Clarity versus Emotions
by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
Everyone knows how important it is to establish a good heart. A good heart is the only thing that is truly worthy, not only of helping others but also of sustaining oneself in a state of happiness, joy and contentment. Yet it often seems there is a conflict inwardly. Though people know the value of a good heart, there is often a tremendous sense of resistance from conflicting thoughts and emotions when one is in the position to develop a good full heart.
On one hand we want to be good — we know what “good” is, and how “good” can benefit ourselves and others. But on the other hand there is a sense of not wanting to be that good, and this inner conflict seems to become our whole life’s struggle.
If it were as clear-cut and simple as just doing what we know is best, I think few people would be suffering as they do. So, in the Dharma there is really no choice other than being very clear about what you know is best and acting upon that. When you cannot do that, then be very honest with yourself. Save your effort for another time when you can try your best to make some progress.
What then is a “good heart?” Most people think it has to do with feelings. We think of a person with a good heart as someone who has feelings of compassion or feelings of kindness. Yes, of course feelings (Tib. tsorwa) of kindness or compassion, or sympathetic joy are positive aspects of one’s good mind or good heart. But, when I actually think of someone who has a good mind or good heart, it is their clarity that strikes me the most strongly — clarity and their faith in that clarity.
Feelings come and go. You can’t just wait around for feelings of kindness to arise. You can’t wait around for compassionate feelings before you act compassionately. Feelings can come and go, and becoming focused on the feelings themselves is to focus only upon half of what we are.
When our feelings are accessible, we can feel very soothed. But when our feelings are not accessible to us we feel troubled, or rather confused about where we stand. This can be very difficult. I think it is one of our biggest problems both in our general relationships with others and particularly in our relation to a spiritual path.
When we feel inspired, or feel a sense of deep devotion and connectedness, we think, “Okay, now this is really good!” But there are other times when those deep feelings are not available, and we think, “What am I doing?!” We generate a lot of self-doubt. This unsteadiness seems to be what causes people to go forward and backward — a step forward and then a step back — without consistently moving ahead or progressing along a spiritual path.
I am not saying that feelings are unimportant. Feelings are very much a production of many causes and conditions, and if those causes and conditions are not present, then those feelings also cannot be there. For example, when you are really tired at the end of the day your mind will be affected, as well as your feelings. So if you want positive feelings to be strongly present to enliven your practice, then perhaps you’ll need to practice when you are not tired.
When you rush through the practice as if you have to catch the next train, beneficial feelings won’t be there either. When we are rushing, we are treating whatever we are doing as insignificant. Your mind is focused on something else or on the next thing. So that is what creates the feeling in whatever you are doing now. If you are rushing through, focused on something else, or even if you are not doing anything but relaxing, this creates a whole different feeling to what you are actually doing. It doesn’t contribute to the feeling you want — with what you are doing now. So, then people feel, “Oh, this is not really working” or, “I’m not so connected.” But this is really due to one’s own mind rushing through the practice, focused on something else, thinking about something else. Through this behavior, feelings are created one way or the other, either positive or negative.
So if all our efforts depend on feelings, we have to know how to create the feelings we want, and then do the practice with this clarity, along with the feelings. Without knowing how to create the feelings, we almost always create the wrong feelings, as I said, from rushing through or being tired or some other cause.
But where you can actually depend on yourself and depend on others more, is in the clarity — which is the depth of wisdom in one’s own mind or in another’s mind. This clarity and wisdom will not be reversible. One must have a sense of confidence in this both for oneself and for others, rather than relying on inconsistent feelings. One day you could feel very touched by somebody, and yet the next day you might be appalled by them.
So my emphasis is, yes, of course strive to have positive feelings to accompany a positive mind. But having a positive mind means having clarity, and clarity here means the Dharma— the points made by the Dharma, and the emphasis the Dharma puts on those points. What are these points in the first place? What are the effects of these points and the results?
For instance, there is the point of “self-centeredness” — that it is something to reduce as much as possible. When someone carries this point very clearly in their mind, I think such a person has a good heart.
Having a wish for others’ happiness and the cause of others’ happiness is another very important point. If somebody keeps that very clearly in mind, with the understanding that it serves others as well as oneself, that person has a good mind and good heart. The same is true of wishing others to be free from suffering and the cause of suffering — as long as somebody gets that very clearly, understanding how it serves on behalf of others and on behalf of oneself.
So if someone does have that kind of mind, and faith in that kind of mind, then that person has a good heart, despite whether positive feelings are always there in abundance or not. They won’t fall backward if they recognize the wisdom of that. Once you know what the truth is, you won’t fall backward into denying that truth. So in this way, feelings become secondary to clarity and wisdom: the wisdom within the clarity, and the faith one has in that.
Is faith itself a “feeling?” A lot of people think faith is a feeling, but to me faith is not just a feeling. Faith has much to do with certainty, with conviction, and the guideposts that keep one from straying off the course of right actions. I think that is what faith is.
When somebody says “I trust,” if it’s just a simple feeling, that feeling could be momentary. It’s there one day, and the next day it might not be there. But does that mean you don’t trust the other person, since that feeling is not there? And if one has to count on that feeling all the time, how can you then be always waiting for the right feelings to come, in order to act upon the right course? If there are no feelings, what are you going to do — not follow the right course of actions, and act upon what you know is right to do?
So I think feelings are supplementary to a positive mind, not the essential part of it. Clarity with wisdom and faith are the essential points of one’s mind. Nonetheless, feelings are supplementary, so the feelings do bring things to greater fulfillment as well.
Possessing a good heart and good mind is to have a lot of clarity and wisdom of the Dharma, with strong conviction in that. To see how that influences one’s life, without confusion and and self-doubt, is at the core of the good mind and the good heart.