Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Psychology of Emotions in Buddhism

Dr. Padmasiri de Silva, The Psychology of Emotions in Buddhist Perspective; edited by Dhr. Seven, Ashley Wells, Ananda M. (Dharma Meditation Initiative), Wisdom Quarterly

An "emotion" occurs generally when an object of perception is considered as attractive or repulsive.

There is a felt tendency impelling people towards suitable/pleasant objects and impelling them to move away from unsuitable/unpleasant 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 forms, one feels repugnance (byapajjati) for disagreeable material ones.

An individual thus possessed of like (anurodha) and dislike (virodha) approaches pleasure-giving objects and avoids painful ones (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) or flee from it (fear), to get perplexed over it (delusion), and so on.

Sometimes it's easy to feel sad: too much pondering.
Our attitudes towards things, which have been formed in the past, influence our present reactions to oncoming stimuli, and these attitudes are often rooted in dynamic personality traits.

These attitudes, according to the historical Buddha, are not always the result of deliberations at a conscious level, but emerge on deep-rooted tendencies referred to as proclivities (anusaya*).

Pleasant feelings induce an attachment to pleasant objects, as they rouse latent sensual greed (raga-anusaya), painful feelings rouse latent anger and hatred/fear/aversion (patigha-anusaya).

States like pride, jealousy, elation, and so on can also be explained in terms of similar proclivities.
  • [*There are seven such proclivities: 1. sensual lust (kama-raga), 2. resentment (patigha), 3. views (ditthi), 4. skeptical doubt (vicikiccha), 5. mind (mana), 6. craving for eternal existence (bhava-raga), 7. ignorance (avijja)].
It is even said that such proclivities as leaning towards pleasurable experience (kama raga-anusaya) and malevolence (byapada-anusaya) are found latent even in "an innocent baby lying on its back" (M i 433; MN 64).
Hmm, I wonder what Spock would think.
The motivational side of the emotions can be grasped by a study of the six roots of motivation (mula). They fall into two groups, wholesome (kusala) and unwholesome (akusala).

The unwholesome roots are greed (lobha), hatred (dosa), and delusion (moha), while the wholesome roots are non-greed (alobha), non-hatred (adosa), and non-delusion (amoha).

Greed (lust, attraction, preference) generates the approach desires in the form of the drive for self-preservation (bhava-tanha) and the drive for sensual pursuits (kama tanha).

Hatred generates the avoidance desires in the form of the drive for annihilation and aggressive tendencies (vibhava-tanha).
  • [For an analysis of vibhava-tanha, see Padmasiri de Silva, Buddhist and Freudian Psychology, (Sri Lanka, 1973).]
In keeping with our initial observations, non-greed, non-hatred, and non-delusion should be considered as the springs of wholesome, beneficial, ethically profitable/desirable emotions.

In fact, in a study on the impact of the wholesome roots on the forms of wholesome consciousness, the following significant observations has been made by Ven. Nyanaponika Maha Thera:
"Non-greed and non-hate may, according to the particular case, have either a mainly negative meaning signifying absence of greed and hate.

"Or they may posses a distinctly positive character, for example: non-greed as renunciation [letting go], generosity, and non-hate as amity, kindness, or  forbearance.

"Non-delusion always has a positive meaning, for it represents the knowledge that motivates the respective state of consciousness.

"In their positive aspects, non-greed and non-hate are likewise strong motives of wholesome, skillful actions. They supply the non-rational, volitional, or emotional motives, while non-delusion represents the rational motive of a wholesome thought or action." More
  • [Ven. Nyanaponika Thera, Abhidhamma Studies (Sri Lanka, 1965), p.79]
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