Cruel Thoughts and Aggressive Tendencies

Dr. B. Ramamurthy, Madras

Sometimes a person might ask, 'Should I keep quiet, or should I show my aggression to frighten another?' It is not possible to get on in this world if one is meek and quiet. A certain amount of aggressiveness is useful, because you have to frighten people occasionally. These traits are present in man and in all living things.

Nature has provided certain abilities like aggressiveness in order to help living things find food and shelter. Animals have to hunt for their food and to prevent other animals from taking it away. Every animal has some capacity in this regard. It has to search for shelter and also protect it from other animals. The same capacity is required, to search for the female partner in each species. So some amount of aggressiveness is very necessary.

Between meekness and aggression

At this time, a certain story comes to mind, Sri Ramakrishna has quoted it from the Puranas. A sadhu while walking along a river bank spied a group of boys who were running away in fear. The sadhu asked them why they were running and what had caused so much fear. The boys explained that a cobra had chased them and they were running away to save themselves from being bitten. The sadhu coming upon the cobra asked, 'Why do you make these innocent boys run in fear? Why do you threaten them? Can you not be meek, calm and peaceful?'

The cobra was impressed by the sadhu's words and promised not to be aggressive anymore and to stop attacking people. After a while, a large group of boys passed by. The cobra did not attack them. Instead he lay curled up quietly. When the boys saw this, they threw mud and stones at the cobra, but the cobra remained calm as advised by the sadhu. As a result, the cobra became weak; its whole body was full of wounds due to the stoning. In the course of time it could not even raise its hood.

The sadhu passed by another time and was shocked at the state of the cobra. He asked the cobra, 'Why have you become so very thin and weak?' The cobra answered that he had acted on the sadhu's advice and had been meek and good. This was the result. The sadhu said, 'O foolish one, did I ask you not to frighten people who come to hit you? Don't you have to catch your prey to feed on? How can you forget your own nature?'

This story illustrates that nature provides certain basic instincts and tendencies to help all living species in the struggle for survival. But when these same aggressive tendencies are misused, they cause a lot of harm to society.

Lower than the animals

Acts of cruelty are a direct result of uncontrolled aggressiveness, and often threaten to extinguish the human race. But such uncontrolled acts of cruelty and aggressiveness are evident in man alone; other animals are not wilfully cruel. A tiger would kill a goat or a deer to feed on, but once it has fed on its prey, the tiger will rest or sleep. It has not the cruel tendency of catching and killing more goats and deer, just for the pleasure of hurting and killing. Animals do not hunt for pleasure; they hunt and kill when they are hungry and need food. This kind of killing is natural.

The giraffe, elephant, hippopotamus, etc., are very large in size;. They need plenty of food too. But they are herbivorous animals. They eat green vegetables and leaves found in nature. But man kills other animals for food. He kills fellow men in order to seek revenge. He forgets himself when he is angry and kills mercilessly. For food, for the sake of owning some land, for the sake of sex, he kills fellow men, unthinkingly.

Why has this cruel streak, not present in any other living being, developed to such an extent in man alone?

Research has shown that environment plays an important role in developing these characteristics of cruelty and aggressiveness in man, even before it has revealed which parts of the brain are associated with these feelings. If there are four or five rats in a small room, they chase one another and play to pass the time. But if in the same room a great number of rats are caged, they will gradually chase one another and try to bite and kill one another. The reason for this is obvious. There is not enough living space for so many rats. When too many rats are caged in a small space, they begin to fight.

This is why you find more murders, robberies and sexual crimes in cities than in the countryside. People crowd into cities and there is lack of space. Living things instinctively fight for space in which to shelter themselves. This same natural instinct turns into cruelty in crowded cities, and is the reason our great mahatmas and saints lived on river banks and built huts in distant places for themselves. Man's mind becomes calm and peaceful in calm and peaceful surroundings.

The aggressive and compassionate brain

In the cities, where cinemas depict murder, robbery, fighting and sex crimes, how can man's mind find peace? Present day cinema is one reason for the deterioration in the minds of young men. It is also responsible for drug addicts and their lazy ways. Besides, drink and drugs like LSD have another effect. When taken in excess, man lies senseless. If he takes a little less, he creates scenes in the street. These drugs destroy the capacity of the limbic system to exercise control.

The hypothalamus is the part of the brain concerned with aggressiveness and other fear tendencies. This part of the brain which is the size of a man's thumbnail, controls seven types of sensations. One of these is aggressiveness and exhibition of anger. Since all living things need this characteristic in order to survive, nature has provided it at the base of the brain for safety. As I mentioned earlier, aggressiveness and anger are exhibited by the hypothalamus only in order to help the animal hunt for food, find a place of shelter and find a mate to aid in reproduction.

Above the hypothalamus on either side, there are organs shaped like half moons. This is known as the limbic system. This part of the brain exercises control over the aggressiveness and sensations of anger, etc., excited by the part of the hypothalamus concerned with these feelings. These organs are present in the brain of all animals. That is why animals continue to exist in this world. But the temporal lobes of the brain, concerned with memory and the frontal lobe concerned with discrimination, justice and honesty, etc., grow only in the brains of men and not in other animals.

At a higher level, the frontal lobe of the brain exercises control over the aggressive and similar tendencies of the hypothalamus and the limbic system that controls it. Discrimination, fair play and straightforwardness in all dealings are developed in a man who learns to use the frontal lobes increasingly. If discrimination is developed, anger, cruelty and similar characteristics will not hold sway in the mind of man. Research is being done to find out how and why these asuric tendencies have developed in man. It is not yet clear to researchers under what circumstances and at what stage in the evolution of man these sensations could have developed.

The evolution theory tells us that man has evolved from monkeys. But how has this cruel tendency, non-existent in a monkey, grown to such serious proportions in man alone? From a certain viewpoint it would appear that man's hand is an organ useful for him to catch something, to hit and hurt and scratch. At first, man held a stone, then a stick and later iron, a knife and a gun. Finally he has used atom bombs and hydrogen bombs to destroy.

Man has neglected to use the frontal lobe of the brain which regulates and controls the working of the half moon-shaped limbic system. Only one person in a million uses the frontal lobe of the brain, developing discrimination, and exercising control over the asuric tendencies. Such persons are mahatmas and saints. Our sastras say that asuric characteristics should reduce with advancing age and one should learn to discriminate more and more.

The frontal lobe of discrimination

When a circus tent catches fire, most people run to save themselves, stamping even children underfoot. How many people think of saving the children first? Maybe one percent. In order to develop a capacity for love, sacrifice, social justice, etc., we should use the frontal lobe of the brain more. Before indulging in any action, one should pause to consider whether the action is the right one to be taken. Discrimination grows with increased thinking and reasoning. Just as iron rusts from disuse, the frontal lobe of the brain becomes incapacitated from disuse. Evil forces come to the fore and have a field day. As age advances selfishness seems to increase too.

Imagine that a man tortures another and cuts him to pieces in order to seek revenge and satisfy himself. When this sensation is sparked off, the limbic system at the base of the brain, the part of the hypothalamus concerned with the sensation of anger, etc., is overworked and therefore other organs of the body too lose control over themselves. You would be shocked if you realised what actually happens at such a time. Sensations and blood circulation rush at supersonic speed. Certain chemical changes take place in the hypothalamus, in the part concerned with anger and its concomitants. These chemical changes mix in the blood stream and affect the heart, adrenal glands, lungs, larynx, gall bladder, etc. You hear a sound like a barking wolf from the larynx, tongue and lips dry up, nerves stand out, and there is great palpitation. Nervous weakness and mental turmoil will be the result, affecting man far more than other excesses.

If a person excels in some particular field, it does not mean that he uses the frontal lobe of the brain constantly. To excel, he would at first have thought and reasoned. Later on, the same method of reasoning would have become a habit and his thinking would run along the same old grooves. As you think more and more, neurones in the brain are increased. As the neurones increase in number, brain capacity is increased. As your discrimination develops, it is necessary to be aware of what is good and what is bad before indulging in action. You must use the frontal lobe of the brain more and more.