Nirvana: The True Emotions
Reverend Antonio Hernández, O.M.D.
"Such a one who can control his anger is like one who can masterfully steer a chariot pulled by 10,000 elephants," the Buddha said.

Founder of The American Noahide Buddhists "Star Trek" fans, specifically those fans of Vulcan characters and the Vulcan philosophy, have available to them a profound, real-world philosophy to which to turn. It is the philosophy upon which the Vulcan philosophy is based: the Buddhist concept of "Nirvana".The Buddha deliberately chose the very specific word "nirvana" as a sort of goal-less goal. "Nirvana" is Sanskrit for "cooled-off", meaning food, specifically rice, that has cooled sufficiently to be eaten. Applied to the human condition, it means one who has achieved a mastery of the passions.

In short, it means emotional control – something sorely lacking in today’s Western society.

Nirvana is misunderstood by Westerners, who often translate this word as "void" or "no-thing". Nirvana is anything but a void or no-thing. The great Western philosopher Baruch (Benito) Spinoza put it more succinctly than anyone else: if one "disowns" one’s "animal passions", which after all do not ideally belong in a human, one is left with what Spinoza called "the true emotions".

Spinoza asserted that humans, without reason or discipline, will follow the example of animals- that is, they will live purely by greed, lust, hatred, anger, jealousy, envy and the like, because they will be living without self-discipline, self-understanding, and self-mastery. Spinoza called these destructive feelings "false". He reasoned, quite dramatically in his Ethics, that a human is well-equipped to accept, comprehend, and finally discard these "false emotions".

It was Spinoza’s contention that in eliminating the negative, one could not but be left with the purely positive. In stating that "love originating as hatred shall be much stronger than any other", Spinoza was clarifying his point. Lust would turn into true compassion, hatred into understanding, envy into happiness at the good fortune of others, and so on.

This accomplishment is identical to "Nirvana". It was the Buddha’s goal-less goal as much as it was Spinoza’s. Though the Buddha refused to preach on the subject of God, because of his humility, he nonetheless believed that "Nirvana" was, indeed, the Way to God. In the minds of both of these great philosophers, the human has no such thing as "natural instinct".
"Such a one who can control his anger is like one who can masterfully steer a chariot pulled by 10,000 elephants," the Buddha said. The Buddha felt that this applied to all emotions. He encouraged the practicing Buddhist to neither like nor dislike, neither hate nor specifically love, neither plan ahead with deceit nor stand by idly. He discouraged attachments, that is, preferences, of any type. After a time, such practice would lead to the "real human that is within".

Spinoza applied this reasoning to the human who seeks a true, pure relationship with God. Spinoza’s concept of "Amore Dei Intelectualis", the intellectual love of God, could be achieved only by one with true emotions. Only such a one, understanding and controlling himself perfectly, could understand and truly love God.

Gene Rodenberry does not appear to have intended Spock, or any Vulcans, to be devoid of emotion. Neither did the Buddha or Spinoza intend for the truly advanced person to be emotionless. Such a task is impossible. In fact, one man wrote of a colleague, an engineer, who felt that the Vulcan ideal of no emotions would serve him well. This man misinterpreted the intent of Rodenberry’s character; within less than a month of attempting to suppress his emotions, the engineer suffered a complete psychotic break.

In fact, it is the appropriate expression of our feelings that is vital. The tenor, the quality, the positivity and usefulness of our emotional expressions and responses- all are an integral part of this discipline. Naturally we will feel anger at certain times... but how shall we express it? To what end? It is the same with any of the base emotions.

In her exquisite novel Spock’s World, Diane Duane explained the Vulcan emotion concept beautifully in two words: "passion’s mastery"- the same words used by the Buddha and by Spinoza. And incidentally, words also used by Mr. Spock and his ancestor, Surak.

George Lucas, too, borrowed this ideal state for his "Star Wars" Jedi Knights and Masters. There is to be "no passion, only peace" for the Jedi. Having based the Jedi Order on the Buddhist Order, Lucas seems to have done his homework. In our training, in Buddhist training, nothing is so important in the beginning, indeed at every stage, as passion’s mastery, the government of the emotions.
The Buddha, the original expounder of this philosophy, had in mind the hope that humans would evolve fully by following this self-disciplined path. It would never be easy, it would never come automatically, and that is the pillar of its importance. It is the proper mindfulness of every second, of every intent, every thought, every deed, every word, that counts in attaining Nirvana.
Minding one’s feelings, governing oneself masterfully, requires an action known to Buddhism as "Examination of Conscience". The Buddhist asks, "Why did I lose my temper yesterday? Why couldn’t I have reasoned instead?" Often, the asker of such questions will be surprised at the answers that are discovered. The Examination of Conscience is a practice later borrowed by the Roman Catholic Church, as a disciplinary exercise for priests and laity.

Science Officer Spock fought valiant battles against his base emotional inclinations, that he might be able to transcend "chaos" (read: stupidity) through logic. In "Star Trek" it was often emphasized that a Vulcan losing self-control would be akin to a raging animal. In "Star Wars", the great Jedi Annakin Skywalker became the evil Lord Darth Vader, because he was too weak to control his passions. The men who wrote these characters and stories knew their history all too well.

The question facing us now, at the dawn of the 21st century, is about how well we control ourselves. It is a broad question, implying compassion, altruism, mercy, understanding, forgiveness and forbearance, as compared to hatred, anger, greed, selfishness, pride, violence, stupidity and discrimination. Shall we govern our passions, or shall we live as brute beasts?

When we consider our daily lives, moment-to-moment, when we examine our own consciences, when we gaze into the mirror, what is it we see? Is it merely the one, the "self" who stares back at us? Or do we see the entire universe?

© Reverend Antonio Hernández, O.M.D.

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