Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Psychology of EMOTIONS in Buddhism

Dr. Padmasiri de Silva, Sir D. B. Jayatilleke Commemoration Lecture, Sri Lanka (1976 © 2007) edited and expanded by Dhr. Seven and Ashley Wells, Wisdom Quarterly
Candy heart messages getting stale? Computer-generated options are no help A researcher plugged in typical Valentine's Day candy heart messages and got some weird combos (NPR).
Psychology of Emotions in Buddhist Perspective
[I accepted the invitation to give this lecture] with mixed feelings of diffidence and hope.

Diffidence because our own thinking sometimes reflects the very conditions that generates the turmoil around us, hope because in the message of the Buddha there is a ray of light that will help us to emerge out of this predicament with clarity of thought and purpose.

There is a need for clarity in the way we think and in the way we feel. Incidentally, the affective (emotional) dimension of humans provides the thematic content of today's lecture.
Let us first raise the question, What is the place of emotions in Buddhism? then move on to an analysis of specific emotions -- fear, hatred, sorrow, and grief -- and finally the Four Sublime States:
  1. loving-kindness
  2. compassion
  3. joy in others' joy
  4. equanimity.
Having discussed the negative and positive aspects of emotions within the ethics and the psychology of Buddhism, let's raise some questions regarding the aesthetic aspect of emotions in Buddhism.

The Place of Emotions in Buddhism
I love my feelings. I am my feelings.
Emotions are generally regarded in the mind of the Buddhist as aspects of our personality that interfere with the development of a spiritual life, as unwholesome states are ethically undesirable and roadblocks to be cleared in the battleground between emotion and reason.

In keeping with this perspective, emotions are described as states of "agitation" or "imbalance." See The Psychology of Nirvana by Rune Johansson, London, 1969, p. 24).
The Psychology of Nirvana
While a large number of emotional states discussed in Buddhist texts fit into this description, are we to accept that all the emotions are of this sort?

Within the field of experimental psychology, some accept that emotions can be both organizing (making behavior more effective) and disorganizing.

In the field of ethics, the place of emotions in the moral life [Buddhist ethics] is a neglected subject, but a few voices in the contemporary world have expressed opinions which bring out the relevance of the psychology of emotions to moral assessment, reminding us of the very refreshing discussions in Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics.

In these discussions, too, there is an acceptance of the creative role of emotions in the moral life of humans. It may be that there is an emotional aspect of humans that distorts our reasoning, feeds our prejudices, and darkens our vision.

But should we not look for an emotional facet in humans that expands one's horizons of thinking, breaks through our egotism, sharpens a healthy sense of the tragic, and evokes the ennobling emotions of sympathy and compassion for fellow humans?

[What road to take?]

There are young people all over the world today torn between the world of the senses -- with its excitement and boredom -- and the "path of renunciation [letting go]" about which they are unclear, as it combines a sense of rebellion, escape, mystery, and a search for the "exotic East."

I am sure the message of the Buddha presents to them a philosophy of life that will combine non-attachment with zest for doing things.

This evening, let us turn our minds towards an aspect of this modern predicament, with the hope of discovering a little light in the ancient wisdom of the Buddha, a light that may help us to see clearly the nature of the little world of turmoil that surrounds us.
Our discussion today is not a matter of mere academic interest. The recent drama competition organized by the Kandy Y.M.B.A. [Young Men's Buddhist Association of Kandy, Sri Lanka], an attempt to present a drama based on the Buddhist Jataka rebirth-stories, is the kind of venture that makes us think that the "education of the emotions" is not alien to the Buddhist tradition.

This talk will be concerned with the psychological, the ethical and, to a limited extent, the aesthetic dimension of emotions.

What are emotions?
An emotion is the meaning we give to our felt states of arousal. Psychologists consider emotions to be complex states involving diverse aspects.

On the one hand an emotion is a physiological state of arousal; on the other hand, it also involves an object as having a certain significance or value to the individual.

Emotions are dynamically fed by our drives and dispositions. They are also interlocked with other emotions, related to an individual's beliefs, a wide-ranging network of symbols, and the "cultural ethos" of a society.
Emotions basically involve dispositions to act by way of approach or withdrawal. Let us take an example to illustrate this. A person who walks a long distance across a forest track feels thirsty and is attracted by the sight of water in a passing stream. So one approaches it.

But there is a fierce animal close to the stream and one is impelled to withdraw or fight [the fight, flight, freeze, or faint response]. If one withdraws one might then have a general feeling of anxiety. And if one gets back home safely, one will be relieved.

So perception of objects and situations is followed by a kind of appraisal of them as attractive or harmful.

These appraisals initiate tendencies to feel in a certain manner and an impulse to act in a desirable way.

Not all states of appraisal initiate action. For instance, in joy we like a passive continuation of the existing state. In grief, we generally give up hope. Though there may be certain biologically built-in patterns of expressing emotions, learning plays a key role. Learning influences both the type and intensity of arousal as well as the control and expression of emotions.
The emotional development of people has been the subject of serious study. There are significant differences in the emotional development of people depending on the relevant cultural and social variables.

In fact, certain societies are prone to give prominence to certain types of emotions (a dominant social ethos). There are also differences regarding the degree of expressiveness and control of emotions. The important point is that each of us develops a relatively consistent pattern of emotional development, colored by the individual's style of life.

The Psychology of Emotions in Buddhism
An emotion occurs generally when an object is considered as something attractive or repulsive.
There is a felt-tendency impelling us towards suitable objects and impelling us to move away from unsuitable or harmful objects.

The individual also perceives and judges the situation in relation to oneself as attractive or repulsive. While a person feels attraction (sarajjati) for agreeable material shapes, one feels repugnance (byapajjati) for disagreeable material shapes.

An individual thus possessed of like (anurodha) and dislike (virodha) approaches pleasure-giving objects and avoids painful objects (M i 226; MN 38).
Pleasant feelings (sukha vedana) and painful feelings (dukkha vedana) are affective reactions to sensations.

When we make a judgment in terms of hedonic tone of these affective reactions, there are excited in us certain dispositions to possess the object (greed), to destroy it (hatred), to avoid it (fear), to get [bored, confused, perplexed, obsessed, anxious, or worried over it (delusion), and so on. More

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