Once you look into the research further, you realize that there are as many classification of basic emotions as you can shake a stick at. Still, I don’t know how many are beginning from the actual experience of meditation. The latter will be my starting point.
While I don’t want to say anything conclusive here about how many negative emotions there are, I do want to focus on four basic negative emotions that I’ve experienced in others and observed in myself:
A Simple Buddhist Starting Point
How is it necessary to get each emotion off the ground in the first place? To begin with, Each of these emotions is related to, while emanating from, an ego-self.
Against Me.– If I believe and feel that something is against me (understood as an ego-self), then I’m bound to feel anger along a continuum. It may be minor irritation, a passing bout of peevishness, a stronger feeling of annoyance, or all the way up to great rage.
For Me.– Whatever I take to be for me (again, throughout this post swap “ego-self” for “I” and “me”) may lead first to excitement and, after a time, to greed (one of the Buddhist “Three Poisons”). Notice, in your direct experience, how excitement really feels.
An Event or Actor Threatening Me or Mine.– Fear will arise whenever an event (e.g., the idea, or actual prospect, of a plane crash) or actor threatens me or mine (where “mine” could, variously, be “those I care about” or “my worldly possessions,” etc.).
An Event or Actor Actually Doing Harm to Me or Mine.– Provided that I feel that I have no control and provided too that I feel that I can’t fight back (so, anger is ruled out), I will likely experience sadness in the event of harm befalling me or those I care about. Sadness presupposes a certain powerlessness.
The Mind’s Seminal Contribution
Notice, in the above, that it is the mind’s seminal contribution to the experience of these four negative emotions that enables each to arise. Without the deep sense of “for me,” “against me,” and “threatening” or “actually harming” me or mine, would these emotions even be able to arise?
This goes to show that the root source of dis-ease is the ego-self, and it is the ego-self that precisely keeps looking elsewhere for amelioration. Yet is not the case that the ego-self has a problem; the ego-self is the problem!
One puzzle you may have been sitting with is why I call “excitement” a negative emotion. The reason is actually quite simple: excitement is simply the belief and feeling that things are in my favor, that events are going my way, that an opportunity–for me–is on the horizon, etc. If you’re a very careful observer or if you have a meditation practice, just notice how excitement actually pulls you out of samadhi (centered, peaceful, brought-into-one wholeness) and thrusts you forward. Excitement is, in reality, quite jolting, and it is nothing like the abiding peace and happiness that we all truly seek.
Now to the two groupings. It seems to me that we can, very roughly, investigate our ego-selves more closely by keying into whether we tend to be “warm” (the anger-excitement axis) or “cold” (the fear-sadness axis). For instance, I tend to be “warm”–I am prone to anger (from mild upset to genuine outbursts)–while others may be prone to be “cold.” If the latter observe their thoughts and feelings, they will find that they have a “certain tone.”
Why This Matters
Ego-selves tend to have certain “characters”–certain habits, certain actions taken, certain thoughts and feelings experienced, and so on. You might say, in the language of the day, that the ego-self just is ‘a profile.’
Why does this matter? Well, the more one investigates “warmth” (if one tends to be “warm”) and “coldness” (if the latter is true for you), the easier it will be to find a pathway back to this illusion called “ego” or “ego-self.” And the more one comes back to the illusion itself, the easier it will be to see it as an illusion.
Then, of course, the question is: if the ego-self on whose behalf I seem to have been living is not really real, then what is really real? What am I, really?