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The Six Disturbing Emotions, part 1

As spiritual pursuers, our main spiritual goal is to generate a compassionate and intelligent mind. This is why it is crucial to precede the teaching by creating the altruistic mind of bodhicitta.

Every individual has the goal of attaining happiness. Whatever action we pursue, whether spiritual or worldly, we do so reaching the hope of achieving happiness. According to the Buddha, the sources of joy are the generation of a loving and compassionate attitude and a wise mind. The purpose of engaging in dharma practice is to attain a more profound level of peace and happiness.

The obstructions to a loving and compassionate mind in union with a wise mind are the discursive mind and disturbing emotions. Disturbing emotions are infinite. Forget about the disturbing emotions that we have been generating since time immemorial. The disturbing emotions we have experienced since this morning are enough.

The Buddha expounded the 84000 tenets with the intention to work with the 84000 varieties of conflicting discursive thoughts and emotions that we generate. In order to subdue the mind that entertains the disturbing emotions of attachment and desire, the Buddha expounded the 21000 tenets of the Vinaya (discipline) teachings that deal with moral ethics. The essence of these teachings is to subdue one’s mind. In order to subdue hatred, the Buddha expounded 21000 tenets of sutra teachings. In order to subdue indifference, the Buddha expounded 21000 teachings related to the Abhidharma (the concise or wisdom teachings of the Buddha). These are the three baskets of the Buddhas teaching, Tripitaka in Sanskrit. So, the teachings of the Buddha consist of sutra, Vinaya and Abhidharma. These entail training in moral ethics, concentration and wisdom.

For a morally ethical person, the experience of meditation of samadhi will dawn spontaneously. A person with a mind blessed by samadhi will naturally experience wisdom. The most important practice in the beginning is therefore the Vinaya, moral ethics. In the middle of the practice, concentration is crucial. Then finally, the practice of wisdom is essential. The practices of moral ethics and meditative concentration can be compared to the rungs of a ladder. Without the first rung one cannot climb to the second or third.

Moral ethics are connected with the body, the speech, and the mind. The moral ethics associated with the body and speech is practiced so that the mind can also practice moral ethics. For example, the purpose of building a house is to reside inside that house. When we observe moral ethics with our body and speech, we do so primarily in order to attain peace and harmony within our mind. The person residing within a properly constructed house will not suffer from extreme cold or heat.

To observe the practice of moral ethics with regard to one’s body, speech, and mind, one must understand what should be abandoned and what should be cultivated. The Buddha has explained that as soon as you generate discursive thoughts or conflicting emotions, you will experience misery. In contrast, as soon as you create harmonious thoughts and attitudes, you will experience peace and harmony.

The Buddha described discursive thoughts and disturbing emotions. If there is a variety of dishes on a table, and some of these dishes are poisoned, it is important to know which dishes are poisoned.

Prior to our enlightenment, we possess mind (sem in Tibetan). As long as you possess mind, it will be filled with discursive thoughts. As an example, our mind is like our stomach. When you feel hunger you need to eat. If you consume tainted food with poison, the poison will affect the stomach , but if you chose the right food, your stomach will enjoy peace and harmony. With a choice of negative and positive emotions, we should choose the positive. If we pursue spirituality in terms of cultivating pure thoughts or pure emotions, meditative concentration will follow. But if we entertain disturbing thoughts and emotions, the possibility of meditative concentration is remote.

In the following example, your mind is compared to a guesthouse and the discursive thoughts, positive or negative, are its guests. When we receive good guests, everything will be in order. But if a bad guest arrives, then everything will be a mess. Nevertheless, none of the visitors are the guesthouse. They are the guests. If positive emotions and thoughts arise in your mind, would you say that these are your mind? Most people will say no. In the same way, if negative thoughts and emotions arise, then these are not your mind.

The real mind is free from fabrications. The practice of moral ethics is crucial for beginners to shut the door to negative thoughts and emotions and to open it for positive thoughts and emotions. But finally, if you practice the moral ethics, there will be nothing to cultivate and nothing to abandon. If you only allow your mind to rest in this original purity, this is the highest form of moral ethics.

According to the previous example where your mind is compared to a guest house and the positive and negative thoughts are compared to the good and bad visitors, then as a host of the guest house, you should be very mindful about what kind of guest you invite. If you allow disreputable visitors, then these guests will probably steal from your house. Therefore you have to be vigilant. Without controlling negative thoughts and emotions, they will become stronger with time. But if you don’t invite these negative emotions to your guesthouse, then their power will weaken and fade away. To be able to recognize these bad guests, you needs to know the six root disturbing emotions. They are termed “root” because they are a source for all other negative emotions.

The first root disturbing emotion is ignorance. When our mind does not correspond with the reality but holds a distorted notion, our mind is ignorant.

For example, the suffering that we undergo is initiated by ignorance. The disturbing emotion of attachment or desire acts out the intention of the disturbing emotion of ignorance. For example, ignorance can be compared to Adolf Hitler who started the Second World War. Hitler’s ministers can be compared to the disturbing emotion of desire and attachment.

Ignorance should be understood in terms of not understanding reality. The ignorant mind entertains the notion of a true independent existence. The actual meaning of the ultimate truth is empty of self, but our ignorant mind does not comprehend this. One should attain a decisive conclusion that holding onto the notion of true independent existence is the source of all the misery of samsara, and strive towards cutting that notion as much as possible. If you doubt this, you should further study and contemplate the teaching of the Buddha to arrive at the conclusion of emptiness of the true independent existence. If you then still believe in the existence of the self, then consult the great Indian masters such as Nagarjuna and Chandrakirit who presented an analytical method of discovering the selflessness of the I.

Many of us believe in the existence of a solid separate independent ego or I. Upon this we superficially pursue the path of emptiness and try to convince our mind that nothing exists as far as the I is concerned. This will not have any impact. For example, if you are sitting directly in front of a fire with your eyes closed and try to convince yourself that this fire is not hot, you will never manage to do so because you know that the fire is hot. If you mediate without having attained certainty with regard to the emptiness of the self, this would be like a fox trying to leap like a lion – the fox will end up breaking its back. This is a Tibetan proverb. When bodhisattvas meditate on the selflessness of the ego, they do this on the basis of having understood the emptiness of the self. But if we meditate on emptiness without having understood the meaning of the emptiness of self it can be compared with the proverb about the fox. To overcome the root disturbing emotion of ignorance, one needs to meditate on its antidote, meditation on the emptiness of self.

If you pursue meditation by having correctly understood the suchness, reality as it is, then such meditation can be compared to the Dzogchen trekchö (Tibetan, cutting through). Lama Mipham stated that to be able to meditate on the trekchö of the Dzogchen tradition, one should obtain a certain understanding of the view of the Prasangika Madhyamika.

The second root disturbing emotion is desirous attachment. Desirous attachment should not be understood as affection or compassion. The source of desirous attachment is the holding onto the true self. For example, many people claim to do virtuous acts for the benefit of others, but in fact some of these acts spring from desirous attachment. If such a person receives praise, they appreciate it, but if they are criticized, they resent it. In the same way people enjoy obtaining something and dislike not obtaining something. The enjoyment of the praise and resentment of criticism can be traced to the holding on to the notion of true existence of the self.

Desirous attachment can be easily mistaken for compassion, so one should be careful. Desirous attachment, unlike love and compassion, do not divide people. With the practice of love and compassion that knows no division, you can bring joy and happiness to others and yourself. This will not be transient and fleeting joy, but a very profound joy, which you will be able to shower upon everyone, because loving compassion does not discriminate. Because desirous attachment does discriminate, the person who has attachments lives with fear and misery.

The failure to accomplish one’s intentions also comes from desirous attachment. The misery of having to experience something unpleasant comes from desirous attachment. The suffering of separation from one’s beloved stems from the same source, as does suffering of having to meet a feared enemy.

If you feel love and compassion towards your friends and family, and hatred towards your enemies, these emotions separated friends and enemies, and do not constitute loving compassion. The desirous attachment also knows only a little compassion. Genuine compassion and love do not discriminate. But it is possible to transform the tinge of compassion into the loving compassion that knows no discrimination.

It is difficult to do away with desirous attachment as long as we remain within the realm of desire, the human world. This is because we are so easily exposed to temptations and seductions. Therefore, many meditators prefer to go to an isolated retreat where they will not be tempted by desirable objects.

The meditation practice of loving-kindness and compassion, in addition to meditation on ugliness, nullify desirous attachment. But one should not meditate on the ugliness of one’s enemy, because instead of generating loving compassion, one will then create aggression and hatred.

The third disturbing emotion is hatred. Many of us often feel hatred . The Buddhist texts use the terms “demonic forces” and “evil spirits.” Hatred is the enemy of ones own person. When one encounters a person whose mind is filled with hatred, no matter how beautiful that person might be, one will not appreciate the beauty of that person.

Nine rationalizations generate hatred. For example, someone who has already injured me is likely to injure me again. Because of these nine rationalizations, I hate that person. Another such rationalization is someone who harmed the person that I love is continuing to do so. Other people have helped my enemy, and will probably help my enemy now and in the future. What is the difference between the English terms “hatred” and “aggression”?

Respondent: Aggression is an action. Hatred is an emotion.

In Tibetan we also have these two terms. Hatred has the potential to become aggression. If you pure oil onto a small fire, you will have a conflagration. Aggression is fully blown hatred. We need to abandon hatred and aggression. To do this we need to see hatred as harmful. Giving in to hatred changes the chemical balance of the body, and creates negative physiological processes.

Someone who generates the disturbing emotion of hatred cannot experience happiness and peace. Even if you have a beautiful spouse, friends, and colleagues, if your mind is filled with hatred, the people that you love will desert you.

The primary cause of having to be reborn in the hellish realm is to generate the disturbing emotions of hatred and aggression in this life. A person whose mind is filled with hatred and aggression creates mental swords, spears, and arrows that become actualized when the person dies.

Mindfulness is very crucial when we are feeling hatred and aggression.
For example, when you encounter your enemy, you feel hatred at first, but with the help of mindfulness, you to control the hatred. Therefore, recognition is important.

If we generate hatred, then all the money we spend on cosmetic and makeup will be wasted, because no matter how hard we try to be beautiful, it will not work. (Laughter.)

While our mind is filled with hatred and aggression, it is crucial for us to practice mindfulness and awareness, and see that there is no difference between our enemy and our friends. We can understand this by reading the teachings of the ancient masters, and from learning from our day-to-day experiences.

Meditating on the four immeasurable thoughts and in particular the meditation on equanimity, will counteract hatred. We cannot practice loving kindness and compassion in the context of the four immeasurable thoughts until we cultivate immeasurable equanimity. With immeasurable equanimity one can easily cultivate immeasurable love, immeasurable compassion, and immeasurable joy. The reason the Buddha suggested cultivating immeasurable equanimity is because there is a tremendous amount of hatred within people’s minds.

Do you have any questions?

Question: Equanimity is quite difficult to practice on a deep level. Can you give us a further explanation?

Equanimity or equality should be understood in terms of there being no difference between one’s friend and one’s enemy. For example, you may see someone as your enemy, but if this is the truth, then each and every human being on earth should see this person as their enemy. The truth is some people hold the same person to be their their friend. Therefore, this person is in reality neither your friend nor your enemy. The same applies for a person you hold to be your friend. The friend that you had last year could be your enemy today, and vice versa. Everything is uncertain. If you believe in this superficial reality, then you become miserable. Your mind will be filled with fear and paranoia because of your belief in something that is not real.

Question: Isn’t the promise of Dharma that you will have more harmonious relationships and meet people that are friendly and create a better life? Doesn’t this mean that there is a difference between enemies and friends?

If you must hold onto that some people are your friends, and other people are your enemies, it is more important to treat everyone as a friend. Otherwise, you will not experience ultimate joy and happiness. To do this, one must transcend the notion of friendship.

Everything is interdependent or interconnected. If we have an enemy, we will also have a friend, and without the enemy, there is no friend; friends and enemies are interconnected.

Question: Isn’t it possible to have friends and no enemies?

I don’t think so. It is karma. If you have friends you will have enemies. Friendship is an antidote for enmity, but clinging to the notion of friendship is not transcendental wisdom. However, it acts as a stepping stone towards attaining this wisdom. This is how friendship can counteract enmity.

Who decides who is your enemy and who is your friend? You do, of course. Your mind does. But if your mind is deluded, how does it know the real enemy from the real friend? This is why the Buddha said that the three realms is nothing but mind.

Question: “Enemy” in English has a very strong connotation. Could you say ”someone that you dislike” instead?

Yes, or you could name the disturbing emotion of hatred to be the enemy. If you were to kill an enemy, then this name can be attributed to hatred, which is what needs to be killed. As long as you dislike certain people, the mind attributed the word “enemy” to this person, although the English word “enemy” may be stronger than the Tibetan word. What is the opposite of “friend” in English?

Respondent: There is a Norwegian word that means “not-friend.”

Question: Sometimes disturbing emotions are very strong. Still, if you are aware of them and try to apply antidotes, you still have to live with them for a few hours. Is there a way to get rid of them more quickly?

If you suffer for one or two hours after having practiced mindfulness and applied the antidotal powers to subdue the disturbing emotion, for example hatred, this subsequent suffering arises because the hatred lingers. If you believe that aggression has a very negative effect, then you will not entertain it any longer. It depends on how intensely you believe that these negative emotions are harmful. So, one should not harbor disturbing emotions. These emotions causes misery and suffering, but nevertheless we persist in harboring them. It is like the thorns on the plants eaten by the camel; the thorns sting its mouth, but the camel still eats them. This is why the bodhisattvas develop great compassion.

Question: What if you are afraid of somebody?

There is a reason for fear. If you can find the root of the fear, you can uproot it. When some people contract incurable illnesses, they consult hypnotists or regression therapists to overcome your fear. When you gain insight into your thoughts and emotions, you can conquer them.

Oslo, June 2005

Translated by Lama Changchub at Karma Tashi Ling Buddhist Centre, Norway