Buddhist Philosophy

Five Negative Emotions: Understanding How We Suffer

Five negative emotions cause us so many problems. In this audio clip, Phakchok Rinpoche explains how Buddha Śākyamuni taught about the mind and about actions.

First, the Buddha described our negative thoughts, and he divided these into five main categories. Rinpoche here describes these five as they might arise in our daily lives. He also demonstrates how subtly these five negative emotions may influence our behavior.


Anger includes dissatisfaction and dislike, or an uncomfortable feeling. All these smaller issues are also types of anger. Anger does not only mean rage. We can all be angry without shouting or getting red in the face, right? We can have many small, different levels of anger. When we mix some feelings of dislike with some uncomfortable sensations, then we can become obviously angry. It’s very interesting to examine how this comes about. And we can see in our lives how this anger varies.


If we dislike a person and he or she does something wrong, then we get outraged, and we may even shout. But if someone we like made the same mistake, then we might stay quiet or not even show that we are upset. So, clearly, the act itself didn’t cause the difference in anger, did it? We’re actually showing anger because we already had dislike.


Jealousy comes when someone else gets something we want. Again, we need to check ourselves — do we get upset when someone else gets more attention or credit than us? If we can’t accept someone else’s good fortune and rejoice in that, then we are jealous. And is jealousy good for us? We need to check for ourselves.

Jealousy involves comparison. Sometimes we compare ourselves to others and wish we had what they have. Other times we compare our own past and future, before and after.  Think about this in your own life. Do you think about how it was in the past? That’s subtle jealousy of our earlier self! We may think that jealousy brings happiness and maybe in some situations and for a few minutes it might, but we need to check this for ourselves.


When we have something better than others have, we feel pride. We may develop pride over small things. Rinpoche here gives the example of being proud of his hair. Pride is a type of clinging to identity. The problem is that fear is also mixed in. We worry about keeping whatever we have. Whenever we identify with some possession, feature, or quality too strongly, then we are in danger. We can develop pride in our looks, health, or even clothes. But are any of these going to last forever? If we identify with these things, then we become sad when they change.

Attachment or ClingingFive negative emotions

We all know the feeling: “I want that” or “it is mine!” or “I’d like to have that!” People buy things because of attachment. We think we need the newest and latest iPhone. But how long does that make us happy? A couple of weeks, maybe? The marketers use handsome people to sell us products, making us think that a thing will solve all our problems. But is that true? Whatever we have, we want more.

Moreover, the attachment means that we hold so strongly that we are not able to give fully. Rinpoche here gives the example of giving a present to his wife but then being upset when she passed it to someone else. Why did he feel upset? Because he was attached to the gift. And this is exactly what we need to see in ourselves so that we know how to improve.


Five negative emotions

The fifth negative emotion is the hardest for us to see. We call it ignorance, but literally we can translate it as “not seeing.” And what are we not seeing? We’re not seeing that we have emotions. So we are angry, but we don’t see it or we may even lie about it. If we are practitioners and meditators, then we should not make this mistake. Instead, we always need to look at our minds and see our negative thoughts or emotions.

Reflection Exercise on the Five Negative Emotions

Rinpoche asks us to consider if these five negative emotions are good for us or not. It may be easy to give a short answer but then take the question more seriously.

Really think about this over the next week or so. Watch your own mind and behavior. Do you notice these emotions and the subtle ways they arise? And when you see these at work, ask yourself: is this making me happy?  

1 responses on "Five Negative Emotions"

  1. Hello Rinpoche,
    Yes these are negative emotions which disturb my peace of mind. How do I overcome these causes so that I am able to stay calm and centred? You are suggesting reflection. That means the practise of self reflection is after the event has occurred. It is near impossible to do any reflection when the negative emotion eg anger arises because I become the anger and am reacting with anger to the person who provoked me. It is like the branch I am standing on has broken and I am already falling….and to stay calm and collected… HOW do I do that? Many thanks in advance for your response.

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.