The Difference Between “Feelings” and “Emotions”

A good and happy day to you, everyone!

This is week two of the “Five Skandhas” online class. The five skandhas are the five attributes that comprise our experience and make possible our experience, according to the teaching of the Buddha. In this class we are exploring one skandha a week for five weeks. This week we are working on the second skanda, which is “sensation”. In particular, and this is the case with each of the skandhas, we are looking to see how this skandha, sensation, is used by conditioned mind in order to create and maintain an imaginary self, or identity, that is outside the flow of Life.

Each day I’m sending everyone in the class a little something for them to consider over the course of the day. Today’s prompt is one that is tremendously important for all of us who are engaged in the work of ending suffering, and so I thought I would share it with you as well. It’s fun to imagine everyone in the sangha focusing on this same essential understanding today. Here it is. Enjoy!

Good morning, classmates!
Let us define ‘feeling’ as an authentic experience happening in the body. A feeling will involve sensation, which is the second skanda, and also the other skandhas (body, perception, mental activity, and awareness). A feeling will involve thought, which is the fourth skanda, but it will not involve conditioned mind. It’s a direct and immediate response to actual events, external or internal.

Let’s define ’emotion’ as feeling plus meaning. Let’s say emotion is feeling with the addition of a fictional story, or in general with the addition of conditioned mind. All of the five skandhas are involved in an ’emotion’. All of the five skandhas are involved in all of our experience. When we are experiencing an ’emotion’, however, we are not having a direct and immediate experience of what actually is. We are experiencing a made-up story, a false reality, a fiction that comes out of our past and is created by conditioned mind.

As you go through your day today, notice the difference between feelings and emotions. Notice those times when you are in the midst of a feeling, and notice those times when you leave the direct experience of feeling, add meaning to it, and then feel about things that are not actually here. How do you tell the difference? How does one remain on the level of a feeling and not get lost in ’emotion’? How does one practice with this distinction?

This is an important exercise, it seems to me, and is worth doing for the rest of your life, just so you know. Devote today and the next days to this exploration, if you will, and make it a part of your practice.

In peace,