Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Causes of Passions

The problem with passions began with our expulsion from Paradise. When Adam and Eve chose to follow their own will instead of God's, it was their senses that overtook them, their desire for pleasure, the fruit of the forbidden tree. They disobeyed God's direction and partook of this forbidden fruit. They were banished from Paradise and required to lead an earthly life. In this worldly life the senses became intensified and the mind was put in the service of the senses. The mind forgot its original purpose, which was for the contemplation of God. In the earthly life it became focused on worldly things and sought the infinite in them instead of God. Fr. Staniloae says, "It entered a service foreign and inferior to is which couldn't satisfy its thirst for the infinite."

Fr. Dimitru Staniloae identifies three causes of the unnatural passions in man.
1. The mind is weakened in its autonomous and proper work.
2. The work of sense perception, has become predominant and no longer in subordination to the mind.
3. An exclusive and irrational running after pleasure, even obtained by the praises of his neighbors, and at the same time, a frightened flight from pain.  
Our condition is one where our body and its demands have taken control over the mind. The soul has been subordinated to the body. As soon as we let the mind's attention focus exclusively on our body's needs we find we are separated from God.  We act in ways counter to His desire for us.  When we shift the focus towards God, we regain our connection to Him.  It is this fallen condition of the mind that asceticism attacks and works to correct.

In my own case, one of my weaknesses is a fear of being ridiculed or judged by others. When this fear arises, I am no longer able to think about the needs of others and my attention shifts to an exclusive focus on my own needs.  If I am able to attack this fear by remembering God, it immediately disappears and I am then able to focus on the needs of others and potentially help them. Otherwise, I remain self-centered, unable to be of much help, isolated in my own stuff.

Fr. Dimitru writes,
But this exclusive and passionate focus at a given moment on an isolated aspect of the world, makes the whole of man's nature concentrate on it in the greed to taste it; then too man's whole nature goes from moment to moment through alternative passions: from anger to dejection; from disgust of people to an avid seeking of their company, unable to keep its various impulses in equilibrium and moderation. But this tears his nature to pieces; because instead of being kept continually in the equilibrium of its functions, it is abandoned successively, a prey to the extremes which are self-contradictory by their exaggerated exclusivity. Man is no longer a unitary being, the same at every moment of his life. The forgetting of God also has s a result the forgetting of self, as a permanent unity  of his own person. But this breakdown also extends to the level of inter-human relations. We want pleasure and we want innumerable objects which are going to get it for us, or we want to raise our ego to the highest level, by the passion of pride; so we get into trouble with those around us, or we awaken their envy.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 90 - 95 

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