A Nation of Zombies

This clip from Then and Now, session 7, mentions zombies, but reminded me of Dr. Spock's species, the Vulcans! Since our human emotions are here to stay, is there a middle ground between suppression and being engulfed and overwhelmed by them?

Zombies (from TAN07: Then and Now (class) 00:47:15.05 - 00:51:03.06)

(download into iTunes)

Kyle: I can understand the benefit of experiencing the emptiness and the emotion at the same time, but is the ultimate goal of the practice to ultimately go without the emotion? Because it seems that if the emotion doesn't really exist, and things like anger and other emotions like that can cause so many problems. Wouldn't it just be easier just to--

Ken: Get rid of them?

Kyle: Yeah.

Ken: Oh yeah, easier said than done isn’t it?

Kyle: Yeah. Well, obviously you'd have to approach it in a very careful way. Would there be a way of doing that without ultimately--maybe I don't want to use the word suppress, but--

Ken: Well we might become a nation of zombies. They don't have any emotions. That's not the point. We live. We breathe. We have thoughts, we have emotions. Very broadly speaking there are two kinds of emotions: there are reactive emotions and emotions which are responses. The reactive emotions are organized around a sense of self. There are things like attraction, aversion, preference, indifference, pride, jealousy, greed and things like that.

They arise and when they arise, because we don’t have the sufficient capacity of attention, they swallow us, so we get angry or we get proud, or what have you. But as you practice and you develop a greater capacity in attention then you are able to experience the arising of the emotions without being distracted, without being swallowed by them and then they just become an experience and that’s where what I was talking about comes in--one experiences them as just being no thing, just being a movement. And it's very, very different because you’re not confused by it,

So saying, "Okay, let’s get rid of the emotion" it's a little bit like saying,"Well, you know, it would be nice if the ocean was always calm without any waves on it." Because one way of looking at the emotions is that they are simply mind waves. But it’s the nature of the ocean to have waves. It’s the nature for mind, to move, to have waves.

The question is, is that all organized down to the sense of self, with all the destructiveness of that, or can it be experienced openly and freely so it doesn’t cause the locking or the reactivity that is the basis of suffering?

So what we’re doing in Buddhism is actually not trying to get rid of emotions but trying to develop the ability to experience them completely, so we’re never confused by them.