Emotions have a great impact on our lives in innumerable ways and if their role is clearly grasped, it is possible to harness them for greater self-knowledge through the practice of what we may describe as ‘mindful emotions ’. This book is an exciting journey of looking at anger , fear and sadness, but also the more complex emotions of jealousy and envy . It is a stimulating entry into the nature of humour that invariably gets entangled with conceit and status anxiety . Anger is the most important negative emotion which feeds a whole dimension of emotions , jealousy, envy , depression, and boredom , and one may say most of the hindrances (nīvaraṇa): aversion, lethargy, agitation, and even sceptical doubt. Grief, sadness, as well as shame and guilt are difficult emotions . If sadness is not well understood it leads to depression. Guilt is more Western, and shame, Eastern. Over the years, I have studied emotion profiles, as it was like a hobby, but my interest in mindful emotions emerged with long years of the practice of insight meditation.
Through the avenues of our body, we have to be aware of feelings and thought patterns. In anger and anxiety the body sends the initial messages to the stomach. There is tightening of the throat and even pounding of the heart. But, if a systematic mindfulness practice has been established, one can see the emergence of, for instance, angry thoughts and gradually nip them in the bud. The Buddhist discourses say that if one could see the emergence of anger as it arises and see anger as anger (not lust), then it is easy to see that it does not develop into a complete emotion. Becoming mindful of the rise and fall of psychic states indicating ‘impermanence’ and no ‘ownership’ is the most profound way of mindfulness practice.
The practice of mindfulness in relation to emotions always emphasises that bottling up one’s negative emotions has injurious physical as well as psychological consequences. I had in earlier studies made a comparative study of Buddhist and Western theories of emotions , but this study is more directly concerned with ‘emotion profiles’, in terms of mindfulness practice. Identifying and differentiating the nature of different emotions is the work of making emotion profiles.
One of the important insights in Buddhist emotion management is to relate the doctrine of ‘impermanence’ to emotion management. The rise and cessation of psychological states indicate that they are not permanent. The crucial point is not to control the emotions but to see their emergence and passing. The other important doctrine is that what is called the ‘self’ is also a dynamic flow. These two doctrines which are central to insight meditation are a basic resource for emotion management.
‘There are certain mind-states and thought patterns which often disturb peace in an ordinary mind. Greed
, conceit, jealousy, remorse, self-consciousness, nervousness, timidity, self-centredness, self-pity, phobias, hypersensitivity and obsessions are a few of them’. 1
Jayatunga says there are two ways of getting rid of impure mind-states. The first is to replace unwholesome mindful states like anger with loving kindness and when the mind becomes composed one should focus on the reality of conditioned things, including wholesome states—the focus being on the impermanent, unsatisfactory and non-self. But a bolder way is to develop non-judgemental awareness on such unwholesome states straight away. Thus one could first develop a refined character and then see the true nature of reality. The application of the notion of impermanence, seeing the rise and fall of the emotion as it occurs, disarms you from the continuity of the unwholesome emotion.
While I shall present a detailed study of anger , I shall then move to the profile of greed , the insatiable urge to acquire more and more: greed , more broadly described as ‘desire’, craving and the obsession it generates. It is as if there is a feeling of ‘lack’ which needs incessant filling. While anger as an emotion, calls from us patience, desire and greed call for restraint. When desires degenerate into greed and craving, they become toxic and get converted into unmitigated attachment.
But most people in their busy routine lives are not aware of these emotions and one may say are incapable of noticing them. Once one develops detached observation of these states, or what I call mindful emotions , one becomes relaxed, composed and a quiet sense of joy enters one’s mind. In general, one becomes capable of watching the different states of the mind non-judgementally and non-reactively.
It is at this stage that the practitioner of mindfulness
has to be aware of subliminal anger
), subliminal greed
), and subliminal
). To cite an example, imagine a man walking through a forest on a quiet evening. Suddenly he tramples on a bundle of dry twigs and is about to run. He experiences the fight or flight response and wants to run, thinking that the noise the twigs are making is a rattlesnake. In such a circumstance, the central nervous system has been hijacked by the amygdala
, and impulsive action follows. Under normal circumstances, the message would have been processed by the central nervous system. Such tendencies to fear
may lie at a subliminal
or dormant level and are described by the Pali term (anusaya
) which may lie dormant, may emerge as thought processes (pariyuṭṭhāna
) or become fierce and ungovernable (vītikkama
). Basically, greed
and conceit may exist at a dormant level. The person who is well trained will act mindfully, is not caught up in the hijacking of the amygdala, will be calm, and will consciously make decisions. Or, if it is a situation of anger
, will use non-judgemental resilience. Resilience and non-judgemental acceptance help a mindful person to go through the exigencies of daily life. They will be able to anticipate that anger
may arise before they get caught up in anger
. These subliminal levels of anger
, greed and conceit, clearly fortify the incongruity theory of humour
, presented by Ñāṇavīra Thera
—the little cracks in our consciousness that make us laugh. Sigmund Freud
’s relief theory of humour
also draws on the concept of the unconscious/subliminal
. I shall discuss the alternative theories of humour
in Chapter 9
This study presents an exploration of an important dimension of our emotional lives, the sense of humour , which is very rarely explored in the context of Buddhist perspectives of our emotional lives. I have taken pains to make an original contribution to this theme and have given it a central focus in this book, relating it to a whole group of emotions . Venerable Ñāṇavīra Thera , who was formerly a British philosopher known as Harold Mus...