Being Addicted to Emotions
by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
When you say “Oh, I really don’t think this person would do something that negative; I trust this person,” what are you saying? Are you saying this person will always have just one particular stream of feelings and never change those feelings whatsoever? No. If that person had one stream of feelings all the time, then their mind would be more like a computer, not a person’s mind.
If someone were always to have the same feeling, even if it is positive, like kindness or compassion, and this person is never diverted from that kindness or compassionate feeling, even if we want to trust in that, it’s unrealistic.
So actually when you say “Oh I trust that person would not do something negative or harmful,” you are really saying that the person has a greater capacity to know what the negative action is, and the consequence of that negative action for himself and for others. Therefore they would not blindly jump into the negative action, but would have some resistance and strength and self-control to act oppositely with certainty and conviction in the right course of action. Therefore we may say “I trust that.”
For instance, I say, “I trust my friend would not smash a mosquito that is biting his arm.” I say that based on knowing he is a Buddhist, meaning he understands that such actions are harmful to the mosquito as well as to himself. He’s able to put himself in the position of the mosquito, and imagine how that would be — to be crushed. Therefore, I could expect him not to do something like that.
But, I don’t assume my friend has this unaltered stream of kindness or compassion. In that case he would have to be a saint. I might also say, “my friend has a good heart,” because even if he is bitten, he would shoo the mosquito away rather than destroy it.
So what is the basis of our statement? Are we are referring to the feelings, or we are basing our thoughts on the clarity of the mind, and a conviction of the wisdom that this clarity of mind provides? I think it is that.
Sometimes it seems that Westerners are so stuck on their feelings. Like a hungry ghost who is always searching for food, they are always searching for feelings in their heart, something that will gratify their existence. It almost becomes an addiction in certain ways. Some people turn to alcohol, some people to cocaine, while others are addicted to feelings. They are so attached to these feelings and they try to get what they need through those means. At some point this becomes an illness.
So the problem is being always so focused on the feelings, and searching all the time for the feeling that you want to have. Then there is the problem of not getting it, which in turn leads to feeling deprived; rather than focusing upon the wisdom and the clarity of one’s mind, and allowing the feelings to come and go. When desirable feelings are there, of course enjoy it! But when they’re not present, there’s no need to be shaken completely, as if everything now is in flux, as if everything is a confused uncertainty—which really seems to be one of the painful aspects of people falling in and out of love. Never knowing what truly motivates you to be with somebody — on what basis or what principle—becomes very complicated, with big suffering in the end.
So if you can, treat your emotions as supplementary, beneficial elements to your positive mind — one’s positive heart — and then treat the clarity and wisdom as the primary and most important aspect to cultivate. Have faith in that. If everything depends on feelings, there will be times when the feelings may be opposite from where your faith is. You might actually feel that you want to act out of anger to harm somebody. You may feel that way, but your faith has to guide you otherwise.
However, if the faith and the feelings are all just one thing, you will need to kill, or harm, or do the things that your momentary emotions guide you to do. Whereas if there is this faith and something different from the emotions that you can rely upon to overcome your feelings, where do you think that faith comes from? It comes from the clarity and wisdom of one’s mind, rather than how your emotions are in that moment.
Once this confusion has been resolved, I think we can actually save a lot of time by not worrying so much about our feelings. We won’t be the hungry ghost, for all eternity being torn by one set of feelings we want and another we don’t want; always hungering for certain feelings, and in not finding it, feeling deprived, and like we are lost about what to do with our life.
On the other hand, I think that if one wants to cultivate the feelings that really support us, it is important for us to know how feelings are created, and how we are able to create them. When they are not there, what are the reasons that they are absent.
For instance, let’s say you want to feel inspired and would like to feel engaged in practice. Yet when you don’t feel inspired, and that feeling is not there, maybe it’s because you’re overtired, or because you’re rushing through, with your mind focused on something else. So one has to see clearly, and say “Oh that’s what is happening and that’s why I am not feeling the feelings that I want.” So perhaps do the practice when you are not so tired, or while you are doing it, instead of doing it as an obligation, do it with the right motivation. Then see whether you will have the desirable feelings there as well.
In the Buddhist world, there is a thing called seju. Seju does not refer to the primary thing itself that creates an effect or result. Seju means the conditional causes that supplement the primary cause. So if the conditional causes are lacking, although the primary cause is present, that primary cause may not necessarily have the effect that it should have. To understand seju you have to understand the secondary conditions. The secondary conditions include the sets of qualities or things you want, as well as those that you want to remove. In this way, with this discipline, a person becomes very learned.
My point here is that the good mind and heart is a mind of clarity, a mind of wisdom, a mind of conviction and faith in this wisdom that you know to be truth — recognising that this truth can never be anything other than truth itself.