topic posted Tue, June 27, 2006 - 9:22 PM by  Mickey
I've been debating with a friend on the nature of buddhism vs. certain elements of Christianity. She says one of the goals of a practicing Buddhist was to be detached from feelings and emotions. Can this be true? I'm not a Buddhist (neither am I a Christian), but everything I've read and experienced of Buddhists would indicate there is no detachment of feelings. What is the truth?
posted by:
  • Re: Feelings

    Tue, June 27, 2006 - 9:31 PM
    Which (depending on the answer to my first question) might just beg another question: how do Buddhists manage their feelings?
  • Re: Feelings

    Tue, June 27, 2006 - 9:33 PM
    Buddhists have feelings - the goal is to be unattached to OUTCOMES.

    Here's something I wrote in the Tibetan Buddhism tribe (a teacher taught it to me this way):

    Non-attachment is *not* detachment or indifference. Non-attachment is "surrendered partiality" - we have preferences but because we are not caught up is the cycle of craving and aversion - we can release them to what is. Another way to look at it would be "unmired engagement" - you are fully engaged in life - the joy and sorrow - but because you aren't grasping or pushing away - you can experience life more fully.

    Non-attachment is not desirelessness. It involves what we might call "divine desire" which comes from an inner fullness instead of an inner emptiness.

    Non-attachment has free flowing feelings - being in the here and now. It does not mean we are uncaring of others - it means that we are accepting of what happens.

    Non-attachment is active and involved in the world - but not worried about or hoping for a certain outcome.

    Non-attachment has 3 primary components lucidity, fludity and "exaltation".
    Lucidity - to see things as they are and recognize the interdependance and impermanence of all things.
    Fluidity - moving through life without craving or resistance.
    "Exaltation" - combining joy and the sense of being "raised up" (in the world but not of it)- in the Dhammapada the Buddha tells us that there is "no joy like the joy of freedom".
  • Re: Feelings

    Wed, June 28, 2006 - 4:54 AM
    When I'm feeling something, that is what I feel. I don't hide from it. I don't seek to hold on to it.
    When I'm not feeling something, that is what I feel. I don't long for feelings past or worry about feelings to come.

    I pay attention to how feelings ebb and flow. What gives rise to them, how they mutate, their reason and non reason, and what they are saying.

    I also distinguish between feeling and fact.
  • Re: Feelings

    Wed, June 28, 2006 - 7:04 AM
    emotions are like weather
    they come they go
    some we enjoy more than others
    but really, its futile to be attached to weather
    enjoy it, experience it, live it fully, but really, its just weather.
    so with emotions also,
    sit back and enjoy the ride,
    for this too will pass
    and something new will arise.
  • Re: Feelings

    Wed, June 28, 2006 - 9:01 AM

    Feelings are one of the five-aggregates of clinging as well as one of the four frames of reference. As such they are an integral part of the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. As with the other aggregates of clinging - of form, perception, volitional formations, and consciousness, feelings are to be regarded as impermanent, suffering, and non-self. Feeling arises from contact of one of the six sense bases, and gives rise to craving. As a frame of reference, feelings are to be focused on in & of themselves. The object of Buddhism is to release us from the suffering of desire by realizing that we are not the objects or subjects of sensation, and return to the true state of being, Nirbana. The feelings are to be directly known, without identifying with them. Being nothing, one may observe all things without assuming they are anything.
    • Re: Feelings

      Wed, June 28, 2006 - 10:45 AM
      While this is a traditional buddhist formulation, how is some one not versed in the lingo and jargon of traditional buddhism going to know what on earth you are talking about?

      Do you understand this well enough to tell him in common English without reference to specialized buddhist jargon so that he can benefit from your answer?
      • Re: Feelings

        Wed, June 28, 2006 - 12:15 PM
        I'm trying to get around (that is, to avoid altogether) the phrase "being nothing." As this flies in the face of my fellow debator, and shuts down the discussion.
        • Re: Feelings

          Wed, June 28, 2006 - 1:15 PM
          "Being nothing" usually adds nothing to the conversation any way.

          Try being specific about what you aren't, such as a specific thought, feeling, job, etc.
    • Re: Feelings

      Wed, June 28, 2006 - 11:26 AM
      Ranger wrote: we are not the objects or subjects of sensation

      my reply: wow! gotta live with that one for a while.
      while it makes intuitive sense, stating it clearly,
      "we are neither subject nor object of sensation"
      does something to some of these daily assumptions
      making me notice their not quite rooted out yet...
      like a giant fennel! tasty but pernicious...
      thanks for the think...
  • Unsu...

    Re: Feelings

    Wed, June 28, 2006 - 1:40 PM
    It depends on what you mean by detached. I think this is often misunderstood where some feel that Buddhists somehow become non-feeling and passive. In my view this is not the case at all. I think the practice leads to fully feeling and acknowledging emotions both positive and negative but learning not to become attached to them. If we can remain present with our emotions in the moment we can feel them but not grasp at them or try to hold onto them which I think is what can produce troublesome mind states. So I think Buddhism really teaches how to be fully present and engages with ones emotions and to see them in a more realistic light.
    • Re: Feelings

      Wed, June 28, 2006 - 3:55 PM
      There is this possibility, too:

      Fellow Travelers

      Rev. Gregory Gibbs

      Fellow Travelers
      Gibbs Table of Contents
      Guest Book
      VBT Home Page Buddhism and Human Feelings
      A Distorted View

      There is a wide-spread impression amongst non-Buddhists that the
      Buddhist religion disregards human feeling. The notion of Buddhism as
      an aloof teaching that prizes detachment developed in Europe in the
      nineteenth century. This distorted view of Buddhism was largely
      propagated by British and German diletantes who had studied only the
      Theravadin approach as they found it in Thailand and Sri Lanka. This
      concept of Buddhism as preferring a dry and unfeeling way of living is
      built upon a misunderstanding of the objective of the Buddhist religion
      and a one-sided study of how monks and nuns address their emotional
      life. Let me look at these two areas briefly.

      The Objective of Buddhist Living

      The common (distorted) view of Buddhism which I am trying to correct
      presumes that the purpose of Buddhists is a detached life. But,
      Buddhist philosophy actually views detachment as an extreme as
      destructive as attachment. The historical Buddha, Sakyamuni, tried to
      guide us on a middle path between attachment to pleasures and
      possessions on the one hand and an ascetic detachment on the other.
      Both of these extremes are unworthy according to Sakyamuni Buddha.

      The middle path is not a middle of the road existence. Rather it is
      living in the tension of being drawn toward various extremes. Walking
      such a middle path is not an end in itself. Buddhists do not cherish a
      life of moderation as such. Rather it is living moderately and
      navigating between the extremes which leads us toward our objective.
      The objective of Buddhist living is freedom and realization of the

      Freedom is often conceived in a merely negative fashion -- freedom
      from... But, freedom is not conceived in merely negative terms by
      Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. For us freedom means limitless
      potential. The Larger Vehicle of Buddhist teaching explains freedom as
      not being bound to some fixed forms of living, thinking and feeling,
      but ALSO not being bound to formlessness. True freedom is not
      detachment from forms of feeling, thinking and acting. Rather it is the
      limitless potential to flexibly take on new forms of being as
      situations and the needs they generate change.

      Realization of the Truth is interdependent with true freedom. Jesus is
      reported to have said that, "the Truth will make you free." Buddhists
      would agree. However, we might tend to emphasize that FREEDOM WILL
      ALLOW YOU TO SEE THE TRUTH. Furthermore, realizing the truth will make
      us happy. Happy in an elegant and subtle way that goes beyond the
      happiness which we understand in contrast to pain, humiliation and

      There is no way to adequately explain what such a realization of the
      truth is like in the language of the unenlightened. Yet, there is no
      other language and, as those who battle the AIDS virus remind us,
      SILENCE IS DEATH. Therefore, let me break the 'noble' silence of
      scholastic Buddhism and say that the realization of the Truth is
      discerning and non-substantial, luminous oneness of all persons, places
      and events. This realization is fulfilling in a way that is similar to
      and yet transcendent of the pleasures and rewards which come to us in
      our day to day affairs.

      How Buddhists Address Their Emotions

      The oldest Buddhist advice regarding emotions is that we might do well
      to deliberately cultivate positive emotions. The classic example of
      this is Metta meditation, the cultivation of kindly intentions towards
      all living beings. This procedure probably goes back to the historical
      Buddha, 2,500 years ago.

      Once Buddhism had established an elite of educated monks and nuns the
      concern with suppressing disturbing emotions became a matter of some
      urgency. In particular, monks found it hard to meditate when they were
      still moved by sexual desires. The classic way of suppressing sexual
      desire was to go to a graveyard at night, dig up a corpse and watch it
      decay. The corpse would usually be buried again before day break and
      then dug up again the next night. After watching the progressive
      deterioration of a woman's corpse over aperiod of a few weeks a monk
      would typically find his sexual desires to have become dormant. This
      practice was only engaged in by monks.

      With the Chan tradition in China (Zen) an approach of simply observing
      the feelings as they are developed. Without trying to suppress unwanted
      feelings or trying to cultivate positive emotions, simple attentiveness
      to feelings was and is practiced. The nearly universal experience which
      comes from this approach is that the feelings become gentler, softer,
      more flexible. This is considered an intermediate or advanced practice
      of Zen. Generally, it is taught only following a long period of
      concentrating daily on some particular object such as one's breathing.
      An almost identical sort of sitting and allowing thoughts and feelings
      to unfold, as they will, is practiced in Tibet and referred to as
      Dzog-chen meditation. The Tibetans consider this a very advanced
      practice and it is only taught to a person who has spent many years
      doing rigorous visualizations.

      In the Jodo and Jodo Shinshu schools of Pure Land Buddhism the emotions
      are similarly allowed to develop naturally. Generally, unlike Zen and
      Dzog-chen, no special effort is applied to being mindful of the
      emotions. In Jodo Shinshu the natural, relaxed but devout holding of
      the Buddha's name in one's mind and heart is allowed to work its magic
      off-stage. Without any special effort to become gentler or more caring,
      but with a grateful appreciation for the Buddha's gift of his name, the
      surrounding emotional environment, internal and perhaps interpersonal
      as well, tends to become more wholesome.
  • Re: Feelings

    Thu, June 29, 2006 - 10:20 AM
    Mick, I would recommend to your friend, as an easy and approachable but also deep set of teachings, the books of Pema Chodron, which are very suitable for Christians as well as Buddhists. One of the things I like about her is the way she sidesteps jargon and presents Buddhist thought in real life language.

    She makes the distinction between having a feeling, and indulging in that feeling and wallowing in it and investing it and making it bigger and generally getting off on it. Feelings arise, they are real, and cannot be avoided. But it's the indulging in them and amplifying of them that is so tempting and so fatal! Same with thoughts.

    You can *feel* this out for yourself. Remember last time you were pissed off with someone? It's really easy to dwell on it, and rehearse what you'd like to say to HIM, and what he'd say back and what you would do, etc. It's not the anger that's the problem, it's what we do with it because we are attached to it. Likewise sexual feelings, or feelings we don't like and repress such as fear.

    The solution is to detach from the STORY (not the feeling) and experience the energy of the feeling (rather than indulge or repress it) and then...let it go. Easier said than done, eh? But that's the practise (at least as I understand it). It's not detachment from the feeling so much as letting the feeling be, or detachment from grasping at the feeling.
    • Unsu...

      Re: Feelings

      Sat, July 1, 2006 - 7:28 PM
      I love Pema. She has helped me personally as a Zen Buddhist, not with Zen Buddhism, just myself and my screwed up life and taught me how to learn from it. Also teaching giving and compassion. She's one of the best and most effective teachers for me. What Rachael said.
      • Unsu...

        Re: Feelings

        Sun, July 2, 2006 - 5:33 PM
        Feelings, nothing more than feelings,
        Trying to forget my feelings of love.
        Teardrops rolling down on my face,
        Trying to forget my feelings of love.

        Feelings, for all my life I'll feel it.
        I wish I've never met you, girl;
        You'll never come again.

        Feelings, wo-o-o feelings,
        Wo-o-o, feel you again in my arms.

        Feelings, feelings
        Like I've never lost you
        And feelings like I've never
        Have you again in my heart.

        Feelings, for all my life I'll feel it.
        I wish I've never met you, girl;
        You'll never come again.

        Feelings, feelings like I've
        Never lost you
        And feelings like I've never have you
        Again in my life.

        Feelings, wo-o-o feelings,
        Wo-o-o, feelings again in my arms.