Seeing into the true nature of emotions. Lama Gendyn Rinpoche
An Excerpt from the Book Change of Expression. Working with the Emotions published by Editions Dzambala The text on which the teaching is based is a work by Chagme Rinpoche, a learned and experienced lama of the 17th Century.
We are always ready to let our mind be taken over by these emotional states. But when it comes to actually experiencing the suffering that results, we are less enthusiastic
Those who practice the vajrayana, the secret tantric teachings, have a sacred commitment not to reject the emotions of attachment, anger, ignorance, pride and jealousy. The reason for this is that if they give them up, they will never be able to discover the wisdom which is intrinsic to them. In abandoning the five poisons, we abandon at the same time any possibility of realizing the five wisdoms, since they will never be found anywhere other than in the emotions.
That is why when we are engaged in tantric practice, we must work with the different objects that give rise to emotional reactions in order to experience the corresponding wisdom. The very objects of attachment, hatred and so forth, become the means to liberation from emotional conflict.
Practically, this means that when one of the five poisons appears in the mind, we have to look directly at its essence until we understand that in fact it has no real existence at all.
What is emotion?
It is important to be clear about what we mean by the word emotion.
We use the word daily to describe something that can be readily identified, a definite feeling in the mind that is both a reaction and a driving force. In Buddhism however, emotion is much more than that. It is a mental state that starts the instant the mind functions in a dualistic mode, long before the normal person is conscious of it.
Emotion is the habitual clinging that makes us automatically categorize our experiences according to whether our ego finds them attractive (desire), unattractive (anger), or neutral (ignorance). The more clinging there is, the stronger our reactions will be, until we reach a point where they finally break into our conscious mind and manifest as the obvious feelings we usually call emotions.
The above reactions are termed the three poisons, to which are added those of considering our own experience as predominant (pride) and judging our own position in relation to the object perceived (jealousy), to give the five poisons. The word poison is used because these reactions poison our mind and prevent the appearance of its intrinsic wisdom.
In reading the instructions of Chagme Rinpoche as expressed by Lama Gendun, we must therefore be careful to understand each word for the five emotions in their widest possible sense. By not doing so we make it impossible for us to really grasp the full import of the teaching.
Perception, emotion and wisdom
The emotions appear because of the conditions created by our confused mind. Our fundamental consciousness, which is in a state of ignorance at the present time, projects from itself the idea of a world experienced through the five senses, the five sense organs and their active relationship with external objects. Because of our previous habits, the mind projects from itself images which it considers separate from itself. These then become forms which act as objects for the eyesight, sounds which are objects for our hearing, and so on. The presence of these apparently independent objects causes the mind to become disturbed, allowing the emergence of the emotions.
For instance, when our eyes see a form, things do not stop there, we immediately react to it. When we find the form pleasing, we feel attracted to it. If we find it unpleasant or repulsive, we reject it and want to get away from it. The same applies to all our other sensory information, whenever we hear, smell, taste or touch something.
Each time the sensory organs function we should look directly at the real essence of what is taking place. Gradually we come to see that the object we are perceiving is actually only the mind in action. No different from the mind, the object is the mind, and there is therefore no need to create any artificial duality by maintaining a clear distinction between subject and object. If we look at the essence of this non duality, the true nature of both the object and the mind that perceives it, we will discover the essence of the mind itself.
This perception of the essence of mind takes place when all previous thoughts have come to a stop and the next thought has not yet appeared. The mind is in the spontaneous present, its own reality. It is mind which sees its own essence, and this is what we call primordial wisdom. The presence of primordial wisdom in the mind then clears away the emotions automatically. It is just like lighting a candle in a dark room: as soon as the light is present the darkness automatically vanishes. Similarly, the simple fact of wisdom being in the mind serves to completely banish all emotions. If we succeed in meditating in this way, the moment we detect one of the emotions in our mind, in that very same instant we see its wisdom and thereby become free of its emotional aspect. This is what is known as the simultaneous appearance and liberation of the emotions. Each of the five poisons is then recognized to be one of the five wisdoms.
If however we do not manage to see the wisdom aspect of the event taking place in the mind, we become once again involved in duality. We follow the thought, become influenced by it, and begin to react to the object, either accepting it or rejecting it, until the mind is invaded by confusion and emotion and we end up having to experience the suffering that ensues.
It says in the text that if we give up the five poisons it will be impossible to find any wisdom. The activity of the emotions is the activity of the mind. Each emotion that appears is nothing other than the mind itself in action, so if we reject the emotions we are at the same time rejecting the mind. Yet it is only through its activity that we will come to discover the activity of wisdom, so in rejecting the emotional activity of the mind we reject at the same time the possibility of encountering its wisdom activity. This will never lead us to realize the ultimate reality of the mind.
It is difficult for us to think of ignorance as an emotion, but if we think carefully, we can be influenced by ignorance just as well as by desire or anger. Ignorance is not a something neutral without effects or consequences, it is a definite state of mind which causes us to act in a certain way.
Ignorance is when we are incapable of seeing things as they really are. This may be conscious or unconscious, the inability to recognize what is happening, sometimes lauded as innocence, or a definite feeling of indifference, even deliberately not wanting to know. It can range from general confusion about what is really going on, to the formation of definite wrong views. There is also a certain element of attachment. Ignorance can even feel quite comfortable ('ignorance is bliss...') If we look at ourselves closely we will find this attitude in a lot of our behavior. From the Buddhist point of view ignorance is anything but bliss and innocence. Indeed, it is the main cause of our suffering, which is why we find it firmly included in the five poisons.
A cautionary note
To abandon the five disturbing emotions is to take a less direct path to enlightenment. It is the way followed by the sravakas. But seeing into the true nature of the emotions as and when they occur is not an easy task. If we just allow ourselves to be look at the emotions one after the other as they appear in the mind in the usual way, we are no different than before. Nothing has changed. If we actually enjoy our emotions, deliberately increasing their strength until we feel completely intoxicated by them, we are behaving like someone possessed, with the result that we accumulate the karma of a demon.
It may happen too that we become the kind of person who grows more and more proud of his ability to deal with the emotions by looking into their true nature. Despite the fact that his understanding is not fully developed, he increases the power of the emotions. The stronger they get, the greater becomes his pride. Nor does it stop there. Even though he is not really free of emotional confusion, he says that he is, and sets himself up as an example to others of how to experience the emotions without getting carried away by them. Motivated by great pride, he searches constantly to improve his reputation, to be recognized as somebody very important, someone well known for his ability to work with the emotions. More and more out of control, ever more confused, he accumulates karma which grows more and more negative.
A Buddha for each emotion
If we do manage to look directly at the reality of each of the five poisons as they appear, we recognize them to be none other than the five wisdoms. In the poison of anger and hatred we perceive the mirror-like wisdom that corresponds to the Buddha Dorje Sempa. Looking directly at the true nature of pride, we find the wisdom of equality and the Buddha Ratnasambhava. In the nature of desire we discover the discriminating wisdom and the Buddha Amitabha. If we look at jealousy we see the all accomplishing wisdom and the Buddha Amoghasiddhi. And when we look at ignorance we find the wisdom of the dharmadhatu, reality itself, and the Buddha Vairocana.
These Buddhas also correspond to the different elemental energies in the body, each of which are related to one of the emotions. Seeing into the emotion produces not only the realization of an aspect of wisdom, it also transforms the corresponding element of the body into one of the five Buddhas.
On this path we do not seek to abandon the five emotions, only to look directly at their essence or reality, upon which they are automatically transformed right then and there into the five wisdoms and we generate spontaneously the minds of the five Buddha archetypes.
This type of practice is employed by those who meditate according to the mahamudra or the dzogchen tradition.
One medicine for all illnesses.
Looking directly at the essence or the nature of an emotion is a method which can be applied in all cases, just as we can use a single medicine to cure a hundred illnesses.
The practitioner of great capacity will use this method to flatten the emotions as soon as any of them appear in the mind. It is like placing a tiny spark into a heap of dry hay: it will immediately burst into flames and be completely destroyed. Although the original spark is tiny, it can burn away any amount of hay. Similarly, just one tiny spark of wisdom can burn away completely all the mind's confusion and the emotions associated with it, until all that is left in the mind is ultimate reality.
Those of middling capacity will use this method as follows. As soon as they detect the presence of an emotion in the mind when they are meditating, they will look at it directly with a naked glare. The emotion calms itself and releases its hold on the individual. This process is said to be just like recognizing the non-duality of waves and water. Many waves in movement, taking on a constant variety of different forms and shapes, can be seen on the surface of the ocean. and yet the content of the waves is simply the water of the ocean itself. There is no real distinction to be made at all between waves and water. Similarly, the many and varied emotional forms that appear in the mind are nothing other than the mind itself. There is therefore no reason to reject the emotion or to consider it different from the mind. The average practitioner will be able to understand this, and through experiencing directly the fact that the emotions are simply the mind, they will calm down of their own accord.
The practitioner of ordinary capacity will be able through this practice to be aware of the emotion as it appears in the mind. He will not become involved and get carried away by the emotion, which is what usually happens. It is just like someone crazy suddenly coming to his senses; free of his madness his ordinary consciousness returns. Similarly, as soon as such a person realizes the presence of an emotion, he applies the practice he considers appropriate in that particular case. Being aware of the emotion, even if our awareness is not clear enough to free us completely from it, provides the starting point for the application of other, more accessible approaches.
BUDDHISM TODAY, Vol.2, 1996. Copyright ©1996 Diamond Way Buddhist Centers USA.