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Buddhadharma : Summer 2008
49 summEr 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Buddhists. Yet until recently, there’s been very little work done in Western psychology on what emotions actually are. From a Buddhist perspective, emotions are experiences that are not just thoughts; they have some kind of color and texture, which we try to work with directly when they’re painful. There’s an enormous science in Buddhism devoted to recognizing the experience of emotion. This is quite dif- ferent from Western psychology, which has tended to be heavily interpersonal and management-oriented. However, some psychologists are beginning to appreciate that we can work with the direct experience of our state of mind. That’s a very fruitful way to appreciate that what we call emotion is, at its heart, an energetic experience that doesn’t have to be painful. ShaRon SalzbeRg: Emotion is an element of relationship. It is how our awareness relates to an object—to a circumstance, a person, mortality, anything that presents itself internally or externally. As a manifestation of relationship, emotion can be quite distorted, based in ignorance, so we miscon- strue what we’re actually encountering. On the other hand, it can be based in something more truthful and wise and clear, and therein lies the tremendous variety of emotions we experience. PonloP RinPoche: When we look at the term “emotion” as it’s used in the West, it is problematic. I’ve talked with psy- chologists and psychotherapists about it, but I can’t find one definition of emotion in the Western context. For that matter, from a classical Buddhist point of view, there’s not really a separate topic we would call emotions. Emotions would appear to be part of the wider topic of kleshas, the mental states or experiences that cause torment or discom- fort for body and mind and that make the mind unsettled. Kleshas are also said to be subtle and proliferating, a latent tendency, an affliction of the mind. Emotions can be disturbing and destructive when not experienced with mindfulness and compassion. But if we are able to see clearly what the true nature of the experience is, emotions can have tremendously powerful wisdom and compassion. buDDhaDhaRma: According to many religions, and in the popular mind as well, there are good emotions and bad emotions. Does Buddhism make this distinction? JuDiTh SimmeR-bRown: A lot of moral judgments are made about emotions. From my own study of abhidharma and from relating to my teachers, I find that there is a much more pragmatic approach toward emotions in the buddhad- harma. Emotions have qualities that can lead us to create pain for ourselves and others. What we might label in the language of morality as “good” or “bad,” we would con- sider instead as more or less conducive to awakening or to compassionate relationship with the world. It is not so much about an external moral judgment of the kind we encounter so much in the West. Emotions themselves become problematic for us because of what we do with them. They can develop into karmic thought patterns that cause greater pain for us or lead us into negative speech or harmful bodily actions. The activity of the emotions has the potential to cause greater confusion, turbulence, lack of clarity, and suffering—or not. Good and bad are clunky words to describe what the traditional Having an emotion is different from having an emotional problem, which is usually caused by fighting with the emotion, not exploring or having curiosity about it. —John Tarrant Photos(L-R):RyszaRdFRackiewicz;LizaMatthews;MichaeLsieRchio;aLiciaBRown