Sometimes it is translated as “mental afflictions”, “afflictive emotions”, “negative emotions”, or some variation of those terms depending on who the translator is. I will try to stick to the term “mental afflictions”.
For me, they are psychological behaviours that I can recognise in my mind and I usually know “that’s not right”. Most 8 year olds can tell you “that’s not right”!! I know that they aren’t positive or helpful emotions to be experiencing and negative things come from them.
Mental afflictions are the thing that drive soap operas because they provide the petty framework for characters to act out in silly ways. This is because mental afflictions underlie all vocal and physical negative actions. It is the mind that drives the vocal and the physical actions. The mind is the precursor, and if you’re angry then things are not going to go well!!
In Budhdhism the mental afflictions are described as variations or experessions of the 3 Poisons. But the 3 Poisons are also the initial sequence that gives rise to all other mental afflictions.
The 3 Poisons (in sequence) are …
- Ignorance: A complete misunderstanding of how the “self” exists and who exactly this “me” and “my” fellow is. Actually, the same ignorance applies to the way everything exists.
- Attachment: I am “me” and these are “my” things. Hmm, this is mine, all mine. My body, my family, my job, my country, my football team, mine, mine, mine.
- Hatred & anger: Just don’t mess with my stuff okay, otherwise I have every right to defend myself. Don’t talk to my friend like that, don’t make job difficult, no more immigrants in my country thank-you, or else you are forcing me to act. We might give whatever reasons to qualify our actions and mental afflictions that arise.