A correspondent recently wrote to me as follows:
"When you talk to me about grief you never say stuff like 'This is all just a figment of your deluded conditioning. Grief isn’t real. Well, it’s only real in relative terms anyway. If you could just practice harder and maintain the appropriate view you would regain equanimity. And besides, focusing on your own grief is breaking your Bodhisattva vows: you should be focused on the universal downgoing of suffering...' I can’t recall you ever saying anything even remotely like this..."
I take it that the writer is quoting what has been said by another teacher consulted - perhaps by several. The reason that I am recording this is that this type of attitude is quite common in the Buddhist world. It is all part of the fallacious attitude that thinks that when one is sufficiently enlightened all emotion will fall away.
If one encounters a teacher who talks in this way, one can, of course, examine that teacher's own emotional life, which should, logically, not exist. Such a teacher should certainly not, for instance, have a sexual partner and would be indifferent to fame and fortune. Generally, one finds great inconsistency here which implies that the person giving the teaching does not know what he/she is talking about.
The aim of Buddhism is not an emotionless state. The goal of unselfishness does not imply becoming an automaton - quite the reverse. This fallacy arises from the observation that such an automaton would embody some of the Buddhist vitrues, such as indifference to fame and gain, but so would a rock. Some people then go so far as to say that the aim of Buddhism is indeed to become a rock. Rocklikeness is sometimes required, but not as a general model of personality. The bodhisattva has rocklike courage for the sake of all sentient beings, but this is not because he has a heart of stone.
Those who are really indifferent to fame and fortune are not so because they have become emotionless: they imply have a less selfish emotional life. All-pervading love is not love for an abstraction - it is love for particular persons of flesh and blood. Please do not do the kind of practice that suppresses your natural feelings and makes you indifferent to the suffering of real people. Do not so dwell in the here and now that you forget about people suffering in some other place and cease to remember those who lived and died.
The aim of Buddhism is not the abolition of grief. Rather the opposite. It is to be so touched by the deep pathos of real life amidst real people that one comes fully alive, sharing in joy and sorry completely.
In the modern world we have developed chemical medicine to a high pitch. When we go on to use this medicine to suppress inconvenient emotions, we are abusing these great discoveries. When we turn spiritual practice into an imitation of such suppressant chemicals we are going off the track completely. Buddhism is not an attempt to outdo the misuse of medication.
So, yes, it is true, I never say anything remotely like that. Namo Amida Bu.