This month we are pleased to begin a series of monthly newsletters, each of which will feature a different topic. We hope that by highlighting these topics we can encourage you to study and reflect on these important themes…
Dear Dharma Friend,
Phakchok Rinpoche often speaks on the Five Negative Emotions. These are the disturbing mental states which are based on confusion and result in actions harmful to oneself and others. These emotions are called kleshas in Tibetan. In Sanskrit, klesha means poison. Calling the kleshas negative however is misleading as it causes us to think that all unpleasant emotions like sadness or grief are negative. Better yet is to consider ‘negative’ as meaning unwholesome- states of mind that are an obstacle to the development of wisdom and compassion. Wholesome then means those states which are the causes and conditions for wisdom and compassion. On the other hand, the grief which arises when a loved one dies is painful but can actually increase our compassion for others.
On a side note, “emotions” in Buddhist psychology are considered thought formations or mental events usually with a physical or sensory component. “Feelings” are the preferential responses of like, dislike, indifference. Feelings usually arise before a conceptual thought does.
The Kleshas and How They Manifest
The five major kleshas are: attachment, anger, pride, jealousy, ignorance. These states are wired into us as humans. Everyone experiences them, albeit to different degrees, but thanks to impermanence they can be changed, transformed and ultimately eliminated.
The kleshas have many manifestations:
Attachment is also greed, desire, longing, grasping, clinging.
Anger is also hatred, aggression, aversion, resentment.
Jealousy is the wanting of what one perceives another has that one does not and is the basis of feeling inferior.
Pride is the feeling of superiority that comes from thinking one is or has something special.
Ignorance is not lack of factual knowledge but rather dullness, lack of attention, confusion, indecision, and doubt.
In the three poisons framework, jealousy is under desire, pride is under hatred. In some texts doubt stands alone as a sixth klesha. Many of the versions are very subtle and require deep attention to notice them. One can experience these singularly or in combination. Racism for example is a mixture of pride, jealousy and anger.
Working with the Kleshas
The kleshas are based on an ego state that functions on the erroneous notion of a separate self in conflict with the external world. When we experience them, we are in the midst of severe self-cherishing. Not only do they interfere with happiness and good relationships, their very presence makes it impossible to experience open awareness and Buddha nature. They are very rigid, restrictive, narrow states of mind. In this way the presence of a klesha informs us that we have lost our way. The extent and frequency of our kleshas become a measure of our meditation practice.
The study of the five negative emotions is found in the mind training teachings known as Lojong. There are many texts within this category but the most well-known are “The Seven Point Mind Training”, “The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva”, “The Eight Points of Mind Training, “ and “Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life”. Methods used for working with the kleshas include study, self-reflection, meditation, contemplation, and use of antidotes.
Fortunately, Phakchok Rinpoche gives us detailed instructions on how to work with the negative emotions in several selections on the website. Here we provide the links to these teachings so that you can review this topic in more depth.