What Do We Mean by ‘Destructive’ Emotions? (Part Two)

What Do We Mean by ‘Destructive’ Emotions? (Part Two)


This philosophical dialogue explores the concept of ‘destructive’ emotions, delving into when negative emotions transform into entities causing harm. Bridging Western and Buddhist perspectives, the discussion seeks to unearth implicit cultural disparities and areas of convergence in the foundational assumptions guiding our exploration. Serving as a counterpoint to scientific presentations, the Western perspective spans two traditions. Firstly, within Western moral philosophy, a historical concern with the destructive potential of emotions is evident. In traditions like those of St. Augustine and St. Ignatius, spiritual exercises aim at moral enhancement. In a later secular tradition, ethicists address this concern through ethical training rooted in rationality, democracy, and education. Secondly, the biological dimension of emotions is explored, drawing from fields like psychology, neuroscience, and ethology. While recent philosophical work has tackled aspects such as the rationality of emotions, little attention has been paid to their destructive potential.

Contrasting this, the Buddhist perspective approaches emotions from a phenomenological stance, emphasizing firsthand experience over biological underpinnings. The term ‘Klesha’ in Buddhism closely aligns with ‘destructive emotion,’ translated as ‘mental affliction.’ Kleshas, arising from ignorance, disturb the mind’s equilibrium. Delusion, considering personal identity as separate from others, is the primary affliction. While Buddhist psychology analyzes various mental afflictions, all stem from the ‘three poisons’ of delusion, craving, and hostility, the sources of personal misery and conflict. Remarkably, Buddhism posits that these afflictions are not intrinsic but eliminable obscurations, offering a path to lasting freedom or Nirvana. Thus, the Buddhist view of destructive emotions is contextualized within a broader psychological and philosophical framework.

  • Dialogue 8
    11 sessions
  • March 20, 2000
    Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India
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Matthieu Ricard

Matthieu Ricard, PhD, is a Buddhist monk at Schechen Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal. Born in France in 1946, he received a PhD in cellular genetics at the Institut Pasteur under Nobel Laureate FrancoisJacob. As a hobby, he wrote Animal Migrations (1969).He first traveled to the Himalayas in 1967 and has lived there since 1972, studying with Kangyur Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, two of the most eminent Tibetan teachers of our times. Since 1989, he has served as the French interpreter for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He is the author of The Monk and the Philosopher (with his father, the French thinker Jean-Francois Revel); The Quantum and the Lotus (with the astrophysicist Trinh Xuan Thuan); Happiness, A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Import-ant Skill; and Why Meditate?. He has translated several books from Tibetan into English and French, including The Life of Shabkar and The Heart of Compassion.As a photographer, Matthieu has published several albums, including The Spirit of Tibet, Buddhist Himalayas, Tibet, Motionless Journey, and Bhutan. He devotes all of the proceeds from his books and much of his time to 120 humanitarian projects in Tibet, Nepal, and India—and to the preservation of the Tibetan cultural heritage—through his charitable association, Karuna-Shechen. Ricard has been deeply involved in the work of the Mind & Life Institute for many years.