Sunday, 14 November 2010

Emotional Content

I am a big fan of martial arts films. I know that most of them are terrible, the acting is woeful, the plot is the same every time and any form of dubbing or subtitling is normally hilarious. Nevertheless, I cannot help myself, I have watched quite a number of these films. There are some (and in this genre very few indeed) that have risen above the rest and have been recognised as appealing to a wider audience. Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee is one such film. I watched it again the other day and one of my favourite scenes is where Bruce is teaching a young martial arts student. The clip can be found on you-tube at the following link:

The part that I like the most has very little to do with martial arts (most of the rest I like because like every martial artist I dream of being taught by someone like Bruce Lee and receiving Zen master style slaps whenever I don't get anything right!), and is when Bruce says, 'Emotional content, not anger!'. This reminded me of a way that many critics of Buddhism perceive the enlightened mind, as being without any emotion. There are people have have a great deal of fear and hostility towards meditation and enlightenment because they think that it will separate them from the world.

People attack Buddhism saying things like, 'If I am detached and not part of life, how do I fall in love? It is natural for me to want to love and hate, to be happy and sad, I do not want to be detached from these things because that is not life.' I think this is a common complaint and comes from a linguistic miscommunication.

The enlightened mind still feels, and has deep and meaningful emotional content. This is very different to the grasping emotions that we feel every day. To the enlightened mind emotions don't seize and control the entire being or whole life. The master is never burned up or consumed by rage, anger or even love and joy. These emotions come and go just the same as they do to others, but the master remains calm and centred. If anything the enlightened mind feels more, because she/he is able to be truly in the moment, but when that moment passes so does the emotional content of that moment.

Taoist masters raised children and had families, loved their wives and husbands and held down perfectly normal jobs. Becoming enlightened does not mean riding yourself of emotion. Chung Tse wept bitterly at his wife's funeral (in fact he caused a bit of scene), because that was how he felt, yet his grief did not consume him. He expressed it fully and then allowed it to pass. The enlightened mind is exactly the same mind, the enlightened heart is exactly the same heart.

Let me put it another way, all of our minds are like great bodies of water (some people have convinced themselves or have been convinced by others that their minds are small bodies of water, but they are not!). These water bodies accept all the stuff that they meet, a small pebble causes a small ripple, but a large boulder causes a big splash. Our minds are complex and have their own tides and currents. They can cause storms. The average mind is stuck to the coast, it deals with the future (the shore) all of the time and its constantly battered by waves (the past). The masters mind is like the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it is totally calm and open. The currents here have stopped, any stones that fall are lapped up and absorbed by the depth of the water, the ripples pass away and they do not crash onto the shore. That is not to say that there will not be stones falling and storms trying to form. The ripples from the stones are absorbed by the deep full ocean and the calm and balance of the currents and air stops the storms before they get going. This place is free, easy and cannot be disturbed.


  1. Being far from an expert on Buddhism I feel validated in 'commenting' my immediate reaction to this post. Whilst the principles you have outlined seem well worth striving for as an individual, this is I believe equally its greatest detriment. It just seems like it could be an incredibly selfish philosophy? I have visions of hermitic strangers in raggedy robes looking down on the world of 'ordinary man' from their enlightened pedestal.

    Perhaps not necessarily in a condescending or patronizing way, as you say, perhaps in very loving, kind way, with a desire to help. But they remain distanced none the less, somehow better. “ I have the knowledge, I have surpassed you. Approach me and learn....please” (At best) or “IF YOU THINK YOURSELF WORHTY!!” (at worst).

    In my experience this is the problem, it just seems like it’s very easy to get wrong! I’m sure we’ve all met the guy at the party who introduces himself as a Zen Buddhist, then after several hours of misjudged and mistimed preaching, condescending stares and awkward laughter typical of someone who possesses very little social awareness, it becomes clear he’s more of a Zen asshole.

    My principal quam is that from my limited understanding and experience I find it hard to imagine a tangible reality of any kind of communal development; even something perhaps as simple as taking joy in a shared experience. The underlying principals seem so distinctly personal and individual that their results can only be exclusive and barring.

    Now at this point I should list examples of other schools of thought that offer what I am suggesting Buddhism doesn’t, but this would obviously invite criticism and debate and that’s not what I’m after. All philosophy’s are not without fault and by no means is this an attack, merely a request for further education, so I implore you ‘enlighten me’.

  2. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for your post, I really do appreciate all feedback, positive or negative, it really is all good!

    The complaint of the selfishness of Eastern internal religions is a common one. It is certainly one that I have at times had a hard time answering.

    I once heard a story from a Tai Chi teacher of mine. I think it is relevant here so I will do my best to re-tell it:

    'There once were three brothers, they woke up one morning to find that glass had rained down from the sky and covered the earth. The first brother looked out in dispair and simply gave up. He decided not to go outside, it was too horrible to bear. The second brother said, 'Look here, this is awful, think of all the people out there getting cut feet, I have to go help.' So, he got up and started picking up every bit of glass, often missing them and getting his feet torn up. The third brother sat there for a little while and went and made some shoes. At this point he could go out into the world and start helping people.'

    Enlightening ey? ;)

    My general point is that a happy centered mind makes the right choices, doesn't cause conflict and gets on with doing good stuff pretty much by default. We have all met Zen Master asshole at a party (I may have even been that guy on occaison) fortunately, I have also had the benifit of meeting experienced practioners. These guys and girls give off an amazing shared feeling of true compassion. Check out one of the Dalai Lama's videos on youtube. He has spent more hours in meditation than a small army of western yoga teachers, but is just one of the nicest, most compassionate people you can see, and has a pretty cool sense of humour.

    I totally agree with your last point, all philosophies are not without fault. There is no perfect system of thought, there is just what works for you.

    I hope this helps a little,