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Buddhist Quote of the Day: Dealing With Emotions

meditation_emotions_buddhism.jpgby Ethan Nichtern

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche is one of the finest Tibetan Buddhist teachers in America, in my humble opinion. Funnier than most comedians and sharper than most scholars, I would encourage you to check him out. Somebody buy this man a cup of Starbucks coffee (which he loves). Here he talks about recognizing emotions.


“When we recognize an emotion, such as strong passion accompanied by jealousy, we are actually breaking down the speed of that emotion. The total sense of recognition is important in both Sutra and Tantra. In Sutra, it is mindfulness. In Tantra, if we see that nature and look at it nakedly, we will see the nature of that wisdom. You don’t need to logically apply any reasoning. You don’t need to conceptually meditate on anything. Just simply recognize and observe it….We will have the experience of that wisdom by simply being with it without conception. Therefore, recognition is quite important.


“The first step is just simply to observe it. Simply recognize the
emotion and then watch it as it grows or as it continues. Just simply
watch it. In the beginning, just to have an idea that [the emotion] is
coming is very important and effective. In the Vajrayana
[Tantric] sense, the way to watch these emotions is without stopping
them. If we recognize the emotion and say, “Yes, it is passion,” and
then try to stop it, that’s a problem. Rejection our emotions is a
problem in Vajrayana.

-Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
Penetrating Wisdom

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posted October 6, 2009 at 3:09 pm

This is something I’ve been reading up on a lot the last few weeks. As you can tell from Ponlop Rinpoche’s remarks, in Tibet, vipashyana at the level of sutrayana always involves “logically apply[ing] reasoning and “conceptually meditate[ing] on [something].”
But in the Theravadin sutrayana tradition, vipassana can be more directly experiential and not so discursively mediated. More like Sutra Mahamudra and Dzogchen Semde than Tibetan sutrayana, that is.
The practice tradition of direct experience in the path of conventional sutrayana existed in Indian Mahayana, but it seems not to have been transmitted to Tibet.

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Tyler Dewar

posted October 6, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Thank you, Ethan, for sharing these comments from Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. Rinpoche has been focusing a lot on skillful methods for working with emotions lately, from the perspective of a modern reading of methods taught in Indian and Tibetan mahayana texts. It’s wonderful that you are highlighting the activities of some of the key lineage teachers in this regard. I look forward to further offerings!

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posted October 6, 2009 at 10:34 pm

I think the operative words here are “The first step is….” Observing emotions is hardly sufficient, something recognized by early Zen masters (e.g., Ta Hui, Yuanwu, and the Northern School [i.e., the Tun Huang texts]). The problem is thus not the stopping or damming of emotions (a la Freudianism) but the very identifying of, or positing of, emotions as objects to be observed. They cannot be observed because they never stay in one place long enough. You end up, in Heisenbergian fashion, attempting to measure one magnitude of the emotion and you cause the other magnitudes to blur. So the idea that you can slow an emotion down is, from a Zen point of view, illusory. Zen is superlative in the technique, the dharma if you will, of collapsing the subject-object duality in the activities of everyday life and thereby moving with the emotion, as fast or as slow as it actually is.

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posted October 7, 2009 at 3:59 am

This is rally true that we all should recognize the emotion but I think it is quite hard to observe our emotions but we should try this.Thank you for sharing this with us.

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posted October 7, 2009 at 5:03 am

I just read your post and I am also agreed that we all should recognize our emotion.I think may be it is quite difficult to observe an emotion first time.Thank you for sharing this with us.

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Adam Liss

posted October 7, 2009 at 9:11 pm

In my experience, emotions can indeed be observed. We can, with practice, identify the emotion, accept its presence and then dropping down into the body, become aware of concomitant physical sensations that arise. Allowing ourselves to experience the emotions and the sensations that are present without judgment or manipulation will allow impermanence to take its course. Impermanence means things will always change (as long as we are not holding on to them).

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S K Wong

posted October 7, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Its easy to recognize your emotion. You need practice, consciously ask yourself, “which image of you is behind each attempt to do something every moment”. When you are angry, first you have to be mindful that you are angry, then ask your self which emotion is behind that “angry” emotion. You can picture that shadow of you or an image. That image is your emotion, then feel that emotion, observe that emotion, just feel that feeling. Trace that emotion to the source. The moment you bring up the emotion it may just disappear.

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Anan E. Maus

posted October 8, 2009 at 7:40 am

As many have said, meditation produces insight. Long meditation produces great insight. Insight into every single manner and experience.
That being said, the eye of insight is not a superior consciousness to that of spiritual emotion. It is good to use wisdom and insight to keep a check on errant emotion, so that the emotions stay spiritual. But the insight itself is not the “stuff” it is just the eye watching the “stuff.”
They say that the chakras are “jealous” or “addictive.” That the third eye with its knowledge and insight wants to dominate the being. The heart, with its spiritual emotions of unity, friendship, caring and etc. also wants to dominate the being. As do the lower chakras. So, when mind is engaged, we get the spiritual qualities of the mind, but we also get its attachment to itself and its stubborn refusal to allow the other aspects of the being their proper functioning.
That is one danger of meditative practice, to allow an aspect of the being, like insight, so dominate the being that the consciousness becomes skewed – into some place of “insight only.”

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