Appreciative Introspection

I really like Matthieu Ricard’s idea of emotional harmonics. It allows for quite an investigation into our emotional state, with some interesting outcomes:- one revealing the positive intent, another the opportunity to transform it.

The thing is emotions aren’t bad of themselves, they’re just neutral, it’s our clinging to them that makes them bad. But that clinging is often compulsive. Seeing an emotion as a chord with a variety of harmonics lets us pull them out. Ricard’s idea, for example is that clarity is one of the harmonics of anger. I really like this. In my own recent investigation I’ve found that lust has the urge to connect and generosity as harmonics. Rejection has freedom and gratitude as harmonics. Disappointment seems to be closely related. Envy seems to have appreciation as a harmonic.

Actively looking for the harmonics behind an emotional state allows our natural curiosity to kick in, and reveals quite a lot of richness in our responses. A kind of vipassana. By engaging our natural curiosity it seems the mind begins to take care of itself.

So here’s the inspiration from Ricard.

If we carefully examine our emotions, we discover that, like musical notes, they have various harmonics. Just as anger has an aspect of clarity, desire has a component of bliss that is distinct from craving. If we know how to distinguish these aspects, it becomes possible to experience a blissful state of mind without being affected by the deluded aspect of grasping. We become aware that emotions are not intrinsically afflictive but only become so when we identify with them and grasp onto them. If we succeed in avoiding such a fixation, there is no need to use external antidotes: the emotions themselves act as catalysts that allow us to disengage from their negative influence. When a good swimmer falls into the sea, it is the water itself that allows her to swim to safety.

Thus, for those who are able to master the most intimate mental processes, passions can be used as wood to fuel the fire of spiritual realization and altruism. Such a practice, however, requires great skill in the language of emotions and is not free from dangers: to let powerful emotions express themselves without falling prey to them is like playing with fire. If one succeeds, one will greatly progress in understanding the nature of mind; if one fails, one is enslaved by the ordinary ways of experiencing desire. – Matthieu Ricard

  1. Those who wish to keep the trainings
    Must with perfect self-possession guard their minds.
    Without this guard upon the mind,
    The trainings cannot be preserved.
  2. Wandering where it will, the elephant of mind,
    Will bring us down to torment in the hell of Unrelenting Pain.
    No worldly beast, however wild and crazed,
    Could bring about such calamaties.
  3. If with mindfulness’s rope,
    The elephant of mind is tethered all around,
    Our fears will come to nothing,
    Every virtue drop into our hands.
  4. Tigers, lions, elephants, and bears,
    Snakes and every hostile foe,
    Those who guard the prisoners in hell,
    Ghosts and ghouls and every evil wraith,
  5. By simple binding of this mind alone,
    All these things are likewise bound.
    By simple taming of this mind alone,
    All these things are likewise tamed.
  6. For all anxiety and fear,
    And pain in boundless quantity,
    Their source and wellspring is the mind itself,
    As He who spoke the truth declared.
  7. The hellish instruments to torture living beings –
    Who invented them for such intent?
    Who has forged this burning iron ground;
    Whence have all these demon-women sprung?
  8. All are but the offspring of the sinful mind,
    This the might Sage has said.
    Throughout the triple world therefore
    There is no greater bane than mind itself.
  9. If transcendent giving is
    To dissipate the poverty of beings,
    In what way – since the poor are always with us –
    Have former Buddhas practiced it?
  10. Transcendent giving, so the teachings say,
    Consists in the intention to bestow on every being
    All one owns, together with the fruits of such a gift,
    It is indeed a matter of the mind itself
  11. Where could beings, fishes, and the rest,
    Be placed to keep them safe from being killed?
    Deciding to refrain from every harmful act
    Is said to be transcendent discipline.
  12. Harmful beings are everywhere like space itself.
    Impossible it is that all should be supressed.
    But let this angry mind alone be overthrown,
    And it’s as though all foes had been subdued.
  13. To cover all the earth with sheets of leather –
    Where could such amounts of skin be found?
    But with the leather soles of just my shoes
    It is as though I cover all the earth!
  14. And thus the outer course of things
    I myself cannot restrain.
    But let me just restrain my mind,
    And what is left to be restrained?
  15. A clear intent can fructify
    And bring us birth in such as Brahma’s ream.
    The acts of body and of speech are less –
    They do not generate a like result.
  16. Recitations and austerities,
    Long though they may prove to be,
    If practiced with distracted mind,
    Are futile, so the Knower of Reality has said.
  17. All those who fail to understand
    The secret of the mind, the greatest of all things,
    Although they wish for joy and sorrow’s end,
    Will wander to no purpose, uselessly.
  18. Therefore I will take in hand
    And well protect this mind of mine.
    What use to me are many disciplines,
    If I can’t guard and discipline my mind?
  19. When in wild, unruly crowds
    I’m careful and attentive of my wounds;
    Likewise, when in evil company,
    This wound, my mind, I’ll constantly protect.
  20. For if I carefully protect my wounds
    Because I fear the pain of minor injuries,
    Why should I not protect the wound that is my mind,
    For fear of being crushed beneath the cliffs of hell?
  21. If this is how I act and live,
    Then even in the midst of evil folk,
    Or even with fair women, all is well.
    My steady keeping of the vows will not decline.
  22. My property, my honor – all can freely go,
    My body and my livelihood as well.
    And even other virtues may decline,
    But never will I let my mind regress.
  23. All you who would protect your minds,
    Maintain your mindfulness and introspection;
    Guard them both, at cost of life and limb,
    I join my hands, beseeching you.
  24. Those disabled by ill health
    Are helpless, powerless to act.
    The mind, when likewise cramped by ignorance,
    Is impotent and cannot do its work.
  25. For thowe who have no introspection,
    Though they hear the teachings, ponder them,or meditate,
    Like water seeping from a leaking jar,
    Their learning will not settle in their memories.
  26. Many are endowed with joyful diligence.
    They’re learned also and imbued with faith,
    But through the fault of lacking introspection,
    They will not escape the stain of sin and downfall.
  27. Lack of introspection is a thief;
    It slinks behind when mindfulness abates.
    And all the merit we have gathered in
    It steals; and down we go to lower realms.
  28. Defilements are a band of robbers
    Looking for their chance to injure us.
    They steal our virtue, when their moment comes,
    And batter out the lives of happy destinies.
  29. Therefore from the gateway of my mind
    My mindfulness shall not have leave to stray.
    And if it wanders, it shall be recalled
    By thoughts of anguish in the lower worlds.
  30. Through fear, and by the counsels of their abbots,
    And staying ever in their teacher’s company –
    In those endowed with fortune and devotion
    Mindfulness is cultivated easily.


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