“Well now, I’m not going to talk about Judy, in fact, we’re not going to talk about Judy at all, we’re going to keep her out of it.”
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (agent Phillip Jeffries played by David Bowie)
Many Westerners are uncomfortable when they hear about emotions labeled as negative, but it is not that emotions in themselves are negative. All emotions assist in existence and are necessary for the full range of human experience, including the emotions of attachment, jealousy, pride, anger, and so on.
Without the emotions, we would not live fully. However, emotions are negative to the degree that we become attentive to them and lose touch with the deeper aspects of ourselves. They are negative if we respond to them with grasping or aversion because then, we suffer a narrowing of consciousness and identity. We then sow the seeds of future negative situations that trap us in realms of suffering. Is it possible to release negative emotional experiences?
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche in his book The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep explains the existence and antidote for our negative emotions. Let us explore his words of wisdom:
The Six Realms of Existence
According to the ancient Buddhist teachings, all conscious beings exist in so-called “six realms of existence”. These are the realms of gods, demigods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-beings. The realms are six dimensions of consciousness, six dimensions of possible experience.
They manifest in us individually as the six negative emotions: anger, greed, ignorance, jealousy, pride, and pleasurable distraction. The six realms are not, however, only categories of emotional experience but are also actual realms into which beings are born, just as we were born into the human realm or a lion is born into the animal realm.
Anger is the seed emotion of the hell realm. When the karmic traces of anger manifest, there are many possible expressions, such as aversion, tension, resentment, criticism, argument, and violence. Much of the destruction of wars are caused by anger, and many people die every day as a result of anger. Yet anger never resolves any problem. When anger overcomes us we lose control and self-awareness. When we are trapped or victimized by hatred, violence, and anger, we are participating in the hell realm.
Hungry Ghost Realm
Greed is the seed emotion of the hungry ghost realm. Greed arises as a feeling of excessive need that cannot be fulfilled. The attempt to satisfy greed is like drinking salty water when thirsty. When lost in greed we look outward rather than inward for satisfaction, yet we never find enough to fill the emptiness we wish to escape. The real hunger we feel is for knowledge of our true nature. Greed is associated with sexual desire; its energetic center in the body is the chakra behind the genitals. Generosity, the open giving of what others need is the exit path of greed.
Ignorance is the seed of the animal realm. It is experienced as a feeling of being lost, dull, uncertain, or unaware. Many people experience a darkness and sadness rooted in this ignorance; they feel a need but do not even know what they want or what to do to satisfy themselves. In the West, people are often considered happy if they are continually busy, yet we can be lost in ignorance in the midst of our busyness when we do not know our true nature.
The chakra associated with ignorance is in the center of the body at the level of the navel. The wisdom found when we turn inward and come to know our true self is the antidote to ignorance. Beings in the animal realm are dominated by the darkness of ignorance.
Jealousy is the root emotion of the human realm. When possessed by jealousy, we want to hold on to and draw to ourselves what we have: an idea, a possession, a relationship. We see the source of happiness as something external to us, which leads to greater attachment to the object of our desire. Jealousy is related to the heart center in the body. The antidote to jealousy is the great openness of the heart, the openness that arises when we connect to our true nature.
It is easy for us to observe the suffering of our own realm. We experience birth, sickness, old age, and death. We are plagued by loss due to constant change. When we attain the object of our desire, we struggle to keep it, but its eventual loss is certain. Rather than rejoicing in the happiness of others, we often fall prey to envy and jealousy.
Pride is the principal affliction of the demigods. Pride is a feeling connected to the accomplishment and is often territorial. One cause of war is the pride of individuals and nations that believe they have the solution to other people’s problems. There is a hidden aspect of pride that manifests when we believe ourselves worse than others in a particular ability or trait, a negative self-centeredness that singles us out from others. Pride is associated with the chakra in the throat. Pride is often manifested in wrathful action, and its antidote is the great peace and humility that arises when we rest in our true nature.
Pleasurable distraction is the seed of the god realm. In the god realm, the five negative emotions are equally present, balanced like five harmonious voices in a chorus. The gods are lost in a heady sense of lazy joy and self-centered pleasure. They enjoy great wealth and comfort in lives that last as long as an eon. All needs seem to be fulfilled and all desires sated. Just as is true for some individuals and societies, the gods become trapped in pleasure and the pursuit of pleasure. They have no sense of the reality beneath their experience. Lost in meaningless diversions and pleasures, they are distracted and do not turn to the path to liberation.
But, the situation ultimately changes as the karmic causes for existence in the god realm are exhausted. As death finally approaches, the dying god is abandoned by friends and companions, who are unable to face the proof of their own mortality. The previously perfect body ages and deteriorates. The period of happiness is over. With divine eyes, the god can see the conditions of the realm of suffering into which he or she is fated to be reborn, and even before death, the suffering of that coming life begins. The god realm is associated with the chakra at the crown of the head. The antidote to the selfish joy of the gods is encompassing compassion that arises spontaneously through awareness of the reality underlying self and world.
Why Negative Emotions?
It is important to think of the realms not just as emotions but also as six dimensions of consciousness and experience. There are cultural differences regarding emotion. For example, the concept of self-hatred is unfamiliar to Tibetans, who do not have words to describe it. In Finland, many people talk about depression; this is in sharp contrast to Italy, where people seem to talk about depression very little.
The climate, religion, traditions, and spiritual belief systems affect our experience. However, the underlying mechanism of how we are stuck – the projection, the grasping and aversion, and the dualistic interaction with what we project – is the same everywhere. This is what is negative in emotional experience.
If we truly understood and experienced the empty nature of reality, there would be no grasping and therefore no grosser form of the emotion, but, ignorant of the true nature of phenomena, we grasp at projections of the mind as if they were real. We develop a dualistic relationship with illusions, feeling anger or greed or some other emotional reaction in relation to them. In absolute reality, there is no separate entity that is the target of our anger, or the object of any emotion.
In reality, there is no reason to get angry at all. We create the story, the projections, and the anger at the same time. Often in the West, the understanding of emotions is used in psychology to try to improve people’s lives in samsara. That is good. However, the Tibetan system has a different goal and is more intent on understanding emotions so that we might get free of the constrictions and erroneous views that we hold onto through emotional attachment.
Again, this does not mean that emotions are negative in themselves, but that they are negative to the extent that we cling to them or flee from them.
Body Postures and Negative Emotions
Different body postures open or compress particular energetic channels and influence the flow of subtle energy. We use this understanding to aid specific processes in the practice. The Tibetan tradition considers the negative emotions to be more closely associated with the primary channel on the right side of the body in men and on the left in women.
When a man sleeps on his right side, the channel that carries mostly negative energy (or Prana) is forced a little closed and the left channel opens. Also, the lung, the physical organ, on that side is a bit compressed so the opposite lung is a little more responsible for the breath.
You are probably already familiar with effects from lying on your side. When you lie on your right side you find it easier to breathe through your left nostril. For men, we consider this position encouraging to the movement of the positive wisdom through the left channel.
Women benefit from the reverse, opening the wisdom channel that is on their right side by sleeping on their left.
By paying attention to the posture, we keep our awareness more stable during sleep.
Breathing, the movement of Prana, the position of the body, thoughts, and the quality of mind are all interrelated; unfolding this understanding allows us to generate consciously positive experiences.