Emotion and Reason

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Emotion and Reason

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 15, 2013 3:38 am

Elsewhere we were discussing emotion and reason in respect to practice and decision making.

I've argued that passionate emotions are unreliable guides and are further essentially irrational, thus not suitable for decision making. In terms of practice they are normally a reflection of afflictions and consequently should be remedied. Passionate emotions would be anger, love and envy, whereas general feelings like irritation, finding something agreeable and ease more reflect immediate environmental circumstances rather than afflictions.

At the risk of sounding like a Vulcan, it would seem only logical to address the existence of passionate emotions and eliminate them as they lead to suffering and are a product of afflicted mental states. Reason, although it can be informed by wrong views and ignorance, is still a superior guide when some degree of wisdom is present. If we understand the causes of suffering and act based on solid reasoning, then we will avoid creating unnecessary suffering. We will also remedy unreasonable emotions.

So where does compassion fit in with this? I argued before that genuine compassion will not be motivated by emotions, but instead will come as naturally as feeding oneself without a second thought or emotional response. In the absence of self and other, even at a shallow level, the inclination towards looking after fellow beings is as natural as looking after "oneself". I don't see why the bodhisattva would need or want to sense a passionate disruptive emotional state as it seems contrary to the ideal of equanimity and seeing all beings in an equal light. Again, you don't normally need to be motivated by or subsequently feel emotion when looking after yourself.

I hope we can continue this aspect of our earlier discussion here. It is worth discussing. How do we treat emotions?
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby Kim O'Hara » Mon Apr 15, 2013 4:01 am

In general I agree, Huseng, but it might be useful to tell us where "elsewhere" is, in case the context makes a difference.
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 15, 2013 4:05 am

The discussion started from around here:

viewtopic.php?f=66&t=12369&start=120#p161056

No, the point of practice is liberation from suffering. Emotions are equatable to suffering.
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby jeeprs » Mon Apr 15, 2013 4:35 am

I generally agree with the OP. One thing I have thought about is this: in old translations of both Buddhist and also ancient Greek philosophy, the expression is often encountered that the virtuous are those who have 'overcome the passions'. Perhaps the meaning of the word has changed somewhat, because I am inclined to think that what this really means is 'overcoming emotionality' or 'overcoming moodiness'. This is obviously an important aspect of 'equanimity' which is the ability not to be emotionally affected by external events. It is prized in both Buddhism and also in classical Stoicism (in fact the two traditions are very alike in this respect.)

But I also agree that compassion can be differentiated from both moods and emotions. I think it has an emotional effect (or is that affect?), in that it often 'moves' you in a very deep way. But it has a different quality to emotions in the sense of moods or emotions.

Possibly it is like a 'purified emotion', or an emotion which is directed at a worthwhile end, rather than a self-centred emotion, which is what many emotions are.
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 15, 2013 4:57 am

jeeprs wrote:This is obviously an important aspect of 'equanimity' which is the ability not to be emotionally affected by external events. It is prized in both Buddhism and also in classical Stoicism (in fact the two traditions are very alike in this respect.)


I've noticed the similarity as well. Also, as Epictetus says, "The things which are independent of the will are nothing to me." What he means here is that if something is beyond your control, then there is no need to become emotionally compromised over it. That means even if some great injustice is committed against you or your kin, there is no logical point to becoming upset over it. It isn't relevant to living the good life, so it is an indifferent.

I've adopted such an idea for my purposes. If something is conducive to liberation, pursue it. If if something is contrary to liberation, abandon it. Anything else is indifferent, so while preferable to be financially stable and healthy they are not directly relevant to liberation, so no need being overly concerned with such things. Death incidentally is an indifferent, just as the Stoics suggest. Death is neither conducive to nor contrary to the pursuit of liberation, so it is of minor consequence.

When I feel upset about something I ask myself if it is really relevant to liberation. If it isn't (and normally it isn't), then I decide to let go of it. If I'm sensing something contrary to liberation like anger, desire, envy or lust, I acknowledge it and then mentally pull away. I'm not a sage, but I try.

As a śramaṇa I believe this is really necessary to maintain pure brahmacarya. It isn't just physical, but related to speech and mind as well. If your mind can let go of desire, then the bodily reactions don't occur. The same with anger. In the absence of anger you don't get the related physiological response. If your mind remains ultimately untainted like the sky, then you won't have the physical decay associated with stress.

One problem in our present day is that if you talk about emotions and desires like this, those with ideas from popular psychology will say you're trying to repress your emotions or something to that effect. Modern western culture doesn't seem to appreciate the idea of purging your mind of passionate emotions. This incidentally ties in with eliminating lust as well. It is perceived as unnatural and dangerous. If you seek to eliminate all passions, emotions and lust alike, then you're really stepping away from the standard comfort zone. It is as if you're readying yourself to become explosive. A ticking time bomb because you don't "express your feelings" and "let go of tension".




Possibly it is like a 'purified emotion', or an emotion which is directed at a worthwhile end, rather than a self-centred emotion, which is what many emotions are.


But do you feel emotion when you put your socks on or feed yourself? In the absence of self and other, would there be any need or impulse to have emotions associated with helping others?
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby pueraeternus » Mon Apr 15, 2013 5:02 am

Many sutras (both Mahayana and non-Mahayana) are quite clear on the point that passions are an obstacle to the path. For example, the Ratnagotravibhaga has (Takasaki's translation):

"Just as the impurities are somewhat disagreeable;
Likewise those who have got rid of desire
[Regard] Passion as something disagreeable,
Being characterized as devoted to [such] Passion,
The outburst of Passions is repulsive like impurities. "

And also:

"It is said that the Buddhas are difficult to obtain.
Here, in this world, it is quite rare
To obtain the pure gem, even though the people so much
Long for it in the depth of the ocean or under the ground;
Similarly, the sight of Buddha should be known as
Not easily achieved in this luckless world
By those whose mind is afflicted by various passions."

Some may refer to the usage of passions in Vajrayana as a reason that it has a place in the dharma. However, in the context of passion here, it is used in ways different from one would normally think. Passions are employed with a mind sharpened and clarified by prior training to deeply understand the suffering of the six realms (jealously, hatred, lust, etc); turned/transformed into commitment and devotion for all sentient beings; contemplating it as a mode of intrinsic/immanent expression, then released, thus seeing the nature of mind. So I think even in paths that employs passion, it is used in ways that is very different from allowing it to fiddle with one's consciousness.
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 15, 2013 5:11 am

pueraeternus wrote:So I think even in paths that employs passion, it is used in ways that is very different from allowing it to fiddle with one's consciousness.


If this is so, then it seems reasonable to say one should first be free of the passions and not coerced by them before employing them for alternative ends.

In that sense, you don't attempt this until you've mastered the basics and don't suffer the poison any longer.
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby pueraeternus » Mon Apr 15, 2013 5:52 am

Huseng wrote:
pueraeternus wrote:So I think even in paths that employs passion, it is used in ways that is very different from allowing it to fiddle with one's consciousness.


If this is so, then it seems reasonable to say one should first be free of the passions and not coerced by them before employing them for alternative ends.

In that sense, you don't attempt this until you've mastered the basics and don't suffer the poison any longer.


Indeed so. There are many caveats for attempting Vajrayana, and it promises many ways to slip and fall into all manner of horrors for a very very long time. Somehow this is no longer emphasized that much.

As far as I understand, in the past usually only those who are already well-trained in the Mahayana traditions (or went through long years of common Mahayana training under Vajrayana rubric, such as the lamrim or lamdre, etc) or those possessing uncommon faculties identified by the Vajra guru are initiated into the deep training. So for those in Vajrayana, it is terribly important to be grounded in the preliminaries, three trainings, etc, before attempting to employ passion as part of the path.
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby Konchog1 » Mon Apr 15, 2013 6:11 am

I've always thought that the general idea was to stop the creation of certain emotions and promote the creation of others.
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby jeeprs » Mon Apr 15, 2013 6:20 am

Huseng wrote:But do you feel emotion when you put your socks on or feed yourself? In the absence of self and other, would there be any need or impulse to have emotions associated with helping others?


*Now* you're being Vulcan. :smile:

In fact I find that over the years, meditation has yielded a lot of what can only be described as 'emotion'. Often bliss, in fact. I know not to get attached to that or seek for it, but it happens. Also I have experienced the development of mudita, sympathetic joy. I feel this a lot of the time now - it is the feeling when you're talking to someone, or even watching them on television, that you really feel for them and are happy or them, especially when they are making an effort to do something well. So whilst on the one hand there has been a slight decrease in emotional swings, on the other, those feelings associated with spiritual practice have definitely increased considerably. So are these 'passions' or 'afflictive emotions'? I think not. But they are not emotion-less, either.
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 15, 2013 8:30 am

jeeprs wrote:So are these 'passions' or 'afflictive emotions'? I think not. But they are not emotion-less, either.


I think we need to qualify "passionate emotions" as problematic, in contrast to what you're talking about here and general feelings that arise according to circumstance like irritation.

I know after having some profound insight or extended period of sitting there can be joy and bliss, sometimes on a level otherwise never experienced. Still, I wonder if this isn't related to environmental and situational factors. The joy after a deep insight wears off after all, just as irritation from a headache would. The bliss from samadhi is perhaps largely a result of detaching from the sufferings of body and mind. Again, situational and it wears off. In that sense these are not passionate emotions so much as reactions.

The Abhidharmasamuccaya defines the following as citta-viprayukta saṃskāra or "formations dissociated from the mind":

    « [2] What is the attainment of non-perception (asamjnisamdpatti)?
    It is a designation indicating the cessation (nirodha)
    of the unstable mind and mental activities (asthavaranam cittacaitasikanam)
    by means of attention (manasikard) preceded by
    the perception of release (nihsaranasamjna) in a person who is
    free from craving (vltaragd) in the "wholly pure" state (subhakrtsna),
    but who is not yet free from the craving beyond that.

    « [3] What is the attainment of cessation (nirodbasamapatti)?
    It is a designation indicating the cessation of the unstable mind
    and mental activities by means of attention preceded by the perception
    of a state of peace (santavibard) in a person free from
    craving in "the sphere of nothingness" (akincanyayatand) and
    who is emerging from the "summit of existence" (bbavagrd).

    « [4] What is the state of non-perception (asamjnika)? It is a
    designation indicating the cessation of the unstable mind and
    mental activities in a person who is born among the gods (deva)
    in the state of non-perceptive beings (asamjnisattvd).


(Sorry for the formatting, pasting from a .pdf is always problematic).
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby jeeprs » Mon Apr 15, 2013 8:59 am

It is nevertheless the case that one of the inherent attributes of nirvana is 'bliss' (sukha) even if it is something more than, or different from, emotion in the every-day sense.

For that matter, it is also often stated that the Buddha's realization is 'beyond the sphere of reasoning', in numerous places in the Brahmajāla Sutta and elsewhere.

In current Western philosophy, 'reason' is often taken to be the grounds for belief in philosophical materialism. So 'reason' in its own right, is not a means of deliverance from suffering. It is a tool that can be utlized for that end, but the goal itself is beyond the scope of reason as such, isn't it?
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby Nikolay » Mon Apr 15, 2013 9:09 am

I cannot give the exact source right now, but I encountered the following statement several times in Buddhist literature: there are three ways of working with negative emotions. Hinayana approach is to suppress them, Mahayana approach is to transform them into their opposites, and Vajrayana approach is to transmute them into their pure essence. I would note that texts usually speak specifically of negative emotions. This seems to imply that there is definitely such thing as "positive emotions" from Buddhist POV, especially considering the Mahayana approach.

I would also note that emotions are closely linked with motivation. Once absolute bodhicitta is realized, they are obviously not necessary, but relative bodhicitta definitely sounds like a strong emotional state to me - a heartfelt aspiration to save all sentient beings, born out of intense love and compassion for them.

So I would say that mundane emotions like love should be not suppressed but purified through our practice, eliminating their negative components, and then used as a support for further practice. Getting rid of emotions completely in our imperfect state, besides being impossible, would kill our motivation for practice. This is just my viewpoint.
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 15, 2013 9:46 am

jeeprs wrote:It is nevertheless the case that one of the inherent attributes of nirvana is 'bliss' (sukha) even if it is something more than, or different from, emotion in the every-day sense.


Sukha is also understood as ease, the absence of suffering. It has different implications based on the context of course. It shouldn't be understood as emotion as it is also classed under vedanā (sensation/feeling), the second aggregate. Consider the following from the Abhidharmasamuccaya:

    What is the definition of the aggregate of feeling? The six
    groups of feeling: feeling aroused by contact with the eye, feelings
    aroused by contact with the ear, nose, tongue, body and
    mental organ. These six groups of feeling are pleasant or unpleasant
    or neither pleasant nor unpleasant. Equally, there are
    pleasant, unpleasant, neither pleasant nor unpleasant physical
    feelings; pleasant, unpleasant, neither pleasant nor unpleasant
    mental feelings; pleasant, unpleasant, neither pleasant nor
    unpleasant sensual feelings; pleasant, unpleasant, neither pleasant
    nor unpleasant non-sensual feelings; there are also pleasant,
    unpleasant, neither pleasant not unpleasant feelings associated
    with greed (gredha)-, pleasant, unpleasant, neither
    pleasant nor unpleasant feelings associated with renunciation
    (naiskramya).
    What is physical feeling? It is feeling associated with the
    five kinds of consciousness [in relation to the five physical feelings].
    What is mental feeling? It is feeling associated with mental
    consciousness.
    What is sensual feeling? It is feeling associated with desire
    for self.
    What is non-sensual feeling? It is feeling free from that
    desire.
    What is feeling associated with greed? It is feeling associated
    with greed for the five sense pleasures.
    What is feeling associated with renunciation? It is feeling
    which is free from this [last] desire.



The agreeable feelings of being free from desire are not emotions like happiness and anger.



In current Western philosophy, 'reason' is often taken to be the grounds for belief in philosophical materialism. So 'reason' in its own right, is not a means of deliverance from suffering. It is a tool that can be utlized for that end, but the goal itself is beyond the scope of reason as such, isn't it?


Reasoning and deliberation are likewise classified as saṃskāras, which means they are conditioned, impermanent, a product of ignorance and karma. That being said, they are a means to an end. Consider the following:

    « [51] What is reasoning (vitarkd)? It is mental debating
    (manojalpa) which seeks, deriving from volition (cetana) or intellect
    (prajiia), and it is mental coarseness (cittasyaiidarikata).
    « [52] What is deliberation (vicara)? It is mental debating
    which reflects (pratyaveksaka), deriving from volition (cetana)
    and intellect (prajna), and it is mental subtlety (cittasya
    suksmata). The function of both consists of supplying a basis to
    states of ease or uneasiness (sparsasparsavihara).



Now also consider the idea of pratisaṃkhyā-nirodha or "cessation of afflictions through power of analysis", which, at least in one context, is repeated deliberation on the Four Noble Truths.

This is using a conditioned process as a means to an end. Reasoning is not absolute, but still a better guide when properly informed than emotionally passionate states of mind.
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 15, 2013 9:51 am

mirage wrote: Getting rid of emotions completely in our imperfect state, besides being impossible, would kill our motivation for practice. This is just my viewpoint.


I don't think so. In the absence of emotion there would still be suffering and an inclination to remedy it.
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby Nikolay » Mon Apr 15, 2013 10:40 am

Huseng wrote:
mirage wrote: Getting rid of emotions completely in our imperfect state, besides being impossible, would kill our motivation for practice. This is just my viewpoint.


I don't think so. In the absence of emotion there would still be suffering and an inclination to remedy it.

Well, possibly there would. However, even if it is sufficient (which I actually doubt - without the fuel provided by positive emotion, would we be able to overcome the tremendous inertia of our negative habits?), how can we follow an altruistic path of bodhisattva on such basis? It may make sense on a purely rational level to try to remedy our own suffering, since we feel it directly. But feeling the suffering of others implies empathy, compassion, love, all those things Mahayana practice aims to cultivate, and which are, in my opinion, obviously emotions - positive ones. Of course we can state that in reality there is no "self" and "other", but in our unrealized state this is just dry theory which is insufficient to really motivate anyone. That's why Mahayana texts speak of all sentient beings as our own mothers, and such. To invoke positive emotions in the reader. They are full of bits like "imagine your own mother brutally tortured and killed in front of you, while you can only watch helplessly." The text encourages the reader to feel deep and horrible sadness and despair, and then use them to strengthen their commitment to the bodhisattva path.

After all, I remember H.H. Dalai Lama saying that he often weeps after reading the Bodhicaryāvatāra. Isn't it an emotion?
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby jeeprs » Mon Apr 15, 2013 10:42 am

Huseng wrote:The agreeable feelings of being free from desire are not emotions like happiness and anger.


Fortunately for you, you're not in Sales ;)
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 15, 2013 10:48 am

mirage wrote: But feeling the suffering of others implies empathy, compassion, love, all those things Mahayana practice aims to cultivate, and which are, in my opinion, obviously emotions - positive ones.


The idea of positive emotions is problematic because passionate emotions (like love) are generally driven by desire and the kleśa-s.

This is why, at least in my mind, the bodhisattva might come across as rather stoic. For the welfare of beings they are not infected by the same emotional passions. Their compassion is motivated by wisdom, not emotion. This is a huge difference between nominal compassion and true compassion. The former is still praiseworthy, but has its limits. The latter is unshakeable.

Of course we can state that in reality there is no "self" and "other", but in our unrealized state this is just dry theory which is insufficient to really motivate anyone. That's why Mahayana texts speak of all sentient beings as our own mothers, and such. To invoke positive emotions in the reader.


A means to an end. Skilful means.

After all, I remember H.H. Dalai Lama saying that he often weeps after reading the Bodhicaryāvatāra. Isn't it an emotion?


Sure, but I imagine he knows the wisdom side of things as well. When addressing common people he has to speak to them in terms they'll understand and easily recognize. The bodhisattva first employs compassionate means because kindness is universally recognized, whereas wisdom is not. Wisdom is often reacted to with hostility.
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 15, 2013 10:51 am

jeeprs wrote:
Huseng wrote:The agreeable feelings of being free from desire are not emotions like happiness and anger.


Fortunately for you, you're not in Sales ;)


I would be a terrible salesman.

I mean I have a hard enough time buying new socks when I need them. How could I sell people things they don't need? :roll:
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Re: Emotion and Reason

Postby Nikolay » Mon Apr 15, 2013 11:01 am

Huseng wrote:The idea of positive emotions is problematic because passionate emotions (like love) are generally driven by desire and the kleśa-s.

Nevertheless, Buddhist texts I have read make frequent use of this term.

Huseng wrote:This is why, at least in my mind, the bodhisattva might come across as rather stoic. For the welfare of beings they are not infected by the same emotional passions. Their compassion is motivated by wisdom, not emotion. This is a huge difference between nominal compassion and true compassion. The former is still praiseworthy, but has its limits. The latter is unshakeable.

Relative bodhicitta is not unshakeable, but developing it is still the goal of much Mahayana practice.

A means to an end. Skilful means.

Naturally. I don't think anyone would argue that even love or compassion are an end in themselves? They are means to an end, and it does not make them less valuable. Actually, the Buddhist teaching and practice as a whole are means to an end, aren't they?

Sure, but I imagine he knows the wisdom side of things as well. When addressing common people he has to speak to them in terms they'll understand and easily recognize. The bodhisattva first employs compassionate means because kindness is universally recognized, whereas wisdom is not. Wisdom is often reacted to with hostility.

I fail to see your point. Wisdom is necessary, but method is also necessary. There is a well-known metaphor where they are compared to bird's wings. Take any wing away, and the bird will not fly.
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