Thursday, May 31, 2007


Via Entering the Path I found a quote by Brad Warner:

“Transcending emotions doesn’t mean you have no feelings. You have them. But you recognize them for what they are and respond appropriately without letting them develop into what we call emotions, which are really just feelings that have been blown way out of proportion.”

To an extent I agree with this. However, in my humble, unschooled opinion, he's oversimplifying things. The breadth and depth of the palette of human emotion is a good thing, with a potential for great beauty. It's an essential part of what it means to be human, I think. If a human incarnation is to be viewed as a precious thing - an opportunity not to be wasted - it seems to me that human emotion is something not to be wasted, as well.

Problems arise when emotional experience becomes an attachment. Recently, just as I was ending my meditation practice, I had the thought that emotional pain can very easily become an attachment if one is unable or unwilling to move beyond past experience. However, not all emotion is pain and not all emotion is attachment. One can experience intense pain, one can experience intense emotion. I don’t believe suffering is dependent on either. It’s all in how you greet your experience.

There is much emphasis in Buddhism on loving-kindness and compassion. Compassion - the root of lovingness and kindness – is an emotion. I can’t think of another way to describe it. When one practices compassion and – as a consequence – kindness, one experiences great joy. This is not (should not be) the end result of practicing loving-kindness, but it’s a wonderful lagniappe. The emotional rewards of being loving are the fruit, not the tree.

The context of Mr. Warner's blog entry relates mostly to romantic love, so I'll focus my comments on love, specifically. To truly know and love someone - once one has moved beyond romantic love and on to the deeper realities of everyday love - can be one of the great joys of life. Within the structure of real love (whether it be filial, marital, or what-have-you), there is a great deal of room for mindfulness, compassion and understanding. Love can provide a fantastic context for one's daily practice - great opportunities for growth are to be found in our daily interactions. One might even argue that they are necessary for love to continue to ripen and expand.

I am a humble (I hope.), unknowledgeable student of Dharma. So perhaps I simply don’t understand the Truth of what Mr. Warner is saying. I also am not as well-read in Zen thought as I am in the other branches of Buddhism. So perhaps my lack of understanding lies there. In any case, for now, I’ll have to disagree. In my mind a feeling is an itch, and an emotion such as love - while a much “larger” issue – is still a useful experience.


Gregor said...

I don't think there is really any conflict between what you are saying and Brad was talking about.

His style is a little tongue in cheek and definitely more edgy than we're both used to. But, I like his work; its very direct and honest.

The philosophical differences we Buddhist find ourselves in just come down to how we filter the dhamma. Afterall words are pretty clumsy and imprecise tools with which to describe reality.

I think when Brad uses the word "emotions" he is describing an attachment to a feeling; thats what I think he means by "emotions are feelings blown out of proportion".

You are both right, just seeing the same truth through different eyes.

Gregor said...

Here I go again. . .trying to use words. I don't mean to debate you I think everything you have said is 100% valid. I just want to share my perspective.

I don't think that compassion is an emotion.

In my opinion it is more of an awareness. A realization of the suffering of another and the desire to help them.

Emotion vs an Awareness or realization. To me there is a difference, but I don't think that you have neglected to consider this. We just like to use different words, no problem there at all.

EdaMommy said...

I love the feedback, thanks, Gregor. I really like the opportunity to understand the Dharma better.

So - to that end, if you don't mind me asking - how does compassion parse for you, then? My experience of it, when I feel that it is as pure as I can experience it, is deep in the center of what I consider my emotional experience. That's just me, you know. I use my head to get to the point where I can experience compassion - say in a difficult situation like a family member who is mentally ill saying terrible things about my character. But once I gain that understanding and awareness (in the more or less anonymous situation I'm thinking of, it's a deep realization of the fearful experience of paranoid schizophrenia), it sort of migrates in my mind's experience and becomes Love, you know?

Oh, and I know Brad Warner's really tongue in cheek. ^_^ One of these days when I have the bread I look forward to reading his books. I just happened to marry a philosophy/English major, so I've spent more than a decade and a half um, "exploring" semantics and philosophical debate, LOL.

You're right. Language is a clumsy thing, and nowhere close to accurate. I guess that's the point of koan, or paradox, or those great Dharma debates in the abbeys and monasteries.

One of these days I look forward to being able to be a part of a physical sangha. For myself, the sounding board that others interested in the Dharma could provide would be so invaluable. In the meantime comments such as yours are equally as invaluable - any one who takes the time to comment on my words has my deep respect and gratitude. I consider you all my Sangha, and I thank you.

Gregor said...

Thank you so much! The feeling of respect is very much mutual. I think you are quite right we bloggers are each others sangha. . .sorta of a Sangha without walls, or the Dharma-2.0!

Let me think about your question. Yes, I definitely feel compassion the same way you describe. But, I think this feeling goes beyond a mere emotion because it is coupled with such a keen awareness; otherwise it would merely be pity.

The Theravada tradition teaches of the Brahma-Vihara or Four Divine Abodes; compassion is one of these states along with goodwill,appreciative joy, and equanimity --- I think whenever we are dealing with any of these feelings we are touching at the true reality of things.

For me it all comes down to Sunyata, the truth of emptiness. All things are empty in and off themselves, everything depends on everything else for its existence therefore there is no such thing as independent existence - - ie, all phenomena are emptiness and emptiness is what makes form possible. Compassion along with the the other three Noble Abodes let us touch this in our own lives.

Michael said...

"Just love one another."

St. James

Samantha said...

This is great stuff. I'm in the process of putting together my own blog entry on Dharma, the four noble truths, and emotion and came across yours. So while it's been here for a bit, it's new to me!

E-Sangha and Dharma 2.0? I kinda like that! Not in an attachment kinda way, but in the pure and radiant bliss and joy that is kindness. I'm not yet part of a physical sangha myself because, well, I just haven't found the overwhelming need to go to one. My practice is greener by not driving to a sangha is it not? Plus, over the years, the centuries actually, I've done so many different traditions, is that the right word, that I do things differently.

I close my eyes when I meditate, not to shut out part of the world, but to open myself up more to it. When I take out physical sight, second sight becomes clearer. My hearing opens up in a new way that I really... Ack, dare I say it... Enjoy? I get to leave my physical body behind me, and travel to other places to sit with my eyes open and take in the view there.

Anyway, belabored though it maybe, my point was to say thanks! Asking similar questions, looking in a similar direction. I'll have to watch your blog now, for I enjoy the way you write!