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Buddhism & emotions

edited March 2009 in Buddhism Basics
I'm a little confused about something. Somewhere I got the impression that Buddhism means surpressing or denying emotions. Some sources or Buddhists seem to pick up that idea and other sources say Buddhism doesn't mean avoiding emotions. So I'm so what confused.

This questions is important to me because I'm an expert in not feeling. Because of that you'd say I should feel. But if Buddhism means not feeling it might not be the path for me.

Of course I feel emotions-- however I'm not aware of them and act out without often knowing why.

:) I'm curious what your replies will be.


  • SimonthepilgrimSimonthepilgrim Veteran
    edited February 2009
    First of all, Butterfly, you will find, as you extend your study, that Buddhist writers contradict each other just as much as any other group of philosopher/theologians. Interpretation of the recorded saying of the Buddha or the writings of the thousands of subsequent expositors varies enormously. I am sure that Elohim/Jason will provide you with very useful links and quotations from Theravada scriptures.

    As you are looking at Thich Nhat Hanh (TNH), who is from the Vietnamese, Mahayana/Zen tradition transformed by Western social engagement, he has a lot to say about emotion/feelings. He sees the function of meditation to calm and, ultimately, to stop so that we can look deeply. The two aspects of meditation are shamatha ("stopping") and vipashyana ("looking deeply"), he says in The Heart Of The Buddha's Teaching, and we cannot look deeply until we are still.

    This does not mean suppressing emotion. Suppression suggests energy spent and it is akin to what Buddhists term aversion, which is only clinging in its negative manifestation. 'Acting out' is clinging in its positive aspect.

    So the question is, as always, "What do I do?" Here, the meeting of modern psychology and Buddhist wisdom are available to us:

    If we consider what emotions really are, we can notice that they are the product of thoughts and bodily events. The habit energies, which are called vashana,drag us into feelings. Deconstructing the different physiological events (e.g. "I notice that I am breathing faster", "I notice that I slump my shoulders", etc.) is best achieved by the quiet mind - hence our practice. The physiological changes arise with mental changes, as we understand more and more from the biological sciences.

    TNH lists five stages for calming and I recognised in them, as I read TNH for the first time after some 20 years as a psychotherapist/counsellor, the fundamental process of my own profession as laid down by such diverse psychologists as Freud, Assagioli, Berne, Bowlby or any of them:

    1. Recognition;
    2. Acceptance;
    3. Embracing (isn't this the one we so often forget?);
    4. Looking deeply;
    5. Insight.

    To end this ramble with a quote from TNH:

    "Calming allows us to rest, and resting is a precondition for healing."
  • PalzangPalzang Veteran
    edited February 2009
    Simon is right, Butterfly. It isn't about suppressing anything. However, we do want to get to a place where we're not ruled by our emotions and habitual tendencies. So how does that happen? Well, the only way to really do it is to decouple what gives rise to the emotions and habitual tendencies. And what does give rise to the emotions and habitual tendencies, you may ask? Simply put, attachment. We're attached to so many things. We're attached to money, we're attached to our job, we're attached to our kids, we're attached to love, we're attached to a new car, we're attached to food, we're attached to TV, and on and on, but mostly we're attached to our deluded notion of 'self' and 'other'. That's the root of it all.

    This attachment, which is all pervasive, is what gives rise to suffering. We're attached to love, but then when love doesn't happen the way we think it should, we suffer. We're attached to money, but when we don't get as much as we think we should, or we can't hold onto it the way we think we should, we suffer. We build up defense mechanisms to cope with the suffering that are themselves counterproductive and create more suffering - alcoholism, overeating, sexual obsession - pick your poison.

    So the answer is to cut through attachment because there's nothing really to get attached to. The very root of our attachment - the belief in 'self' and 'other' - is a delusion. There is, in truth, no separation. There is, in other words, no self-existing 'self'. So Buddhism works on doing that. But it's no quick solution to our suffering. It takes a lot of work and practice. We've been attached to this notion of 'self' for countless lifetimes, so all that won't be taken apart quickly. But you have to start somewhere.

  • SimonthepilgrimSimonthepilgrim Veteran
    edited February 2009
    Above all, Butterfly, remember that it is a practice, not a perfection. Be kind to yourself: there is no failure in practice, only learning.
  • gracklegrackle Veteran
    edited February 2009
    As you begin to read please be aware that the body of Buddha-dhamma contains that which is sometimes addressed to monastics, othertimes to laypersons. So it can be confusing. As you learn to accurately identify that which is inside, moments of clarity will help you make the best choices for yourself.
    the grackle
  • edited February 2009
    Thank you all for your replies. It's funny I'm reading Deepak Chopra atm and there was soooo much that made sense like I felt 'now I get it'. Things related to christianity but also buddhism.

    Isn't it something like 'letting it be'? Without judging?
  • Floating_AbuFloating_Abu Veteran
    edited February 2009
    Don't know if this is relevant but for anyone interested:

    To Know Yourself is to Forget Yourself
    by Pema Chodron

    We might think that knowing ourselves is a very ego-centered thing, but by beginning to look clearly and honestly at ourselves, we begin to dissolve the walls that separate us from others.

    The journey of awakening happens just at the place where we can't get comfortable. Opening to discomfort is the basis of transmuting our so-called negative feelings. We somehow want to get rid of our uncomfortable feelings either by justifying them or by squelching them, but it turns out that this is like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    According to the teachings of vajrayana, or tantric, Buddhism, our wisdom and our confusion are so interwoven that it doesn't work to just throw things out. By trying to get rid of negativity, by trying to eradicate it, by putting it into a column labeled bad, we are throwing away our wisdom as well, because everything in us is creative energy-particularly our strong emotions. They are filled with life-force.

    There is nothing wrong with negativity per-se; the problem is that we never see it, we never honor it, we never look into its heart. We don't taste our negativity, smell it, get to know it.

    Instead, we are always trying to get rid of it by punching someone in the face, by slandering someone, by punishing ourselves, or by repressing our feelings. In between repression and acting out, however, there is something wise and profound and timeless. If we just try to get rid of negative feelings, we don't realize that those feelings are our wisdom. The transmutation comes from the willingness to hold our seat with the feeling, to let the words go, to let the justification go. We don't have to have resolution. We can live with a dissonant note; we don't have to play the next key to end the tune.

    Curiously enough, this journey of transmutation is one of tremendous joy. We usually seek joy in the wrong places, by trying to avoid feeling whole parts of the human condition. We seek happiness by believing that whole parts of what it is to be human are unacceptable. We feel that something has to change in ourselves.

    However, unconditional joy comes about through some kind of intelligence in which we allow ourselves to see clearly what we do with great honesty, combined with a tremendous kindness and gentleness. This combination of honesty, or clear-seeing, and kindness is the essence of maitri-unconditional friendship with ourselves.

    This is a process of continually stepping into unknown territory. You become willing to step into the unknown territory of your own being. Then you realize that this particular adventure is not only taking you into your own being, it's also taking you out into the whole universe.

    You can only go into the unknown when you have made friends with yourself.

    You can only step into those areas "out there" by beginning to explore and have curiosity about this unknown "in here," in yourself. Dogen Zen-ji said, "To know yourself is to forget yourself."

    We might think that knowing ourselves is a very ego-centered thing, but by beginning to look so clearly and so honestly at ourselves-at our emotions, at our thoughts, at who we really are-we begin to dissolve the walls that separate us from others. Somehow all of these walls, these ways of feeling separate from everything else and everyone else, are made up of opinions. They are made up of dogma; they are made of prejudice. These walls come from our fear of knowing parts of ourselves.

    Full Teaching:
  • BrigidBrigid Veteran
    edited March 2009
    Pema Chodron never ceases to amaze me. What a teacher!
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