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Buddhadharma : Summer 2008
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summEr 20 0 8 50 teaching and our meditation experience tell us about emo- tion. The moral judgment doesn’t fit. ShaRon SalzbeRg: I agree. In Buddhism, we tend to think more in terms of what is skillful and unskillful. Skillful refers to those states that, when cultivated, lead to the end of suf- fering. Unskillful refers to those states that, when enhanced and nurtured, lead to more suffering. That’s a powerful shift for people to make. Instead of falling into the old, conditioned habit of regarding anger or fear as bad, wrong, weak, or terrible—or considering ourselves bad, wrong, weak, or terrible people for having such emotions—we see them as states of suffering. This is a profound transition. It elicits the possibility of responding to ourselves, and to others in the grip of emotions, with compassion rather than rejection or hatred. John TaRRanT: Western psychology has made a partial contri- bution to our methods of working with emotions. Psychol- ogy intended to become a science, and everybody thought it would be. But it turned out that it wasn’t. In large part, it is a normative agent of the culture and the society, and that runs counter to the genuine practice of inquiry. Psychology takes the approach of fixing an emotional problem in order to make a person function again. That may be the goal of a society or a culture, but that is not necessarily the goal of a wisdom tradition. Anybody who has been in any tradi- tion of depth has noticed that people who have what look like pathological emotions might be taking a positive step toward disassembling their old way of being, so that a new, greater possibility can come through. If you’re always fuss- ing at and fixing your mind, you don’t get that journey. There’s also a kind of voluptuousness about what’s given by the psyche, which at some level is what’s given us by the universe. We can take a housekeeping attitude toward the emotion or we can take the ride and see what discovery is happening. Not a thrill ride, but more a quest. The problem is not the emotion; the problem is being at war with the emotion or acting out the emotion. PonloP RinPoche: I agree completely that how skillfully or unskillfully we work with emotions determines whether the experience of that emotion is what we call bad or good. It is not about emotions, but about how you experience them and handle them. Emotions often come to us as a surprise. This mind is our working basis for the practice of medi- tation and the development of awareness. But mind is something more than the process of confirming self by the dualistic lingering on the other. Mind also includes what are known as emotions, which are the highlights of mental states. Mind cannot exist without emotions. Daydreaming and discursive thoughts are not enough. Those alone would be too boring. The dualistic trick would wear too thin. So we tend to create waves of emotion that go up and down: passion, aggres- sion, ignorance, pride—all kinds of emotions. In the begin- ning we create them deliberately, as a game of trying to prove to ourselves that we exist. But eventually the game becomes a hassle; it becomes more than a game and forces us to challenge ourselves more than we intended. It is like a hunter who, for the sport of practicing his shooting, decides to shoot one leg of a deer at a time. But the deer runs very fast, and it appears it might get away altogether. This becomes a total challenge to the hunter, who rushes after the deer, now trying to kill it completely, to shoot it in the heart. So the hunter has been challenged and feels defeated by his own game. Emotions are like that. They are not a requirement for the eMotions GaMe it starts out innocently enough, says chögyam trungpa, but before long we’re trapped by the very emotions we created for our amusement. From The Sanity We Are Born With: A Buddhist Approach to Psychology, by Chögyam Trungpa. Published by Shambhala Publications. survival; they are a game we developed that went wrong at some point—it went sour. In the face of this predicament we feel terribly frustrated and absolutely helpless. Such frustration causes some people to fortify their relationship to the “other” by creating a god or other projections, such as saviors, gurus, and mahatmas. We create all kinds of projections as henchmen, hit men, to enable us to redominate our territory. The implicit sense is that if we pay homage to such great beings, they will function as our helpers, as the guarantors of our ground. So we have created a world that is bittersweet. Things are amusing but, at the same time, not so amusing. Sometimes things seem terribly funny but, on the other hand, terribly sad. Life has the quality of a game of ours that has trapped us. The setup of mind has created the whole thing. We might com- plain about the government or the economy of the country or the prime rate of interest, but those factors are secondary. The original process at the root of the problems is the com- petitiveness of seeing oneself only as a reflection of the other. Problematic situations arise automatically as expression of that. They are our own production, our own neat work. And that is what is called mind.