimate divinisation and such individuals are in the van of civilization. Just as the propensities of human beings are more numerous than those of other animals, humanity in a certain stage of evolution reveals other and higher propensities which have to be recognised.

McDougall admits another general innate tendency which works in three directions. He calls it “sympathy”. It exhibits itself in imita­tion of bodily movements, in suggestibility or the inducement of ideas of one individual in another and in affective sympathy which is the induction of the emotion of one individual in another. He also recognises the tendencies called playfulness and habit, the latter of which is a tendency to repeat whatever succeeds or is liked,

In human beings each propensity is geared to various abilities. Propensities can be sublimated. In other words, the three quali­ties or principles which condition all human activity, –  those of inertia (tamas), movement (rajas), and harmony (sattwa) can be so viewed that the inert (Tamasic) or kinetic (Rajasic) nature gets elevated to the harmonious or the sattwic state. The parental pro­pensity impels an individual to great self-sacrifice and achievements like the abolition of slavery. Pugnacity can be transformed into righteous indignation. Curiosity can develop into the urge to solve the great mystery. The attraction or sex propensity can be sublimated into Platonic love. In fact, Bhoja refuses to recognise rati or sex attrac­tion as the only basis of love. He posits स्नेह-sneha or spiritual attrac­tion as the basis of a sentiment called प्रेयस्-preyas or spiritual love, as distinguished from rati which is the basis of शृङ्गार-śṛṅgāra or eroticism. It is best to interpret रति-rati as pure attraction between subject and object, ranging from the material to the spiritual plane. It would then include such types of experience as love of nature, which can now be accounted for neither under रति-rati nor स्नेह-sneha. Laughter can be sublimated into humour.

Since every propensity has a triune aspect, it is clear that every action or thought is accompanied by a feeling, however faint, pleasant or unpleasant. One aspect of a propensity or the other may be pro­minent at a particular time. The affective aspect is not very promi­nent in the case of simpler propensities like the food propensity, the gregarious propensity, and the acquisitive propensity, and those of constructive and miscellaneous bodily movements. Other propen­sities like pugnacity, attraction, repulsion, fear, the tender emotion, etc. generate primary emotions like anger, love, disgust, fear, pity, etc. An emotion is therefore the affective aspect of a propensity. When the striving or the checking of a propensity is intense, the feeling is also intense. Passive experience is anoetic sentience or उदासीनता-udāsīnatā. When the impulse to action is baffled, the feeling is un­pleasant and pleasant if it is successful. A feeling becomes an emotion when there is a rising intensity of general excitement. The evoca­tion of each propensity liberates energy which flows into some system of action peculiar to its tendency. If this liberation of energy is co­pious, the mental state is one of excitement. This excitement may result in fear, anger, lust, etc. according to the propensity involved. It should be remembered that man does not depend on purely sen­sational experience and that there is a conceptual side to his mental activity.

But the emotional state of man is not so simple as all this. An emotional state is usually constituted by the blending of two or three emotions. Jealousy is thus a complex emotional condition constituted by the joint operation of the feelings of self-assertion, anger and love. Reproach is the result of the conflict between the tender emotion and anger. Sympathy and the tender emotion are blended together in the emotion of pity. Fear, wonder and self-abasement together cons­titute awe. Reverence results when awe blends with the tender emotion. Sweet sorrow, cruel kindness, – all these are terms which denote highly complex states that can have no simple name. Hate is born of the blending of anger, fear and disgust. Wonder and self-abasement result in admiration. Scorn is the product of the blended emotions of anger and fear. Anger, fear and self-assertion are combined in con­tempt; self-abasement and anger in envy; fear and disgust in loathing; and fear, disgust and wonder in fascination. Anger and wounded self-assertion result in resentment. Bashfulness is the product of the struggle between self-assertion and self-abasement.

These are only a few illustrations. The emotional state of man is too complex and vast to be adequately analysed. But there is a higher step in the evolution of man’s emotional life. Propensities get centred upon some object exclusively and are extended to objects resembling the native objects of those pro­pensities. They thus develop into acquired dispositions, i.e. dispo­sitions built up through many emotional experiences and activities. These sentiments or भावस्थिराणि-bhāvasthirāṇi may and do endure throughout life. The centre of any sentiment is the cognitive ability which, through experience, gets functionally linked with one or more native propen­sities. Whenever the object is perceived or thought of, the propensity or propensities are also brought into action. This cognitive ability may also develop into a system of cognitive abilities. Use generally strengthens a sentiment. The more complex the sentiment, the wider is the range of the emotions and complex feelings that it engenders and the greater the complexity of the configuration of conscious activity. A sentiment may thus be defined as an organized system of emotional tendencies centred about some object.

The blending or complexity of feelings analysed in a preceding paragraph is really due to the sentiments. Our judgements of value and of merit are also rooted in our sentiments. Thus the sentiment of love means tender emotion for the beloved, fear when she is in danger, sorrow when she is lost, joy at her success, etc. Again, there is the distinction between the love of a Romeo and an Antony, of an Othello and Hamlet.

Emotion is but a fleeting experience. Apart from fleeting emo­tions sporadically evoked by the events of the passing hour, sentiments once acquired also rouse those profounder affective stirrings which hold us steadily set towards remote goals. This is especially true of master sentiments. Sentiments are born partly of the experience of the individual, while propensities are wholly innate.

Again, the depth or shallowness of the emotional state of an indi­vidual varies according as it is related or unrelated to the sentiments. The savage mainly experiences primary emotions like the animal. It is the advanced individual who has complex emotions. The intensity and sublimity of emotions is increased, when they proceed from the sentiments. Christ’s confession of universal sympathy when he said “forgive them, my Father, for they know not what they do”, Valmiki’s righteous indignation (at the huntsman who killed the mating bird) which culminated in the composition of one of the greatest epics of the world, Othello’s jealousy, Hamlet’s melancholy,  – all these are examples of the intensity of emotions engendered by master sentiments.

The sentiments or स्थायिभाव-sthāyibhāvas can be classified into five groups: (a) those seeking a union with the object: love, friendship; (b) look­ing up to the object: respect, awe, reverence, admiration; (c) look­ing down on the object: scorn, contempt; (d) turning away from the object: repulsion, hate; (e) the preoccupation of the subject with itself: pride, self-love, ambition, vanity.

These are more or less sentiments or स्थायिभाव-sthāyibhāva-s, recognised by Sanskrit aestheticians. But sentiments can be developed for collec­tive objects like the family, the nation and the working class. Domes­ticity, nationalism, socialism, – these and their like are sentiments which were not specially noted in Sanskrit. Again, after frequent association with objects manifesting a particular quality we develop a sentiment for the quality itself, as in the love of justice, of beauty or of truth.

Bharata’s distinction between स्थायिभाव-sthāyibhāva-s and rasas has to be interpreted in an inclusive way. रति-rati we have interpreted as “attrac­tion” and Shringara is the sentiment of love based upon only one type of attraction, – the sex propensity. But there can be other sentiments like भक्ति-bhakti, प्रेयस्-preyas and वात्सल्य-vātsalya based on other kinds of attraction. उत्साह-utsāha (enthusiasm) is said to be the स्थायी-sthāyī of वीररस-vīrarasa. उत्साह-utsāha can also enter as an element into other sentiments than heroism, as in love or sublimity. The रौद्र-raudra or “the terrible” is an experience including anger and also other feelings like fear or fascination. In the pairs, हास-hāsa (laughter) and हास्य-hāsya (the comic), भय-bhaya (fear) and भयानक-bhayānaka (the fearful), विस्मय-vismaya (wonder) and अद्भुत-adbhuta (the marvel­lous), जुगुप्सा-jugupsā (repulsion) and बीभत्स-bībhatsa (the repellent) and शम-śama (detachment) and शान्ति-śānti (peace), there is seen a full equivalence between the sentiments as present in the poet’s consciousness and रस-rasa-s as their embodiment in a work of art.

Sentiments are the mainsprings of all human activity. Character is nothing but an organisation of sentiments. Sentiments are a part of mental structure, emotions only of mental process. However large the cognitive dispositions, it is the emotional dispositions that are the root of the whole system. A character is formed by organising a system of sentiments under the dominance of a master sentiment, by the inhibition of impulses, and the sublimation of tendencies that are inconsistent with the dominant impulses and tendencies of the master sentiment itself.

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