When we begin our spiritual journey, we may be motivated by all those wonderful images of Gautama Buddha: a quiet figure, sitting serenely, coolly immune to the challenges in life. It’s a nice image, but it doesn’t accurately present the path, at least in my experience.
While we may be tempted to believe that meditation will help us get rid of sadness, grief, loneliness, anger, and frustration, these so-called “negative” emotions aren’t mistakes or errors of which we can dispense. They are important messages sent from the unconscious mind, which seeks security and connection over ambition and acquisition. It’s worth noting that the contemporary understanding of emotions contradicts some of the early Buddhist views, which categorize emotion according to strict dualistic categories—kindness and compassion are skillful, anger and grief are unskillful, etc.
The tools of the dharma, combined with today’s complementary therapeutic insights, allow us to integrate the emotional mind into our conscious lifestyles and agendas.
While Buddhism will play many important roles as it continues to develop in the West, I believe its most important message is one of internal integration. The tools of the dharma, combined with today’s complementary therapeutic insights, allow us to integrate the emotional mind into our conscious lifestyles and agendas. In a consumer society based on achievement and acquisition, this is little short of revolutionary.
In The Great Teaching of the Lion’s Roar (Maha-sihanada Sutta), the Buddha reassures practitioners about the rewards of the inner journey that practice entails. Remembering the rewards of spiritual practice is essential: our days will entail many difficult experiences, and sooner or later doubt will arise that there is any possible destination except despair. How easy it is, then, to abandon practice for the comfortable rewards of consumerism or addictive behaviors.
The Buddha said, “I provide a path to transcendent peace, showing how one achieves it, with direct knowledge, how they enter and abide in its deliverance.” If anything in life is worth celebrating, it is this blameless path that provides peace free of charge, unconditionally, to the benefit of all beings.