"Good Reasons for Bad Feelings"

I saw this video recently and tried to consider its points from a Buddhist perspective…

I wonder what you all think about it. The guest makes some interesting points.

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“If you’re walking through a field filled with rattlesnakes, it makes sense to feel anxiety, since that would encourage you to be more attentive.”


It would be simpler to just be attentive.


I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and various forms of abuse in my childhood. Yes! I absolutely believe there are good reasons for bad feelings.
an article that I return to again and again to understand this in a Buddhist way is called “selves and not selves” by Thannissaro Bhikku. If I can sum up my understanding it’s something like “the road to not self is paved with progressively more wholesome bricks of self.”
I believe we have to meet ourselves where we are at. The moratorium on anger I the greater / mainstream Buddhist world I believe can be quite harmful and hold many back.
I can say “I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.” In the greater sense, I could be criticized for clinging to an identity. But for me this is one of these progressively more wholesome bricks of self on the road to realizing not self. I lived in denial about the reality of my experience for decades. This “brick” is a step forward. not saying I plan to cling to it forever, but for now it supports me in my path.
Similar with anger. Anger and fear that I have repressed for a decades. To allow myself to feel it and be an imperfect human is a brick in my path forward. Not that I plan to cling to it forever. But I simply don’t believe it’s possible to heal without allowing that experience.
this morning, I am reflecting on the differences between the Buddha’s teachings to monastics and the Buddha’s teachings to lay people. There is no conflict, but they were different and met each individual where they’re at. Unfortunately, this meeting me where I’m at it’s not something I have experienced in the greater Buddhist world. I strive to apply the teachings to my mind and my life in a way that makes sense and meets me where I’m at. I believe this would be the Buddha’s strategy. To apply the simile of the saw without compassion or understanding…ouch!!! Has led to so much suffering, not out of suffering. Crippling fear and seld-judgement and condemnation, not peace and compassion.
Does the strategy apply to those who don’t share my experiences? I don’t know… I think we all have to discern for ourselves whether “bricks” of bad feeling are a way forward or a way backwards. I suppose that simple test, does this lead out of suffering and into clarity, peace understanding, compassion or into suffering and away from these states is a good one…

my two cents… I can only ask, if you don’t share the experiences of childhood abuse, before you respond and judge me, take a minute to ask whether you can really know what it’s like to be me…just like I don’t know what it’s like to not have these experiences.
I would also point out that incest is not directly addressed in the suttas to my knowledge. It seems strange to me the third precept, how small a crime infidelity compared to the breach of boundaries of incest. I can assume two things…if there were any teachings on this perhaps they were too distasteful and difficult for people to digest so found their way out of the cannon. Also, if the Buddha were to teach directly on these subjects, the teachings would be specific, not in any way in conflict with the teachings as a whole, but specific to the group that Buddha was speaking to.

Sorry this is so long! I have been away from this discussion board for a long time, primarily because it did not feel safe to speak from where I’m at and I did not feel heard. Today I am stronger and I’m more able to accept that even if nobody here believes me/understands me, I will be okay. I will be sad and longing for companions on the path, but I will be okay.


Has the simile of the saw helped heal you along your journey?


No!!! LOL…

Not in my way it’s normally presented. I actually reread it a while back and the way I see it is it’s often taken out of context… The advice given is actually for someone who is experiencing verbal abuse not physical abuse. And it’s certainly not given to a survivor of childhood abuse.

to explain a little further about bad feelings that are good…as a child I had to repress fear and anxiety to survive an awful situation. The people I depended on for my physical survival were not safe. The only way to survive this was to repress these feelings. But, as an adult without these feelings as an indicator of unsafe situations, I have blindly wandered into further abuse.
The more I allow myself to recover unfelt feelings of childhood, the more I have a radar for unsafe people I wish to avoid as an adult. I think this is wise! I don’t live in fear or hatred of unsafe people. But I recognize they exist in the world and I’m not going to expose my self to harm blindly, for no reason.


@jesshaines, thank you so much for having the courage to share your experience. I can feel from what you say this is a step forward! Congratulations!

I would totally subscribe to this sentence. Especially for people who had traumatic experiences in their childhood and youth it is essential to develop a sense of self-appreciation, since this has been systematically destroyed or completely denied to them. But even just a “normal” upbringing in an environment shaped by certain aspects of Christianity infuses you with a sense of being not good enough, and not worthy of any good, etc. And guilty … this is a very detrimental concept, the concept of guilt.

And it is also essential for people who had experiences similar to yours to acknowledge what has happened for what it was; denial doesn’t help in any way.

Myself brought up in a Christian environment, it took me decades to understand this concept of guilt with all its implications, and to take steps out of it. Today when feelings of guilt, or anger, fear, or whatever so called “negative” and “unacceptable” emotions come up, I am able to notice them. And if they have any strength I take some time to sit down and just watch them, and try to watch them with metta. I try to develop metta towards this part of me that experiences these feelings right now—and very often they disappear quite soon, if not straight away, and there arises some joy instead! This is a great experience, and it also led to me not being afraid of negative emotions any more, as I used to be.

This is a very useful test!

I think it actually includes all sort of harmful sexual activity, not only adultery; but can’t remember a source right now. In fact it should be understood that way!

Please be very aware of this indicator! It is essential to protect you from unsafe situations; and it is also not helpful for a possible “unsafe” person to provide them with opportunities to do harm to others. What you need to find out is the right measure or the right degree of sensitivity of this indicator. Sometimes it can be a bit oversensitive; sometimes, as you have already experienced, it loses its sensitivity altogether. Finding the middle way is good!

Sadhu for having made it thus far! :anjal:


Thinking of an article ajahn sujato wrote explaining the rules for nuns traveling alone. The way I understood it was wisdom varies depending on our mental state. For a young nun who is undeveloped, it is wise to travel in groups. But the stories of the enlightened nun’s show women going in to the forest alone and responding with wisdom (and imperviouness) to attacks. I am not enlightened, so it is wise for me to be prudent and not expose myself to unnecessary danger and harm. Sometimes harm at the hands of others is avoidable, but I can do what I can to avoid. This is prudence and wisdom, not fear and avoidance. “Consummate in vigilance” I believe bad feelings as good help us to be consummate and vigilance and not expose ourselved to unnecessary danger and harm.

Taking the simile of the saw in the way it is normally presented as relating to an appropriate response to physical attacks has led only too deeply unwholesome states of mine in my mind - judgement, condemnation, fear, further abuse.
Forgetting about the way it’s normally presented and focusing instead on the teaching that it is wise to be consummate in vigilance has led to states of compassion, less fear, a sense that my life and body are important and worthy of protection and care. Then I’m more able to practice.

I recognize this may be a lot to swallow as the simile of the saw is such a staple of Buddhist rhetoric. I’ve been chewing on it for years and years and years and with many hours and reflection and contemplation. Also studying ajahn sujatos teachings on kamna, and Thannissaro Bhikku as well. I suppose it would be unrealistic of me to expect everyone to come along with me immediately. But I do appreciate anyone who takes the time to reflect, consider, question and meet me where I’m at :pray:


The simile of the saw is not at all presented by the Buddha as relating to an appropriate response to physical attacks. It is meant as a reflection when one is exposed to unpleasant speech. And I would think that this simile, out of all the Buddha’s teachings, is perhaps the last one that should be taught to someone who has experienced physical violence of whichever sort, and hasn’t yet been able to heal from that. There are so much other teachings that are encouraging and uplifting! Perhaps you should find a different sutta to contemplate? :laughing: :wink:

I mean, to arrive at the conclusion that contemplating the simile of the saw as relating to an appropriate response to physical attacks is somewhat inappropriate is a great achievement! But could it be a bit less painful? :blush:


Thanks for starting this thread. I think this is an important area. And one of much confusion, especially for past-me :joy:. If I may be allowed to tell my own story:

Once, when I was just getting into Buddhism, I was in an abusive relationship. Because of love (attachment), gaslighting, etc I didn’t see that. All I knew was that I was sad and angry all the time. Reading The Simile of the Saw and Santideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva I was inspired to be gentle and kind and loving even in the face of abuse.

Eventually, during an especially cruel spat, I couldn’t contain my anger any longer. I fought back. The relationship ended. While I was devestated for a while, I eventually came to realize I was much better off without that “friend.”

Now, in terms of hindsight and the Dhamma, how are we to analyze this? It’s tempting to blame the Saw Simile for keeping me in this relationship and to credit my anger with pulling me out of it. And there certainly is some truth to this. For years this is the story I told.

But I have come to understand the nuances of the Dhamma better since then. Nowadays, I am ashamed about that flash of violence. While I cannot deny the good it did, that good could much more easily have come if I had simply taken the Buddha’s advice to leave “non-friends.”

The suttas are quite clear about the criteria for recognizing false friends and about our duty with regard to such persons: we are “to avoid them like a dangerous road.” If I had recognized my freedom, my duty, to leave, I would have avoided a lot of pain. And could have done so earlier and without any regrettable actions.

Furthermore, I can now appreciate that the way I was holding the Simile of the Saw had prevented me from seeing my own suffering. You see, our duty with regards to “bad feelings” is to understand them, not suppress them. The grieving process requires passing through anger, sadness, fear… If we never allow ourselves to feel our “bad feelings” we will get stuck in the “denial” stage of grief.

When we face our bad feelings with equanimity and curiosity, we will discover to what extent our problems are the fault of our own delusional expectations, and which part of our problems are external circumstances. So, we have to be more discriminating. We have to avoid the extremes of entirely blaming our problems on others and the extreme of taking on other people’s problems.

So, what is this middle way? When is anger to be supressed and when is anger to be accepted?

The Buddha defined anger (the kind we should never tolerate within ourselves) as “cruel intentions”: the wish “may this person suffer,” etc. As long as our anger remains merely a bad feeling it actually remains in the category of dukkha, and is not to be supressed or avoided but rather investigated and understood.

Because, inevitably, there is a lesson there for us to learn behind our fear or anger. We can’t learn that lesson if we ignore our anger. Nor can we learn our lesson if we believe it.

I hope that helps clarify some of the nuances here, or at least, furthers the discussion to a more nuanced place :pray:


This is a bit speculative on my part, but it has struck me how the spiritual ideal in Christianity is self-sacrifice. Take this snippet from a random gospel site I googled:

There is no greater evidence of God’s abundant love and compassion for us in that He placed His Son on the cross to die on our behalf.

I think sometimes, coming from a Christian culture, there can be a tendency to approach Buddhist teachings in this way.

What I mean is that our cultural understanding of love and compassion can be connected with the idea of letting oneself be subject to and enduring the cruelty of others (like Jesus did); i.e. the idea that love and compassion is enduring someone else’s bad behavior without complaining.

The narrative of self-sacrifice is also constantly reinforced in movies and tv-shows / popular culture in general.

As far as I can tell, love and compassion are understood quite differently in the EBTs (see e.g. Ven. Analayo’s Compassion and Empitness in Early Buddhist Meditation).

For example, the idea of avoiding “bad friends” seems unintuitive to many Westernerns (aren’t we supposed to endure and eventually ‘save’ bad people?), but it is actually a wise act of self-compassion to stay away from bad influences.

These are just my own thoughts on the subject, but it seems to me that the missing ingredient that we don’t get from our culture (assuming you are a Westerner like me) is the idea of treating ourselves with the same love and compassion we treat everyone else.

A question I have seen online many times (e.g. r/buddhism) is something like ‘If I am to be kind and compassionate, how do I avoid being exploited or treated badly?’

To me, the obvious answer is ‘you don’t let people treat you badly and you take yourself out of bad situations because you are just a being like everyone else who you have a duty to protect and treat well’.

To clarify, I don’t mean to be a defender of the saw simile (maybe the simile not always appropriate or maybe it is not presented in the right way) or to shift the blame on you saying ‘you didn’t understand it correctly!’ – I think it could be worthwhile to consider different ideas of love and compassion between the EBTs and modern Western/Christian-influenced culture.

May we all be well and happy :slight_smile:


@jesshaines I don’t feel like I have the internal resources to really reply to what you’ve said. I guess I have some weaknesses. If there’s anything that can really help you, it’s probably Buddhism, so it’s good you’re here. I hope you can find some peace.


What you said makes total sense.

The simile of the saw was useful to me in mitigating “the crusader” in me who would “fight injustice”. It was startling to read the first time and only made sense in the context of relinquishing identity view. Your case is quite different and your explanation really gave me a new perspective about how this sutta would not be useful.

Thank you.


I am wondering how the EBT concepts of kukkucca (remorse) and hiri ottapa (moral shame and moral dread/fear) are related to the Christian (Catholic in my case) concept of guilt and contrition. It seems to me that they may serve the same function.

In the EBTs we see remorse (kukkucca?) as a hindrance, whereas hiri ottapa are seen as positive values (essentially feeling bad for good reasons).

In Catholicism we find that guilt is not in and of itself considered a positive thing, but contrition (defined as: “sorrow of soul, and a hatred of sin committed, with a firm purpose of not sinning in the future”) is seen as the positive aspect. Indeed it is often noted as the first step towards union with God.

In both cases kukkucca and guilt are overcome by virtue as I understand it.


Yes… Thank you for this. Something that came up for me after all that compulsive posting (LOL) was that I do feel fully committed to doing no harm. That I do not want to retaliate against my abusers or anyone else in the world. Thank you for putting some clear words to this.


Thank you everyone for your replies. So much richness in the Buddhas teachings! A lot to consider here and more than I’m able to respond to today.


Thank you :pray:. And to you…

Sometimes the response “I don’t get it”… Deeply honest and very valued :pray:


Here are some quotes:

The extremes reached are far greater than anything envisaged in the Kutadanta Sutta and they stem from the state’s blindness to the realities of poverty. Thus the sutta states in refrain after every deterioration:

Thus from goods not being bestowed on the destitute, poverty… stealing… violence… murder… lying… evil-speaking… immorality grew rife.

Theft and killing lead to false speech, jealousy, adultery, incest and perverted lust
Violence and Disruption in Society: A Study of the Early Buddhist Texts

The most serious violations are incest and the rape of an arahant (or arahatess). The underlying root is always greed accompanied by delusion. Going for Refuge & Taking the Precepts

The Simile of the saw is an advanced practice! We must peel away more superficial layers of anger before being able to work with the deepest layers, and it is only about working with the anger and not about not responding appropriately. There is the inner work and the outer work; both need to be performed. We must work on the anger as well as seek to remove ourselves and/or remove the perpetrator from our circle, as well as ideally stop them from going on to harm others, again, if you feel capable to take on that challenge. The need for justice is deep. It won’t go away but something can fade with time, and with buddhist techniques, which should eventually eradicate anger permanently. This is not beginner’s practice, and the newbie will only succeed in suppressing their anger, resulting in longer term anger issues, but practicing anything and everything one can get ones hand on in the sphere of Buddhism will eventually help fade the deep hurt felt but there maybe some more of it left- dig at that too- and that is how the faculty of mindfulness will grow. Having expectations of justice, expectations of decent human behaviour, expectations of love are all in this situation, a cause for suffering, and its important to let go of it as it is unrealistic. Causes (unwholesome) lead to undesirable effects, and if it’s not possible to find justice (and avoid revenge) then we must put the violence in with the past, where it should belong, and see it for water under the bridge. But I understand it isn’t that simple, but these ideas do help with time, and the idea that the assault is now finished and there is pleasantness ahead! Hang around, and let the dukkha work for you!


Hi @Media, it’s not that I don’t want to answer your question; I just find it difficult to put my answer in the right words, since it is much more related to a personal experience than to a theoretical concept. Maybe will post again later when I find a good way of putting it…


I believe remorse is not so much about feeling the feeling in a prolonged manner, but rather learning from it (using it as an indicator) that an unwholesome deed has been performed by body, speech or thought. The Christian guilt is (I assume without knowing what it is like to be a Christian…) is prolonged as the results are catastrophic in terms of eternal hell. There are not so bad in Buddhism as we do not worry about good and bad done in the past, but rather focus on developing wholesome faculties now. The effects of past unwholesome deeds become diluted by the wholesomeness developed now. Metta is known to dissolve unwholesome past deeds. In any case, enlightenment is not gained by dissolving past deeds so that is not the driver of the practice but rather development of wholesome mental states eg: faith, determination, mindfulness, concentration and panna which is wisdom/insight.


I’d agree with that and add that “guilt” is self-centered. Guilt is thinking “I’m a terrible person” while remorse is thinking “That was a terrible thing to do.”