The Feeling Aggregate (Emotions) is defined as ‘an omnipresent factor of the mind which labels experiences into three categories: pleasant, unpleasant or neutral’:
•When the label of pleasant is given to an object, we develop attachment.
•When the label of unpleasant is given to an object, we develop aversion, and sometimes even anger or hatred.
•When the label of neutral is given to an object, we often don’t care about the object or even ignore it.
The process of labelling by the Feeling Aggregate usually only takes a fraction of a second. After applying the label, we tend to create a static opinion and image of the object in our mind. At this stage, the seed for prejudice is usually planted. Once we have established the opinion that something is pleasant or unpleasant, we often need a large amount of evidence before we are willing to change our mind – that is, if we are prepared to change our mind at all.
Once we labelled an object unpleasant or bad, it appears as if the object is all bad by itself, as if badness is an inherent quality. We may label a person “bad”, but the friends of this person would certainly not agree!
Therefore, we need to realize that “good” and “bad” are merely subjective opinions of our mind, and the opinion is often founded on nothing more than a first glance and an almost automatic label. Things and people change quicker than our labels! Everyone tends to prejudice. Labelling is a convenient way to quickly make some sense of our surrounding world by categorizing things in being “good” or “bad” to us. The main problem is that we tend to react to the world merely via these (over) simplified labels.
A practical example to reflect on would be medicines: most of them are poisonous in a large dose, but can still be healing in small doses. Every living being requires salt to live, but try eating half a kilo of it, and no doctor can prevent your speedy death.
From Chagdud Rinpoche’s ‘Gates to Buddhist Practice’:
“To understand how delusion arises, practice watching your mind.
Begin by simply letting it relax. Without thinking of the past or the future, without feeling hope or fear about this thing or that, let it rest comfortably, open and natural. In this space of the mind, there is no problem, no suffering.
Then something catches your attention–an image, a sound, a smell. Your mind splits into inner and outer, self and other, subject and object. In simply perceiving the object, there is still no problem. But when you zero in on it, you notice that it’s big or small, white or black, square or circular; and then you make a judgment– for example, whether it’s pretty or ugly. Having made that judgment, you react to it: you decide you like it or don’t like it. That’s when the problem starts, because “I like it” leads to “I want it.” We want to possess what we perceive to be desirable. Similarly, “I don’t like it” leads to “I don’t want it.” If we like something, want it, and can’t have it, we suffer. If we don’t want it, but can’t keep it away, again we suffer. Our suffering seems to occur because of the object of our desire or aversion, but that’s not really so — it happens because the mind splits into object-subject duality and becomes involved in wanting or not wanting something.
We often think the only way to create happiness is to try to control the outer circumstances of our lives, to try to fix what seems wrong or to get rid of everything that bothers us. But the real problem lies in our reaction to those circumstances. What we have to change is the mind and the way it experiences reality.”
From The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler:
“We can see that there are many ways in which we actively contribute to our own experience of mental unrest and suffering. Although, in general, mental and emotional afflictions themselves can come naturally, often it is our own reinforcement of those negative emotions that makes them so much worse. For instance when we have anger or hatred towards a person, there is less likelihood of its developing to a very intense degree if we leave it unattended. However, if we think about the projected injustices done to us, the ways in which we have been unfairly treated, and we keep on thinking about them over and over, then that feeds the hatred. It makes the hatred very powerful and intense. Of course, the same can apply to when we have an attachment towards a particular person; we can feed that by thinking about how beautiful he or she is, and as we keep thinking about the projected qualities that we see in the person, the attachment becomes more and more intense. But this shows how through constant familiarity and thinking, we ourselves can make our emotions more intense and powerful.
We also often add to our pain and suffering by being overly sensitive, overreacting to minor things, and sometimes taking things too personally. We tend to take small things too seriously and blow them up out of proportion, while at the same time we often remain indifferent to the really important things, those things which have profound effects on our lives and long-term consequences and implications. So I think that to a large extent, whether you suffer depends on how you respond to a given situation.”