Thursday, December 9, 2010

Destructive Emotions - a summary first two chapters

Experiments with lama Oser
Lama Oser is a trained tibetan monk.
- Buddhism offers a route to training the mind as an antidote to the mind's vulnerability to destructive emotions..contentment instead of craving, calm rather than agitation and compassion in place of hatred
- Meditation is not a single exericise, there are many varieties of metal training. Oser performed a series of meditation exercises
  • One pointedness - focused concentration on a single object , beginner's method, prerequisite for moving on to other approaches,
  • Devotion - focus on teachers in which he holds in mind a deep appreciation and gratitude towards his teachers and the qualities that they embody
  • Compassion - bringing to mind the suffering of living beings and the fact that they all aspire to achieve happiness and be free from suffering - compassion for all beings friends, strangers and enemies - an important aspect is that compassion should be directed at yourself too. Compassion is more than just feeling for other, but a heartfelt caring and wanting to do something to relieve the person's suffering.
  • Fearlessness - bringing mind to fearless certainty, a deep confidence that nothing can unsettle- decisive and firm, without hesitation where you are averse to nothing..I have nothing to gain and nothing to lose
  • Open State - thought free wakefulness, mind is open vast and aware with no intentional mental activity..thoughts may start to arise but dont chain into longer thoughts- they fade away
  • Finally visualization - construct a detailed image of a deity.
Compassion triggered a very pleasant mood in MRI studies. Oser had a very acute perception of emotions based on facial signals. He had overcome the startle reflex - he could suppress this - a feat almost never seen. In another experiment talking to a difficult professor over a contentious topic, the level of arousal of the difficult professor decreased over time..he was always met with reason and smiles, he felt something like an aura - could not be aggressive.. returning agression with loving kindness is beneficial to you.
Such extraordinary people have great powers of attentiveness and concentration.The brain is plastic and with enough training (> 10,000 hours) can learn these skills

What is Happiness ?
Happiness involves feeling a certain way or being a certain is a calm state of mind..not necessarily in the sense of a child getting presents
Kant said that it is one thing to be happy and another thing to be good..that it was important to be morally good than it is to be happy. Among Greek Philosphers there is a tradition that reason must conquer emotions...Plato thought that reason should conquer emotions, desire, temperament. Aristotle thought that a set of virtues including courage, friendship and compassion should be in harmonious relation inside the person. Every virtue involves an emotional component for example there is a time when it is appropriate to show anger but the right amount to the right person.
Wat is virtuous ? Western Philosphers fall into two camps - utilitarian and kantian . Utilitarians engage in moral actions since it leads to higher goodness , Kantians argue that you must engage in moral actions regardless of the effects. Utilitarians would act for the majority good, kantians believe in the absolute good.

Buddhist Psychology
What is a destructive emotion ? an emotion that is harmful to the sense of less happiness, less well being, less lucidity and freedom. As we grow up we cultivate the feeling of' 'I' amd we feel thus 'I' is vulnerable and we need to protect it..form that comes attraction and aversion..aversion to things that threaten this 'I' and attraction to things that please it. This is the source of most emotions. These emotions boil down to the five main ones :- hatred, desire, confusion, pride and jealousy.
- Hatred is a deeply felt wish to harm someone else, to destroy their happiness.
- Desire - attachment is an understanding that things are permanent - that friendship, human beings, love, possessions will last.
- Ignorance / Confusion is a mental state that obscures the mind from its goal and prevents a realization of reality.
- Pride has many aspects - feeling superior to others, not recognizing one's defects or others good qualities.
- Jealousy is the inability rejoice in others happiness

Three levels of Consciousness

Are these negative emotions inherent in our basic nature ? According to Buddhist thought there are three levels of consciousness: gross, subtle and very subtle
Gross level corresponds to the functioning of the brain and the interaction of the body with the environment. The subtle level corresponds to the notion of 'I' and the introspective faculty with which it examines its own nature, the very subtle level is the deepest that has the awareness without the focus on a particular object..the awareness of this level is important in Buddhism. These levels should be viewed as the various layers of an ocean.

Freedom from Destructive Emotions

Negative emotions are not inherent to our nature. One approach in Buddhist praactice is for the meditator to look straight at the emotion like anger and try to determine the nature of the anger (not the cause) and you may determine that anger is not what one made it out to be, it is a collection of different events. So the ability to stare back and identify the source without that thought creating a chain of other thoughts should lead you to a clarity so that the thought cannot block your mind, cloud your judgement. The chain reaction of thoughts is what leads to anger, hatred, and malevolence.

As negative emotions take over the mind they transform into traits and a temperament - a universal antidote for negative emotions - is to use the antidote for a given negative emotion .

Love is an antidote for hatred - the human mind is incapable of holding both these thoughts together for a given reference
Similarly if there is immense desire for a given object, contemplate on the unpleasant aspects of that object. For ignorance we try to refine our understanding of what needs to be accomplished - for jealousy we try to rejoice in others qualities, for pride we appreciate other's achievements , open our eyes to our defects and cultivate humility.

One antidote that works in all cases is the realization of the empty nature of all these emotions which we can achieve by evaluative the true nature of these emotions and asking if they have any substance.

When should you deal with negative emotions ?
After they arise - a beginner's approach - use reason to investigate the conequences of that emotion to distinguish the emotions that bring happiness from those that cause suffering so that the next time such emotions can arise you do not give them freedom.
when they arise - this requires some practice - free your mind from an emotion as it arises so that it does not trigger a chain of thoughts that take over your mind - so one stares at a newly born thought and asks if it has shape and substance to discover its true nature of emptiness.

Meditation allows you to familiarize yourself with how emotions arise and go so that you get used to it and when you have had enough experience - you can just see emotions rise and fleet away.

A very trivial example would be that if one has gas - one could pass it, or one could learn to hold it back but ideally with mediation on compassion and lovingkindness - these emotions(gas) may never arise.

The goal is not repress emotions but to harness them - where anger is not expressed in violence but in a constructive approach.

Happiness is not the same as pleasure, and happiness comes from clarity, inner stability, and fulfillment. What are destructive emotions, they are the emotions that cloud this clarity and prevent you from seeing things as they are.