Emotions are ephemeral, fleeting and transparent

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Matthew Ricard: excerpt from “Happiness”

 


Despite their rich terminology for describing a wide range of mental events, the traditional languages of Buddhism have no word for emotion as such.

 


That may be because according to Buddhism all types of mental activity, including rational thought, are associated with some kind of feeling, be it one of pleasure, pain, or indifference.

 

And most affective states, such as love and hatred, arise together with discursive thought.

 

Rather than distinguishing between emotions and thoughts, Buddhism is more concerned with understanding which types of mental activity are conducive to one’s own and others’ well-being, and which are harmful, especially in the long run.

 

 


This is actually quite consistent with what cognitive science tells us about the brain and emotion.

 

 

Every region in the brain that has been identified with some aspect of emotion has also been identified with aspects of cognition.

 

 


There are no “emotion centers” in the brain.

 

 


The neuronal circuits that support emotions are completely intertwined with those that support cognition.

 


This anatomical arrangement is consistent with the Buddhist view that these processes cannot be separated: emotions appear in a context of action and thought, and almost never in isolation from the other aspects of our experience.

 

 

It should be noted that this runs counter to Freudian theory, which holds that powerful feelings of anger or jealousy, for instance, can arise without any particular cognitive or conceptual content.”
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