Dealing with emotions: a Key to Happiness

talk by Ven. Lama Gelong Sangyay Tendzin Ipoh 2018


Good morning everyone. I am very pleased and honoured to have this opportunity to share a few words with you. Let me first express my gratitude to each of you for being here today, offering some of your precious time for the purpose of developing wisdom.

I wish to thank all those who have contributed to this, with a heartfelt feeling of gratitude towards the congregation of nuns whose sustained practice of the Buddha Dharma nourishes the upkeep of ethics noticeable in the beautiful temple hosting us today.

Observing our assembly, I see three categories of attendees: 

  • First of course, the honoured members of the ordained sangha who have taken serious commitments towards awakening, making these the adornment of their life;
  • Next, some Upasakas and Upasikas who have taken some steps towards personal liberation;
  • Then lay practitioners, family holders, who seek to develop more clarity and harmony in their life. 

Today’s topic addresses every single one of us, regardless to our personal motivation and involvement. 

The principal difficulty we experience in achieving our goals is the manifestation of emotions and our inability to deal with them as they take control over our mind. 

Let’s say that we want to go someplace, and embark on our journey to find ourselves caught in the traffic on the road:

  • Those most short-tempered amongst us might get mad and react severely to the point of generating intense emotional struggles;
  • Some might swallow their frustration and bear with the traffic as nothing can be done about it;
  • However, some of us might investigate their feeling and, realizing its causes, seize the opportunity of the delay to practice patience and for example pray for those who are unable to coop with it.  

In fact, there are so many forms of emotional struggle in life that are so difficult to bear; our happiness is in constant state of jeopardy. Spiritual freedom depends on how we handle it.

Lord Buddha Sakyamuni shared the method to overcome our emotional problems by applying the fourfold process known as the Four Noble Truths:

  • The truth of Suffering, which leads to simply identifying the problem;
  • The Truth of Causality: Identifying the cause of the problem, our greed to be first and lack of patience leading to chaotic situation;
  • The Truth of Cessation: Ending the problem, generating the willingness to solve it;
  • The Truth of the Path: What to apply to succeed.

In our little example, the traffic is so bad yet in we are one of the many cars creating the obstruction; 

Identifying the cause: We refuse to see our impatience and react attributing the cause to others. 

This will not end our problem, so we are stuck! 

To achieve the Truth of Cessation, Lord Buddha stated the need to follow the eightfold Noble Path.

Amongst these, developing the “Right thought”. In today psychology way to say it, we need to develop selective thinking by shifting attention.

We need to abandon wrong thinking and adopt right thinking. Wrong thinking means pursuing subjective thoughts originating in the five conflicting emotions: anger, pride, desire, jealousy and ignorance. 

We must shift our attention from negative thoughts to positive thoughts.

Doing so, a change takes place, both physically and mentally.

How do we do this? This can be easily achieved by applying the “Right understanding”.

All emotional problems come from looking at things without analysing our mind. A simple observation of our mind and feelings, leads us to see how we are quickly trapped in our likes and dislikes. From this, we come naturally to the conclusion that the only solution is to relax.

The negative emotions manifest because we try to ignore, fight or suppress our emotions; we develop mental struggle, doing so, we make them worst instead of simply accepting them and working with them.

Instead emotions can be seen as emergency signals telling us, time to look at the cause of your suffering and analyse the message. Ask yourself “what’s up?” and check your mind!

The Buddha then gave further solution during the second Turn of the Wheel. Buddha Sakyamuni points at us that all phenomena perceived are the empty display of Shunyata or emptiness and invite us to recognize our Buddha nature.

  • Suffering comes to cling and hold to what is impermanent and illusory; 
  • Mind is like the sky, very spacious;
  • Emotions are like clouds. They manifest yet cannot affect the space or the sky.

We have often the tendency to deal with the relative truth based on ultimate statements and tend to make perfect sense to phenomena, which are ever changing. On the other end, when we need to assess the ultimate, something that we only can succeed through meditation process, we then focus mentally and inevitably try to bring the Ultimate within the limits of relative concepts

Meditation is about embracing everything by doing nothing, just ‘be’ instead of ‘do’. Staying rested in Awareness. I invite you now to sit peacefully for a few moments and challenge your current state of emotional experience by checking your mind. 

We will now have a short break. Next, I will discuss emotions as they manifest within the practice of Dharma. A session of Questions & Answers will follow. I invite you to prepare your question in writing.

Dharma is a word with many layers of meanings, yet one of the main meanings is “To transform”. 

The key in the Dharma is to train so as to be able to transform our experience rather than following our tendency to solidify everything, to want to control everything. 

There are many ways to understand how to practice the Dharma. Some people think of doing formal practice; some people think of studying secret texts or philosophical tenets, some people think of meditating. So, there is a genuine concern to have in terms of defining what practicing Dharma is.

In the tradition of Tibet, there are great masters who emphasize that our spiritual practice must be done not in a rigid way or with a rigid attitude, keeping exclusively to what we have established, what we know. However, this really calls for further examination as you progress to the various levels of practice, Dharma is a tool. At some point, it comes to using a power tool. It must have a meaning and must be used very meaningfully with a perfect control of one’s awareness.

A lot of people come to think that they want to practice the Dharma. Often it means to them to change the behaviour in an apparent way such as doing prostration, carrying mala, or reciting mantra. They might think that other see them as practicing Buddhadharma. 

For some people, there is a challenge in defining one’s identity as a Buddhist. The question comes to be “Am I a good person”. Truly examining oneself, we come to have a real challenge: A Buddhist must be someone who has achieved prominence in being a good person. So, think of oneself as a Buddhist can be heavily involved in pretence and deceit. One must be careful of this. 

There are many emotions, but they boil down to three: aggression, desire, bewilderment. 

We might recognize desire easily but find it difficult to see it as conflicting. Bewilderment is the most difficult emotions to recognize. To apply the remedies, we need to apply them in stages.

First, we need to see which one is most predominant and use our faculty of retrospective attention. 

Observing anger in this way for example, then anger becomes no more something difficult to deal with but it becomes a subject of observation. Doing so, we come to observe ourselves and understand the various aspects of our emotions through our personal experience rather than through the advice of someone else. It comes to our own decision, yet we cannot take the problem too seriously. Sense of humour is often very useful here.

We can allow ourselves to have a playful attitude about defeating the emotions. We can challenge and yet, we can fail too. It is ok as it will be just a moment of training into gaining the final victory. The process can take several years and so it is important NOT to feel discouraged and drop the concern.

Time has come for me to answer a few of your questions. Time schedule allows for 5 questions.

Let us dedicate the merit of this encounter to the benefit of all.

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