This was a reply to a 25/10/2012 post from a Tibetan Buddhist monk on an online discussion group:
We have to be careful when we talk about “negative emotions”. Are we talking from reaction and judgement, which is harmful?
Throughout history, people have judged things, people, emotions and actions as bad, evil, negative. In other religions it is because GOD or some other external authority says they are so. It is called “demonising”. When we look deeper we usually find there is some good/useful/positive aspect to them all. This would be why “deities” have a wrathful face in Tibetan Buddhism. If we don’t understand the needs behind our emotions, then not following “negative” ones can turn on us and create suffering. They are suppressed and eventually explode. This is a danger in emphasising “calm and peace”. They must come from understanding and transcending, not pretending and suppressing. The latter comes when we are trapped in ego games of identity. Trying to prove we are not bad (in whatever way), that we are good. It is the belief itself that is the problem/false.
Truth is often not such a simple thing as our judgements suggest.
According to the early recorded teachings of the Buddha, there are only a very few ACTIONS that are evil/unwholesome (in themselves). These are reflected in the five/eight/ten precepts and the four fundamental rules of monks (which nuns have too). And they are taught as things to avoid in the major religions of the world. I believe they are called “evil/sin” because they cannot be done with a pure motivation. (This may go against later interpretations of the Bodhisattva ideal and skilful means.) The four are:
- Killing a human being
- Stealing to the value of which your society rules would execute, jail or banish
- Sexual misconduct, which varies according to the lifestyle of a mendicant or layperson. For a mendicant: intentional sexual activity with the opposite sex, human or animal; for a layperson: avoiding rape, pedophilia and sex with those who are dependent on others for their livelihood (which of course would be covered by the monks’ and nuns’ practice). (Crazy later explanations of the Buddha’s teaching only say “adultery” or “cheating”, so rape and pedophilia would be ok! Thus there is SO much sex between monks and novices in all traditions. No the Catholics are not the only ones to blame!)
- Spiritual fraud – claiming to be more advanced than one really is
All lesser variations of these are covered by all the other training rules. Those lesser ones may be subject to the situation and could be considered under “skilful means”, but I don’t believe a bodhisattva would break the four above, no matter what. This is basic morality or ethics, without which one cannot progress on the path (according to early teachings). Killing mosquitoes to prevent malaria could be considered out of compassion for suffering beings, but the wiser person would encourage preventing the growth of mosquitoes by avoiding standing water without fish! Maybe introduce fish!
Yes, we should know of negative emotions ‘their deceptive nature, their true colors, and their harmful character,’ (quoted from the Tibetan Buddhist monk on the online discussion group) but we should also know what needs are they trying to fulfil and how can they be fulfilled in a wholesome way. Once we know and deal with that, we have liberation. Thanks to the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha, who showed us the way.