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Right Resolve

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by Sangharakshita

... made up of instinct, made up of emotion, made up of volition, and is, we may say, more unconscious than conscious; and this part, this wider, this deeper, this no less important part of ourselves, this is not touched at all by all our rational, our intellectual knowledge. This part as it were goes its own way, and usually it goes its own way dragging the mental part, still of course protesting, along with it. So this is what happens. It's obvious that we just cannot go against the emotions. The emotions are stronger than reason. So if we want to put into practice what we know to be right, what we know to be true, we have to enlist, in one way or another, the cooperation of the emotions. We have to be able to tap those deeper sources within ourselves and harness them also to the religious, to the spiritual life, so that we may implement what we know to be right and true. Only then shall we be able to put what we know into actual practice. And this we may say, in a sense, is the central problem for most people at least of the spiritual life: to find emotional equivalents for our intellectual understanding. Let me repeat that - to find emotional equivalents for our intellectual understanding.

And until we do that, until we have done that, no further spiritual progress is possible.

Now this is why incidentally from the traditional discussions of this particular stage or aspect of the Path. It's clear that they all refer to the emotional and volitional aspect of our nature. Samyak, as we saw last week, doesn't mean just Right but whole or perfect or if you like integral or complete. So samyak-samkalpa is not just right resolve, it's more like perfect will or integral emotion and it represents, we may say, the bringing of the whole emotional life, the bringing of the whole emotional and volitional side of our being into harmony with Perfect Vision, into harmony with our vision of the true nature of existence.

Last week we saw that the Noble Eightfold Path consists of two sections which I've already referred to this evening. First of all the Path of Vision and then the Path of Transformation. The Path of Vision corresponds to the first stage of the Eightfold Path, that is to say Perfect Vision - and the Path of Transformation corresponds, as I've already explained, to all the other seven stages. Now Perfect Emotion, samyak-samkalpa is the first stage of the Path of Transformation. And as I've said it represents the transformation of our emotional nature in accordance with Perfect Vision, and we may say that in a sense this Perfect Emotion mediates between Perfect Vision, the first step of the Eightfold Path, and the last six stages of the Eightfold Path. In other words we may say that we cannot practise the path, cannot follow the path, cannot really practise Right Speech or Right Action and so on, until we have first of all transformed our whole emotional nature - and in that way derived energy for the remaining stages of the path. And this is why the problem of reason and emotion is central in the whole spiritual life. In other words, to put it very simply, to reduce it to elementary terms, there's really no spiritual life until the heart also is involved.

It doesn't matter how active the brain is, it doesn't matter how much we've understood, until the heart is involved, until we begin to feel what we've understood, until our emotions are engaged there's no spiritual life, properly speaking.

Now what is this Perfect Emotion? What is samyak-samkalpa? Before going into this I want to clear up two possible misunderstandings. I've spoken of involving the emotions in the spiritual life but this is not to be understood in a purely negative and psychological sense. It doesn't mean the involvement of crude, untransformed emotions with irrational pseudo-religious concepts and attitudes. Let me just give you an example of the sort of thing I have in mind which samyak-samkalpa isn't. Suppose for instance - this is just an ordinary example, but it illustrates very well the sort of thing I have in mind - suppose somebody hears in some way or other from some source or other that church halls - you know every church has a hall attached to it - so someone hears that church halls are being used on Sunday evenings for dances. So what then happens? This person gets all hot under the collar, as they say, he's very upset that the Sabbath is being desecrated, the church hall is being used for a dance.

So what does he do in his indignation and excitement? He writes a letter to The Times. Now you may say that his emotions are certainly involved, he's got all worked up about it, he really feels that the Sabbath is being desecrated and all these disreputable young people actually dancing in a church hall on a Sunday evening, and who knows what happens afterwards, he may get very worked up about that indeed and he may fire off one of these letters to The Times which are so famous denouncing the immorality of the younger generation and so on and predicting the downfall of - well I was going to say the British Empire but anyway you know the sort of thing I have in mind. His emotions are thoroughly involved, he's really worked up, and he really lets himself go - but there's no question here of Perfect Emotion. You may say his emotions are involved in a sort of religious issue but there's no Perfect Emotion in the Buddhistic sense because there's no Perfect Vision. There's only a set, only a bundle of prejudices and rationalisations in the name of religion. So it's just the same with those famous institutions, the Inquisition, the Crusades - lots of emotion was involved there, some people think it's religious emotion but it's not Perfect Emotion from the Buddhist point of view; ostensibly connected with religion, yes, but not connected, not representing Perfect Emotion in the Buddhistic sense at all. So this is the first sort of misunderstanding that we have to guard against.

Secondly. it's not possible to transform one's emotional nature by strength of intellectual or rational conviction - you can't as it were reason or argue yourself into a state of Perfect Emotion. One's emotions can be thoroughly transformed only by Perfect Vision - which as I explained last week is a spiritual insight or spiritual experience.

They can't be transformed by intellectual understanding. So Perfect Vision therefore is the first step or first stage of the Noble Eightfold Path.

Now let's come on to Perfect Emotion proper. And as I've tried to make clear it represents the descent of Perfect Vision into our emotional nature in such a way as to transform it totally. Now Perfect Emotion has two aspects - there's a positive aspect and there's a negative aspect. And let us deal first of all with the negative aspect - and this consists of what we call in Pali our grip which is usually so tight, so convulsive, on mundane things and worldly things, starts lessening. Craving is after all the basic, unwholesome, emotional state. So we should examine ourselves in this respect and we should ask ourselves a very pertinent question. We should ask ourselves, `since I became interested in Buddhism or since I started considering myself to be a Buddhist what have I given up? If I have developed some sort of Insight, if I am really convinced, not just intellectually but spiritually, that this life, and the things of this life, the things of this world, are not everything, are not fully satisfactory, then my hold on them should have been loosened. So what have I given up since I've started taking Buddhism seriously?' There should be some difference. We shouldn't be going along just in the same old way that we were going along before. If there's no difference it means there hasn't been even a glimpse of Perfect Vision. We haven't really seen into the true nature of things. It means our interest so far, though it may be a genuine one, is still really an intellectual one, a theoretical one - even an academic one. Nothing more than that. Of course one must also say that there cannot be any one uniform pattern of renunciation. No one has the right to say `Because you haven't given up this or that particular thing therefore you haven't any Perfect Vision, you're not a practising Buddhist.' Different people will give up different things. But the net result must be the same. The net result must be to make life simpler and less cluttered up. Most of us have got so many unnecessary things. If you were to take out a piece of paper just here and now and jot down all the things which you have, which you possess, which you own, which are not really necessary then it will probably be a rather long list. But you probably think many many times before actually giving any of them up. Sometimes people think in terms of sacrifice, they think with a great painful wrench you give something up. But it shouldn't be like that, there's really no such thing as giving up from a Buddhist point of view. It's not so much giving up as growing up.

It's not a sacrifice to the adolescent to give up the child's toys. So it shouldn't be a sacrifice for the spiritually mature person or a person who is at least verging on spiritual maturity to give up the toys with which people usually amuse themselves. I don't suggest we should do it in a violent or dramatic fashion, not like the gentleman I heard about the other day on the radio who climbed up the Eiffel Tower and threw his television set off the viewing platform. He was protesting against the quality of French television programmes. In this country, of course, I understand television programmes are much better. We don't have to protest in this way, but at least his action indicated a certain degree of detachment from his television set which is perhaps quite admirable. But the point I'm trying to make is that ...

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