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Excerpted from An Open Heart by Dalai Lama. Copyright © 2001 by Dalai Lama. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Co.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.
 

"When we are attracted to something, we tend to exaggerate its qualities, seeing it as 100 percent good or 100 percent desirable, and we are filled with a longing for that object or person."

  Dalai Lama, An Open Heart, Part 2

Where do these emotions come from? According to the Buddhist worldview, they have their roots in habits cultivated in the past. They are said to have accompanied us into this life from past lives, when we experienced and indulged in similar emotions. If we continue to accommodate them, they will grow stronger, exerting greater and greater influence over us. Spiritual practice, then, is a process of taming these emotions and diminishing their force. For ultimate happiness to be attained, they must be removed totally.

We also possess a web of mental response patterns that have been cultivated deliberately, established by means of reason or as a result of cultural conditioning. Ethics, laws, and religious beliefs are all examples of how our behavior can be channeled by external strictures. Initially, the positive emotions derived from cultivating our higher natures may be weak, but we can enhance them through constant familiarity, making our experience of happiness and inner contentment far more powerful than a life abandoned to purely impulsive emotions.

Ethical Discipline and the Understanding of the Way Things Are

As we further examine our more impulsive emotions and thoughts, we find that on top of disturbing our mental peace, they tend to involve "mental projections." What does this mean, exactly? Projections bring about the powerful emotional interaction between ourselves and external objects: people or things we desire. For example, when we are attracted to something, we tend to exaggerate its qualities, seeing it as 100 percent good or 100 percent desirable, and we are filled with a longing for that object or person. An exaggerated projection, for example, might lead us to feel that a newer, more up-to-date computer could fulfill all our needs and solve all our problems.

Similarly, if we find something undesirable, we tend to distort its qualities in the other direction. Once we have our heart set on a new computer, the old one that has served us so well for so many years suddenly begins to take on objectionable qualities, acquiring more and more deficiencies. Our interactions with this computer become more and more tainted by these projections. Again, this is as true for people as for material possessions. A troublesome boss or difficult associate is seen as possessing a naturally flawed character. We make similar aesthetic judgments of objects that do not meet our fancy, even if they are perfectly acceptable to others.

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