Overcoming bitterness

By Kanaka Ramakrishna

No one gets bitter out of choice. Yet many of us cannot prevent ourselves from getting scorched in the fire of bitterness sometime or other. Bitterness is a frozen form of latent anger and resentment. When one is offended or disappointed with others and allows the hurt to germinate in one’s heart, bitterness finds its roots and its festering places deep within one’s heart. It is an emotion that sours, pollutes, blinds and destroys a person from inside out. It is characterised by an unforgiving spirit and generally of negative and critical attitudes. In its extreme form, bitterness can become chronic and can produce the kind of attitudes and complexes that characterise mentally unstable people. Troublemakers, criminals, neurotics and cynics are all the unfortunate children of bitterness.


Bitterness is an oppressive and destructive emotion that is the root of resentment, anger, hate, jealousy, dissatisfaction and other negative emotions and it causes a negative out look on life. It spreads easily like cancer to those around, but unfortunately it hurts the bitter person more than it hurts others. Prolonged bitterness also causes many physical and mental ailments like headaches, ulcers, sleeplessness, anxiety, heart-attacks, fear, tension, etc.


In its less severe form, bitterness can still burn and produce pain, but it is less difficult

to put out its fire. Sensitive persons especially are prone to bitterness. A thoughtless, careless remark, or a breach of confidence or a shock of what is perceived as unjust   or unfair treatment,   is enough to produce bitterness in sensitive minds. The pain and the suffering that follow are intense. If the cause happens to be a person one loves and respects, then the situation becomes more painful.


Any effort of retaliation usually makes the situation worse. It may not be difficult to forgive the offending person. But the real problem is the wall that bitterness creates, separating people from one another, creating animosities. As our attitude towards people and the circumstances involved makes us bitter, we choose to respond to the situations in a bitter way. But, it is not the people or the circumstances, it is we, who make it worse. We are responsible for what we say, or what we think or what we do and feel. No body can make us bitter. It is we who build the wall of bitterness. If we mind, it is possible to break the wall and get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, slander malice and other negative qualities. Instead, we impulsively blame external factors for our woes.


When we leave the sensory energies by themselves without any control or discipline and without training them, they become our enemy. In the development of personality and character this discipline of senses and mind control is very important. Always complaining against others is a very poor attitude and it leads to further   resentment. These resentments accumulate one after the other, strengthen the building of bitterness in our minds. Collecting resentment one by one and growing with that, the whole personality becomes totally negative and we become our own enemy. If somebody abuses us and if we take it seriously into our hearts, we culture it in our system and it makes us weak and depressed. Because we don’t have any control over our minds, it plays havoc in us.


In every human being all the possibilities are hidden within one’s own self. It is certainly possible, if one can rise above the negative emotions and tensions and become perfectly calm and steady and find fulfilment, which is the goal of every human being. We may not achieve it fully in one life, but it is good to go towards the goal even a little for getting at least a little joy out of this life and some real peace in this life of tension and struggle.


In the Bhagavad Gita Sri Krishna gives a message for all of us, which is of great strength and practical value. The sentiments expressed by Him are the sentiments for all, young and old.



Uddharet   atmanatmanam   na   atmanam   avasadayet

Atma eva hi atmano   bandhuh   atma   eva   ripuh   atmanah

Bandhuh   atmatmanaha   tasya   yena   atma   eva   atmana   jitah

Anatmanah   tu satrutve   varteta   atma   eva satruvat

(Gita ch 6 ”“ 5,6).

“Raise yourself by yourself; don’t let yourself down,  for you alone are your own friend, and you alone are your own enemy.”

“One becomes one’s own friend when one has conquered oneself; but to the unconquered self, he or she is inimical, (and becomes) like (an external) enemy.”

Usually we have the tendency to put our troubles as coming from somebody else. Especially in the modern society, this is a constant attitude of mind. We put every blame on others and assert ourselves inwardly that we are right and they are wrong and we are not responsible for anything. Even youngsters say to day that if anything goes wrong with them, they claim that it is their parents’ fault, not theirs and they evade responsibility and put the blame on their parents. The same attitude is seen in students, blaming the teachers for their poor performances, not for their lack of effort in their studies.


Sometimes the bad treatment we receive by some people especially when we were young, always lingers in our minds and causes bitterness towards such people. Though it may be difficult to forget, they may be forgiven by having positive attitude, not jostled by others all the time. With a strong belief and telling oneself, ”˜I had this misfortune. I have experienced it. Now I have to overcome it. Only I should do it. The strength is in me,” with that kind of strong faith in oneself, the bad experiences and unhealthy ideas disappear from our minds, by being non-judgemental and by not blaming others for the situation we are in. With this positive attitude, we can take the responsibility on ourselves to improve the situation and overcome the longstanding bitterness. This gives us inner strength, which gives a sense of personal gain.


Instead of throwing the blame on everybody else, it is good to have a self correctional attitude. Even if somebody troubles us or treats us unjustly or unfairly, if we do not lodge in our minds by non-accepting it, it will not trouble us anymore. Our acceptance is responsible for all our troubles. We can develop that inner strength by which we can fight our enemies, which come in numerous forms of trouble-mongers. It is like having a number of microbes around us, which can cause diseases. But if we are strong in physique, no disease will affect us. The important thing is we have to strengthen ourselves. In this way, we can be our own friends by controlling our minds and our senses. Otherwise they become our own enemies.



It helps to build up a strong personality if we discipline our own psyche and sensory energies within us. If we have done something wrong, we should pay for it gladly and get it over. If we have not done anything wrong, we just ignore the matter, as it does not touch us. That is how we draw our inner strength by disciplining the mind and   it also helps to build up a strong character. The more we build up the inner strength, the less we complain against others. The more we put blame on others, we become weaker and weaker. This brings strength of attitude and faith in oneself. By handling our mental energy, refining, purifying and disciplining it, our whole personality becomes strong and we become our own friend. Especially in the modern life where there are so many troubles, problems and pressures coming from external world, which can shake the mind of even the strongest persons, this inner strength, the spiritual strength alone can face all kinds of pressures.


In every one of us, the source of strength is inbuilt in our personalities. There are three sources of strength. The first is muscular strength, which is the most ordinary and the most palpable form of strength. The second source is the intellectual strength. It is subtler and stronger and better than the first one. But in today’s life, even this is not of much use. The third source of strength, which is called the spiritual strength that comes from our own self within, is the supreme strength. This strength we get from our own spiritual development from within us by practicing physical and mental disciplines. This spiritual strength is the only strength that helps us to withstand and overcome the turbulence of physical and mental pressures. It is this strength alone that helps us to maintain the sanity and equanimity within us.


Unfortunately we forget our spirit-nature. We are so much entangled with our body and mind complex, that we don’t think “I” am residing in this body and “I” am different from my body and mind. Instead of thinking this body is my body, we think the body is ”˜me’. Similarly we forget it is my mind, the mind becomes ”˜me’. Its bitterness becomes my bitterness, its pain becomes my pain. The truth is, the body and mind are ever changing but “I” is never changing, therefore they are not me or mine. We are the eternal spirit residing in this body. But we forget our spirit-nature, wrongly identifying our body and mind as our own real self and consequently face unpleasant situations that produce bitterness, disillusionment, hurt, hatred, pain, jealousy and so on. We do things which, instead of freeing us, would bind us still more and they push us into miserable situations.


Understanding this human problem and to help us out, the great realized souls, our teachers, sages and Acharyas   have shown us several practical ways and means to deal with our own mind and draw our own spiritual strength, to overcome such problems. One of the important ways they recommend is, the practice of forbearance.


Sri Sankaracharya in his book Vivekachudamani, has very well explained the meaning of forbearance   as follows:


“ Sahanam   sarva   dukkanam   apratikara   purvakam

Chinta vilaparahitam   sa titiksha   nigachhyate.”


“The bearing of all afflictions without caring to redress them, being free (at the same time) from anxiety or lament on their score, is called ”˜Titiksha’ or forbearance.


Here, there are three important factors for us to take note of the meaning of forbearance: (1) without revenge or avenge, (2) without anxiety, (3) without lament for our fate.


In this mortal life afflictions come to all of us, because of unavoidable circumstances or because of our past karmas. We are not able to change them, but we can choose to bear them bravely without blaming others, without tit for tat attitude, accepting life’s ups and downs indifferently without grumbling. Practicing this sort of attitude gives us inner strength to live with dignity.


Anxiety can produce a debilitating effect. It takes away our zest for life and clouds our judgement. “To bear without anxiety” means, having the fullest faith in God and facing life with full confidence. Fear, anxiety and worries dwell where there is hypocrisy, evil motives and selfishness. Instead of consumed by anxiety, we can direct our minds towards God with supreme faith and confidence and surrender to His without any anxiety and worry.


When afflictions overwhelm us, the natural response is to lament over our fate. Usually we run to a close friend or a relative to pour our hearts and at least for a while we feel better and lighter, but it is not a permanent solution. However our power to endure suffering is tested only when we face life alone. Our grit, and our courage and our inner strength will show up only when we face life alone. Ultimately, in the life-journey, it is a journey of the alone to Alone.


Practicing forbearance is a very important discipline for us in every day life, focussing on our spirit-nature. This prevents the needless loss of energy and increases our inner strength to withstand the challenges of life. The shadow of bitterness may fall occasionally on our minds. If we are not careful and if we forget our spirit-nature, the shadow will suddenly become alive, enters the corridors of our minds and creates a havoc. This can be avoided by being tolerant, calm, patient and facing all the ups and downs in life, without accusing others, without tension and anxiety and without blaming the situation we are in, and   recognising the shadow as shadow, not infusing life into it.

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