The cause of afflicted emotions (attachment, aversion, and indifference) is wrong view, of which there are only two: wrong view about the self, and wrong view about phenomena (everyone/everything else). Neither we nor ‘the other’ are truly as we appear to consciousness. Our perspective (where we stand, our previous experience, dispositions, and beliefs) has as much or more to do with how we view everything as what is really true.
There is a story of a Lama who was walking along a river. On the opposite bank, a young monk wanted to cross over, but could not find how to do so. He called out: “Sir, how do I get from this side to the other bank?” The Lama replied: “You are on the other bank. I am on this side.”
If I am standing north of a building, I will say (correctly, from my perspective) that the building is in the south. Another person, standing south of the same building, will say (correctly, from her perspective) that the building lies to the north. The building is neither absolutely north nor south; it is we who are north or south in relation to the building and each other.
The same holds true for all perceptions:
- ‘long’ is only long when compared to what appears to us as ‘short’;
- ‘there’ is only there when contrasted with what appears to us as ‘here’;
- ‘high’ is only high when compared to what appears to us as ‘low’;
- ‘ugly’ is only ugly when contrasted with what appears to us as ‘beautiful’…
We call this “the dependent nature” of consciousness. A problem arises when we confer the status of truth to our limited perspectives: we then have fabricated an “other” that does not truly exist as we perceive it. It is merely imputed from our perspective, it is not ‘just so’ from its own side.
In the same way, our view of whom and what we are is a product of our previous experiences, tendencies, and beliefs. Our ‘self’ is imputed, false, not established ‘from its own side’. It is a fabrication. For example, I refer to myself as ‘I’, but no one else shares the view that the pronoun ‘I’ refers to Tashi Nyima. From everyone else’s perspective, the pronoun ‘I’ refers only and exclusively to each one of them individually —every other person is ‘you’, ‘he’, or ‘she’, including me.
Because the wrong view of self and other is inborn (meaning, it is an artifact of our embodiment as human beings with a localized consciousness), we must develop the constant awareness that things are not as we perceive them. At best, our perceptions are limited approximations. At worst, they are complete distortions of reality.
Wrong views give rise to the concept of separation, of competing interests between “me” and others. And, once that imputed self-interest becomes attached, averse, or indifferent to other persons, objects, or situations, wrong view gives rise to afflicted emotions:
- What appears to my consciousness as ‘I’ becomes attached to what appears to my consciousness as pleasant.
- What appears to my consciousness as ‘I’ becomes averse to what appears to my consciousness as unpleasant.
- What appears to my consciousness as ‘I’ becomes indifferent to what appears to my consciousness as irrelevant to my pleasure or displeasure.
Thus, wrong views of self and other (mere appearances based on limited perspectives) and afflicted emotions (arising from imputed separate interest) support each other. They are interdependent.
We need to pacify the emotions (in meditation), and cultivate right view (in post-meditation). If you do not have a regular meditation practice, do not expect to master your emotions. Please find a capable mentor, and learn a technique that works for you. There are many —one will work for you! Then sit and meditate every day, at least for a few minutes. To cultivate right view, frequently listen to and read teachings on the Dharma, and remind yourself constantly: “This is not truly as it seems” —especially when you experience strong emotional reactions, whether pleasant or unpleasant.
But we must be patient with the process. We’ve had these wrong views and afflicted emotions for many lifetimes. They will not disappear in an instant. With practice, however, they will become
- easier to identify;
- easier to overcome;
- easier to prevent from arising; and finally
- they will be powerless to affect us.