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Buddhadharma : Summer 2008
55 summEr 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Many of the Vajrayana practices suggest that we not abandon the emotions but rather work with their pure energy. The pure energy will lead us to a complete state of awakening, because emotions are primordially free. The intensity of emotions has a quality of sudden awakening, right here within the very moment of samsaric experience. From the Vajrayana point of view, all the practices are directed toward seeing the essence of emotion rather than working with the conceptual or judgmental aspect of mind. We can go beyond that and see the power of the raw and naked state of emotions. buDDhaDhaRma: When a surge of emotion comes up, then, it always presents the possibility of awakening? PonloP RinPoche: It’s already in the state of awakening. We just have to discover that. From the Mahayana perspec- tive, we would think in terms of transforming, whereas in Vajrayana we don’t need to transform anything. In Mahayana, you work with emotions in a more conceptual way. In Vajrayana, you go straight to the naked state of the emotions, within which we find tremendous space, empti- ness, clarity, luminosity, and vividness—what we call the clear light mind. John TaRRanT: I would say that koans are more on that Vajrayana side of things too. buDDhaDhaRma: Where you’re breaking down concepts utterly. John TaRRanT: Well, you recognize something that was already there that you hadn’t noticed. PonloP RinPoche: Exactly. JuDiTh SimmeR-bRown: Doesn’t the recognition also carry with it a kind of enjoyment? John TaRRanT: Yes, but I don’t know if at that point you would call it emotion. There’s delight, a large sense of life. It’s not a checked-out kind of bliss. It’s more appreciation and relish. PonloP RinPoche: The naked and raw state of emotions has the quality of bliss and emptiness inseparable, which is beyond joy versus agony. It’s self-liberation, self-freeing. Emotions free themselves. We don’t need to free them. buDDhaDhaRma: We’re back to not being able to get rid of the emotions. JuDiTh SimmeR-bRown: You don’t want to. PonloP RinPoche: You don’t need to. JuDiTh SimmeR-bRown: So there’s nothing to be done? PonloP RinPoche: The problem is, you’re trying too hard. Just relax and enjoy the wild ride [laughter]. buDDhaDhaRma: That’s sublime, but I know that some of us are also in need of a first-aid kit for those times when we have a volcanic upsurge of emotion and feel inadequate in the face of it. Are there one or two things we ought to remember at those moments to recall the clarity and creativ- ity, the wisdom you’ve all been talking about? ShaRon SalzbeRg: I would say that one of the first things to do is to notice the add-ons. There’s the arising of the emotion, which is its own state, but on top of that we add a future, we add a certain kind of reaction, like shame or exaggera- tion. Or perhaps we add comparison, by holding ourselves up to an ideal we’re not attaining. We certainly add a sense of self—I’m such an angry person. We just add and add. So probably the first thing to try to do is to release some of those add-ons, so we can come back to the original experi- ence. Then we can maybe let ourselves be with the basic emotion in as mindful a way as possible. That will open up a little space, and in that space, we see can options. That reminds me of an article I saw in the New York Times about mindfulness in the classroom. One of the fifth graders was asked, “What is mindfulness?” And he said, “Mindfulness means not hitting someone in the mouth.” I thought that was a fantastic answer. It implies knowing what you’re feeling when you’re feeling it, not fifteen conse- quential actions later. It implies having a relationship to that feeling, so you’re not completely lost in it and identified with it. It implies being able to make some choices. Mindfulness is not hitting someone in the mouth. That’s my new working definition of mindfulness. PonloP RinPoche: That’s a great koan. It's important to notice what we add on to the emotion—a future, reactions like shame, a sense of self. If we can release some of those add-ons, that will open up a little space. —Sharon Salzberg