I started examining advanced spiritual enlightenment and the sense of disgust. It makes good evolutionary sense that human beings gone through the advanced path should have an emotion that makes them feel repulsion toward rotten food, and other physical objects that are full of dangerous bacteria and parasites. Disgust can be reactive or can me a normal response to the surrounding environment. It also makes sense that disgust should make us hypersensitive to contagion—that is, we feel disgust toward anything that touched something that we ﬁnd disgusting.
When actually asked people in several countries to list the things they thought were disgusting, the most responses mentioned social offenses, such as hypocrisy, racism, cruelty, and betrayal.
How on earth did a food-based and very corporeal emotion become a social and moral emotion? The answer is that while disgust may motivate people to distance themselves from physical threats, it is well-suited for dealing with social threats as well. When we ﬁnd social actions disgusting, they indicate to us that the person who commit¬ted them is in some way morally defective.
In this light, we can place human actions on a vertical dimension that runs from our conception about GOOD and EVIL. This vertical dimension is part of the truth that people are reincarnated at higher or lower levels depending on their moral behavior in this life.
Social disgust can then be understood as the emotional reaction people have to witnessing others moving “down,” or exhibiting their lower, baser, less God-like nature. Human beings feel revolted by moral depravity, and this revulsion is akin to the revulsion they feel toward rotten food and cockroaches. In this way, dis¬gust helps us form groups, reject deviants, and build a moral community.
Going through the path of spiritual enlightenment makes people rise on the vertical dimension toward goodness. This makes people feel higher on it themselves. If disgust is a negative emotion that strengthens ego bound-arise and defenses against a morally reprehensible other, then true spiritual enlightenment is its opposite—a desire to associate with those who are morally admirable. Love and a desire for affiliation appear to be a common human response.
It is a very beautiful fact about that each of us can be moved to tears by the sight of a stranger helping another stranger. It is an even more beautiful fact that these feelings sometimes inspire us to change our own behavior, values, and goals.
There wouldn’t be such a thing as counterfeit gold if there were no real gold somewhere. So how can we tap into those genuine, heartfelt positive emotions without grasping for the counterfeit gold?
One of the things that I think is very useful is to keep in mind that there’s reciprocal relationship between the mindset of positivity and positive emotions—a mindset of positivity begets positive emotions, and positive emotions beget positivity. So if we lightly create the mindset of positivity, from that positive emotions will follow.
How to foster that mindset? It helps to be open, be appreciative, be curious, be kind, and above all, be real and sincere. From these strategies spring positive emotions.
Now some of these are pretty self-explanatory, but I do want to explain what “be open” means as a way to increase your positive emotions. The reason that this works is that so often we can be preoccupied worrying about the future, ruminating about the past so we’re completely oblivious to the goodness that surrounds us in the present moment.
But when we’re really open to our current circumstances, those sources of goodness are so much easier to draw from, and they yield positive emotions.
As I have come to understand EVIL, I have realized that such transformations of human character are not as rare as we would like to believe. Historically “banality of evil” shows under certain conditions and social pressures, ordinary people can commit acts that would otherwise be unthinkable.
We all like to think that the line between good and evil is impermeable—that people who do terrible things, such as commit murder, treason, or kidnapping, are on the evil side of this line, and the rest of us could never cross it. But is it that some people are on the good side only because situations have never coerced or seduced them to cross over?
To gain more understanding I studied the circumstances of imprisonment—to see what happens when you put good people in a dehumanizing place. For example after a prisoner rebellion the guards start using increasingly degrading forms of punishment and the prisoners became more and more passive. People tend to accept EVIL or often DO NOTHING to stop it.
This is true not only for perpetrators of torture and other horrible acts, but for people who commit a more common kind of wrong—the wrong of taking no action when action is called for. Whether we consider Nazi Germany a prison, there were many people who observed what was happening and said nothing. Stand around watching passively and observing human abuses and don’t say, “This is wrong! Stop it!” you give tacit approval to continue. You are part of the silent majority that makes evil deeds more acceptable.
For instance, there are the “good people” who maintained “the prison”. Good people watched when the worst abuses occurred and did not confront the abusers. The situation dictated their inaction, and their inaction facilitated evil.