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Buddhadharma : Summer 2008
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summEr 20 0 8 54 Once you have this gap, you can see the emotion clearly. That’s the second step: seeing clearly. This allows you to see what kind of skillful means you might apply, what kind of wisdom might make the emotion useful and beneficial. The third step is letting go. You let go of your fear, your anger, your jealousy. You don’t need to keep them. ShaRon SalzbeRg: It is helpful to address whether it’s neces- sary to do mindfulness practice before cultivating positive emotions. I’ve seen so many people for whom the process is done in reverse. Mindfulness and loving-kindness are so clearly reciprocal and mutually supportive. There are many people whose mindfulness is challenged by a corrosive habit of self-judgment, criticism, and self-hatred. Therefore, it is quite hard to come to a space of being mindful of very dif- ficult and challenging emotions. For people like that, which is many of us, loving-kindness or compassion practice actu- ally creates the ground out of which they’re more able to do mindfulness genuinely. PonloP RinPoche: That’s very true. John TaRRanT: In koan practice you find mindfulness practice at times, but also kindness. In the beginning, when some- body starts hanging out with a standard koan like, “The whole world is medicine. What is the self?” they will go through all the usual concentration phenomena, but then they might have some sort of transformation, which is pra- jna emerging. At the same time, they may also just find themselves kinder. It’s based on prajna, but sometimes the transformation can start happening in the darkness in a nonrational way. It’s a kind of creative move by the universe that happens when you expose yourself to it. What I like about koans is that they have an unpredictable nonlinear effect, like poems or music do. The truth is that, as you keep going deeper into the medi- tation path, the categories—mindfulness, awareness, loving- kindness—just slide around. There are fewer boundary lines and categories. Your feet find a path, and the path rises to meet your feet. JuDiTh SimmeR-bRown: These various elements are mutually supportive. The clear-seeing that Rinpoche was talking about gives us a kind of aha! experience that reveals the contrast between habitual patterns and a fresh emotional life, and that allows us to act with loving-kindness in our relations with others, rather than obsess about the people who have insulted us or attracted us, or whatever. Kindness and attention work so closely together it becomes hard to separate them. John TaRRanT: Yes. Loving-kindness is a practice, but at the same time if you really pay attention you might find, as I do with koan work, that kindness starts coming up from below. You suddenly find you have a loving attitude toward life. That happens because kindness is not something added to awareness. It’s fundamental to the nature of awareness. buDDhaDhaRma: That suggests that our traditional ideas about emotions being kind of gooey and awareness being dry in fact fall apart. John TaRRanT: The opposition between paying attention and cultivating loving-kindness ultimately falls away. JuDiTh SimmeR-bRown: The distortion of our clear-seeing is part of the painfulness of emotion. We are removed from the direct experience of the way things are. The painful way we experience emotions and our distorted view of reality are completely intermingled. buDDhaDhaRma: So if you lose the distortion, you wouldn’t necessarily lose the intensity of emotion, but you would experience it differently? JuDiTh SimmeR-bRown: The energy is completely different without the distortion. Practice helps you see just how much you are caught in your own little house of mirrors, how totally you distort your perspective in the midst of intense emotion. buDDhaDhaRma: How do we find the wisdom in emotion, as several of you have been hinting is possible? PonloP RinPoche: From the Vajrayana point of view, it’s a little bit like what John said about koan practice. We work mostly from the prajna side of things, but at the same time we employ special skillful means to see the true energy of emotions. Even in the moment when you experience the most destructive emotion, such as rage, if you can pene- trate to its essence you find tremendous space and energy, luminosity. One of the benefits of Buddhist meditation is that it allows you to just sit with an emotion, to experience it, rather than feel you have to do something with it or get rid of it. —Judith Simmer-Brown