Is Emotion Bad?

I was reading Leah Libresco’s post about the differences between Christian monks and Jedi. I’m not sure why such comparisons were being drawn, since Star War’s philosophy is very strongly based on Eastern theology. I guess it was something about some kids thinking that Dominican monks looked like Jedi because of the robes?

The key difference being highlighted was the relationship with emotion. The Jedi are against emotions. Or so it seems on the surface, anyway.

One famous quote of Yoda’s is that “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” This is directly a translation of Hindu scripture.

In other places it is made clear that Jedi are expected to live lives of peace and purity without giving in to emotion. It is made clear that it is Anakin’s obsessive love for Padme that starts him towards the dark side.

There is, however, a difference between not giving in to an emotion and not having that emotion.

I don’t think Hinduism calls for anyone, even ascetics, to not have emotions. But a practiced monk can see the emotions playing out over his psyche and know that they are shifting and temporary. He does not necessarily have to act on each emotion he feels, as most of us do. He knows that the emotions are a storm that the small self gets caught up in, but the true Self observes it without getting swept away in it.

The problem with Anakin was not that he felt love. Love is the cause of creation. What he felt was attachment. He had to own and possess and hold onto the object of his love. It twisted pure love into something dark because he had to take this woman and make her into a possession. Pure love is something that flows freely.

Krishna urges us in the Gita not to be attached to our actions and the same is true of our emotions. It’s fine to feel them, just remember to take them with a grain of salt, and to let them flow one to the next without trying to grab hold of an emotion we like and force it to stay.

And think about it, fear does lead to hatred. We are seeing that all over Facebook these days. There is so much fear and it leads to a lot of screaming and anger and suffering. If we could drop the defensiveness of fear, the debate would become much more productive, I think. It might unite us instead of tearing us apart as human beings.

Leah makes a great point, though: “…the easiest kind of invulnerability to cultivate is indifference.” I think we as Hindus tend to fall into apathy as we try to maintain a lack of attachment. I know that is something I am prone to.

I try to remember the story of the sanyasin who wept upon hearing about the death of a child. His followers asked why he would mourn when death is an illusion and his answer was that it was right to have the appropriate emotions for the world. We are in this play and we have our part to play. We can play it and experience the emotions of the world without losing sight of the ultimate reality that bliss is the only thing that exists.

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