Desires are inexhaustible. I vow to put an end to them.
and said that this is our practice. Then I got an unusual response from a member of the sangha. She said that her Buddhism was not devoid of emotion and that in the past I had talked about embracing emotion. I responded that yes this was true and that in some way our practice liberates emotion. Any way this exchange has got me thinking about emotion in our practice so here are some thoughts.
Deep meditative experience is often deeply emotional. Sometimes it is filled with feelings of love, compassion, sadness, joy and even pure bliss. Emotion is the language and thought of our body. Of course our brain is involved but we feel it with our body. Emotion is a result of the movement of body energy, which sometimes is called Chi or Ki or Kundilini. Some meditation systems directly try to manipulate this energy but in Zen we don't put any effort into manipulating this energy, we just let the energy do its own thing. But the effect that meditation can have on this energy system can be startling. This is because the quiet that we find in meditation allows for the accumulation of large amounts of this energy. Eventually this energy will move through the channels of the body's energy system and be felt as emotion.
Notice I haven't yet talked about those other emotions, hate, anger, fear, and greed. These emotions are different. They are expressed in our body differently. They don't result from the free movement of energy but rather are expressed as a muscular tightness that restricts the flow of energy. One of the powers of meditation is that it relaxes both mind and body to let chi flow more freely promoting the more positive emotions. A very strong chi experience which can result after long periods of meditation will actually open up blocked energy pathways. This is what I mean when I said our practice liberates emotion. All this strange energy stuff I know from experience and I have more extensive writings on this subject in the essay A life of Practice. So what I am getting at is that yes emotions are ok and not banned from our practice. Even very deep meditation is not always emotion free.
Emotions can be the natural expression of our deepest nature but like other forms of thought emotion can also be the expression of our delusions and we have to recognise the difference. The emotions of hate, anger, greed, and even fear I would classify as expressions of delusion. And I have to classify desire as a form of attachment as also delusion though some of our desires go very deep such as our desires for our children. These emotions are not necessarily bad if we recognise them for what they are and are able to let them go. This is our practice. And the calmness and clarity of vision we have when we sit is not necessarily exclusive of emotion. We just try not be pushed around by delusive emotions.