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Why “Be Positive” is Terrible Advice, According to Buddhism

Have you ever been told to just “be positive?” It’s a common piece of advice that many people give. But is it really helpful?

In spite of all the challenges negative emotions pose, there’s nothing wrong with having them.

According to the teachings of the Buddha, emotions are a fundamental part of who you are — an expression of our basic intelligence and creative energy.

When you can connect with the essence of your emotions, you can respond without preconceptions and judgments. Then you can explore and get to know your emotions without reacting immediately to their energy, and they become a source of wisdom and compassion.

Your emotions can open your mind and your heart. They can lead you beyond your habitual patterns into new territory.

According to Buddhism’s first Noble Truth: “pain is universal and inevitable.”

It is human nature to have negative thinking, and it’s okay to feel low and dejected. Low emotions and their presence help us to appreciate the happiness in our lives. And challenges enable us to enhance our mind muscles.


So instead of aiming to be positive 24/7, when we feel a negative emotion like jealously, it’s actually more useful to observe and accept it, according to Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, one of the finest Tibetan Buddhist teachers in America.

Below he explains how to go about it.

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Why we should accept our emotions

“When we recognize an emotion, such as strong passion accompanied by jealousy, we are actually breaking down the speed of that emotion. The total sense of recognition is important in both Sutra and Tantra. In Sutra, it is mindfulness. In Tantra, if we see that nature and look at it nakedly, we will see the nature of that wisdom. You don’t need to logically apply any reasoning. You don’t need to conceptually meditate on anything. Just simply recognize and observe it….We will have the experience of that wisdom by simply being with it without conception. Therefore, recognition is quite important.

“The first step is just simply to observe it. Simply recognize the emotion and then watch it as it grows or as it continues. Just simply watch it. In the beginning, just to have an idea that [the emotion] is coming is very important and effective. In the Vajrayana [Tantric] sense, the way to watch these emotions is without stopping them. If we recognize the emotion and say, “Yes, it is passion,” and then try to stop it, that’s a problem. Rejection our emotions is a problem in Vajrayana.”

This echoes spiritual guru Osho’s advice who says that we need to embrace all experiences in life. He says that without sadness, we cannot have happiness:

“Sadness gives depth. Happiness gives height. Sadness gives roots. Happiness gives branches. Happiness is like a tree going into the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of the earth. Both are needed, and the higher a tree goes, the deeper it goes, simultaneously. The bigger the tree, the bigger will be its roots. In fact, it is always in proportion. That’s its balance.”

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