Sunday, September 30, 2012

Unhealthy Emotions

Buddhism, as opposed to many western philosophical traditions, has an elegant way of describing and labeling harmful emotions. In an article entitled Buddhist and Psychological Perspectives on Emotions and Well-Being (Ekman et al.), two Buddhist practitioners (Ricard and Wallace) describe the ailments of three particular emotions.

First, they address craving:
Craving is concerned with acquiring or maintaining some desirable object or situation for "me" and "mine," which may be threatened by "the other" (61).
The quotation marks may confuse someone who has not been exposed to Buddhist thought or teachings.  Buddhists think that the root of all the confusion and existential conflicts result because people are quick to objectivize (if I may invent such a word) their own personal experience within the confines of reality. Craving, as defined by the authors is afflictive because it gives rise to anxiety, misery, fear, and anger. But, more specifically, craving "... falsely displaces the source of one's well being from one's own mind to objects" (ibid.). What good is the mind if it is so easily swayed by things external to it?

The second unhealthy emotion is hatred:
... hatred... is driven by the wish to harm or destroy anything that obstructs the selfish pursuit of desirable objects and situations for me and mine (ibid.).
The authors then go on to say that "Hatred exaggerates the undesirable qualities of objects and deemphasizes their positive qualities" (ibid.). They draw the conclusion that hatred causes the mind to observe external objects as the source of all suffering. Therefore, hatred definitely has the ability to sway an individual off the course of the peaceful life. People could become consumed in attempting to overcome those specific obstacles that cause pain.

Lastly, they identify the final unhealthy emotion, which is a bit more difficult to grasp:
The third, most fundamental affliction of the mind is the delusion of grasping onto one's own and others' reified personal identities as real and concrete.  ... people habitually obscure the actual nature of the self by superimposing on reality the concepts of permanence, singularity, and autonomy. As a result of misapprehending the self as independent, there arises a strong sense of the absolute separation of the self and other. Then, craving naturally arises for the "I" and what us mine, and repulsion arises toward the other (ibid.).
Where craving and hatred are described as unhealthy emotions that associate with objects, the delusion mentioned in this quote is mainly associated with other conscious beings. I am not exactly sure if this is the main point that the authors wished to express, but it is how I interpreted this last emotion.

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