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Buddhadharma : Summer 2008
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summEr 20 0 8 48 difference is how all of those wonderful and rare animals are greeted. I know that people have a fear that meditation will lead to a kind of barrenness. I hear it often. People think that if they were to practice meditation ardently and get proficient at it, everything would morph into a gray blob and they wouldn’t feel anything anymore. Of course, that’s not what it’s all about. Intention and motivation are what’s vital. Why do we act the way we do and how do we relate to those emotions? Are we subsumed by them? Are we overcome? Are we propelled into actions that we later regret? Do we try to hide emotions or do we denigrate ourselves for our emotions? So can we find a place in the middle, where one is neither overcome by emotion, which often leads to negative actions and consequences, nor repressing and avoiding our emo- tional states? That place in the middle, which is mindful- ness, is a place of discovery, exploration, and enrichment. buDDhaDhaRma: Would you say the full range of emotion, from rage to passion, is included? Do all the animals in the zoo arrive? ShaRon SalzbeRg: [Laughs] By practicing mindfulness, we are also changing the conditions that will affect what might arise. But I don’t think it would be realistic to say that we assume control over what will arise in our experience. Con- trol per se would not even be desirable, because in the space of tremendous rage or passion we can be free nonetheless, and perhaps utilize the energy within those emotions for something more positive in our lives. John TaRRanT: Freedom is just freedom, and it’s either there or not. It doesn’t matter what you’re feeling. In the long arc of a practice, most people do find that they have less intense aversions and so forth. They have less of what you would call disturbing emotions. But it’s also true that when it comes to so-called disturbing emotions, we can ask, who is it disturbing and why is it disturbing? The disturbance is measured against a framework that is illusory. Your disturb- ing emotions have buddhanature—just as much as your nice calm ones do—and they may actually be more likely to lead to a deeper level of awakening than your nice calm ones. PonloP RinPoche: When you enter the Buddhist path, the point is not to get rid of emotions or thoughts. The impor- tant thing is to be mindful of the emotions arising—whether they’re good or bad, or however you might choose to define them. As we progress along the path of meditation, as Sharon and John have expressed, the key point becomes developing a stillness in which we find freedom from the disturbing elements of emotions. buDDhaDhaRma: In evolutionary terms, biologists talk about emotions as necessary and adaptive, and many psychologists regard emotions as central to who we are. Yet emotions in Buddhism seem to be regarded as a problem. Why is that? John TaRRanT: It’s true that when people talk about emotion in the Buddhist context, usually they’re talking about some- thing that creates a problem. But what’s wrong with emo- tion, anyway? An emotion is something that arises because we have a body, an incarnation, and in that realm every- thing is a little bit imperfect. We can’t get anything quite the way we want it to be, and emotion is the indicator of that. There’s also the lizard-brain level of emotions, a reflex. But having an emotion is different from having an emotional problem, which is usually caused by fighting with the emo- tion, not exploring or having curiosity about it. JuDiTh SimmeR-bRown: It’s important to note that we’re look- ing at this question through the lens of a Western psycho- logical word, which is something we often do as modern The Dzogchen PonloP RinPoche is a meditation master and scholar in the nyingma and Kagyu schools of tibetan Buddhism. he is the founder and spiritual director of nalandabodhi, an international organization based in seattle, and author of Mind Beyond Death. ShaRon SalzbeRg is cofounder of the insight Meditation society in Barre, Massachusetts, and author of Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness and Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience. John TaRRanT is the director of the Pacific Zen institute and author of Bring Me the Rhinoceros and Other Zen Koans and The Light Inside the Dark: Zen, Soul and the Spiritual Life. JuDiTh SimmeR-bRown teaches Buddhist studies at naropa university and is an acharya in the shambhala Buddhist tradition. she is the author of Dakini's Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism. Photos(L-R):RyszaRdFRackiewicz;LizaMatthews;MichaeLsieRchio;aLiciaBRown