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Emotional Versus Conceptual Grasping

Buddhism identifies at the root of all of our suffering a form of grasping that causes emotional disruption and misapprehends the true nature of reality. Thus there are two distinct types of grasping, emotional grasping and cognitive or conceptual grasping.

Emotional grasping is something we are all familiar with. It is the grasping that we feel when we have an emotional attachment to something or someone. We hold on to that thing or person in a neurotic, possessive way and if it changes in any way we are threatened by it. The primary quality of this emotional grasping is a self-cherishing attitude. “I, Me, Mine!” are always associated with these states of emotional grasping. When we feel frustration, anger, hatred, or craving, clinging, neurotic attachment, fear, pride or jealousy, all of these states of mind are associated with a form of emotional grasping at its foundation, which, in its falsehood and denial of the true hearts loving expression, is what produces the negativity these states of mind are always associated with. An unpleasantness, a dis-eased mind, a jaded mind, all of these qualities arise from emotional grasping. The remedy for emotional grasping is being open and going with the flow of your true heart, allowing for love, compassion, patience, forgiveness, generosity and faith to be seen as the way. This way in Buddhism is called Method.

Cognitive or conceptual grasping is much more subtle and harder to recognize. It is however, the primary prerequisite for emotional grasping. Conceptual grasping is a state of mind through our concepts, whether sub-conscious or conscious, which misapprehend the nature of ourselves as being solid, separate, unchanging, and independent entity. Basically a “stuck” idea of ourselves. This is the phenomenon we all know as the ego. When we have a big ego, we have a big projection and reification of ourselves as being better than others. This belief that we are separate from others, independent, and unchanging over time, produces the basis for our belief in this ego, which is the basis for all selfish states of mind and all emotional grasping.

To remove this notion of ego, of separate solidity for ourselves and everything, we can reflect on the reality that all things only arise from other things, other causes and conditions. Thus we are a relative being and not an independent one. Not only this, but we are not truly solid, since we are changing every moment: we breath constantly, our blood is pumping, our brain is firing, even our atoms of our body are in a constant state of change and vibration. Also our experience is always endlessly receiving new information. There is no pause button for our present moment experience! We are also not separate since there is no absolute barrier between ourselves and the rest of the universe. We share every breath with the world. Thus conceptual grasping that perceives ourselves and others and all things as being egos, as being solid, separate, unchanging, independent things, is false, and to realize that things are ever changing, dependently arisen, without a stuck essence, and sharing their being with the universe is the way out of conceptual grasping. This way to freedom from conceptual grasping in Buddhism is called Wisdom, which is cultivated to a refined degree in meditation.

With the union of Method and Wisdom we can achieve the ultimate goal of Buddhahood, to realize the nature of our reality and the reality around us and express our hearts fullest potential in love and compassion. May you come to know the two forms of grasping, emotional and conceptual, that you may know how to accomplish Method and Wisdom for the sake of all sentient beings.

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