Guess what today’s topic is!

Sorry! Today’s reflection is once AGAIN—I am sure you guessed it— ‘negative emotions!’ You are probably tired of hearing about this again. I fully understand. It’s never been my favorite topic and, for the most part, I successfully ignored it all my dharma life and focussed instead on other aspects of teachings. Of course, I never held the view that negative emotions were good. I just thought I could get away with not engaging more deeply with this topic.

There actually is a way for superior practitioners to become free of of the grip of negative emotions by simply resting in the ‘View,’ the direct understanding of the nature of reality. However, my progress seems very slow in this regard and it’s dawning on me that I might be the gradual type of person who needs to work in a step-by-step fashion to make progress. Maybe this insight is a rare sign of advancement in my practice! It may be the emergence of a little bit of insight and intelligence about where I actually am at! Now I have over 20 years of catching up to do. I am determined to not let go until this point about negative emotions sinks in a little deeper!

Maybe you are at a different point with your own study and practice and the topic of negative emotions not as relevant for you at the present time. If these reflections feel like torturing yourself with bad news, you know what to do! One click and you can be off to something more interesting like BBC World News, the stock market, etc. I am sure you know many places for distraction and entertainment. This blog is just personal reflections about my practice, about where I am at on the path.


I myself am finding these reflection very helpful, even though they keep circling around the very basic questions of why negative emotions are harmful and how they manage to control me.

During the three year retreat program in Lerab Ling, we studied Bodhicharyavatara. Sogyal Rinpoche gave us an amazing teaching based on Khenpo Kunpal’s commentary and many other sources.

In Chapter 4, after reflecting deeply on the preciousness of our human birth and the urgency to make good use of this opportunity, Shantideva laments about our inability to make the best of the precious opportunity of our lives and he asks how this could be happening:

“I am as if benumbed by sorcery,
As if reduced to total mindlessness.
I do not know what dulls my wits
O what is it that has me in its grip?”
The Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva – Chapter IV, verse 27

Bodhicharyavatara is written in verse form. When I received these teachings, I found the verses of the root text very beautiful, but often had a hard time understanding the meaning. In order to help myself grasp their true meaning, I wrote little summaries based on the notes I took in the teaching.

Today, I went over some of these summaries. With regard to this verse, Sogyal Rinpoche explained that we are as if bewitched by a powerful spell. Our mind seems to have no will and strength at all. It is completely oblivious to all the pain and suffering we are headed for as a result of mindlessly engaging in so many negative actions. We have no idea of the madness of the way we are presently living our life. When Shantideva asks what is it that has us in its grip, that keeps us from seeing this, the answer is obvious: negative emotions!

If you have received Buddhist teachings, you have probably heard this many times. The difficult part is to really get on board with this message and apply it in your life. I still feel my understanding of this point is quite vague and weak and that my lack of confidence and certainty of the harmfulness of negative emotions is keeping me from taking the appropriate actions. That’s why I continue to engage is this reflection.  I hope this persistence will allow the truth to sink in more deeply.

It is a very interesting process to attempt to watch my mind and become more aware of my emotions, to better understand how they work and to see how they occur in my day-to-day activities. I keep asking, “How do they control my life? Why they are so harmful?” I would like to keep reflecting on this topic and try to ascertain the truth of the teachings in my own personal experience. I will keep writing more on this and you are welcome to share your reflections too.

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2 Responses to Guess what today’s topic is!

  1. kristen says:

    Well, Bernie I am not tired of it. It is so good to hear you and othesr speak of this. I do not think my practice could progress at all, especially out in the world outside of my shrine room if I didn’t work with this topic because reflecting on this points to the truth of the Buddhanature in us all. That is what gives me the courage and the room to make me remember to try & be good person–and to realize that is true about everyone else too. You just have to keep remembering–that is what these postings help us do!

  2. Bernie says:

    Good to hear. Sounds like you have gotten this point way before me! Now that I stopped trying to avoid this topic, there are at least two of us who are interested in this! Very comforting thought! 😉

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