What is sadness?

Mar 18, 2024



Dear Venerable Robina,


First, thank you for your teachings. It was lovely to recite the Heart Sutra together and learn more about emptiness. 


There is one thing I always struggle with and was hoping you could provide some clarity. When we talk about negative emotions such as jealousy, anger, low self-esteem, etc., we never discuss sadness. I don’t mean sadness in terms of depression or anxiety. I am referring to a sadness for circumstances. For example, my parents have been experiencing serious health issues and I feel a lot of sadness about the situation. 


My question is – I don’t know if sadness is a delusion to be challenged like the aforementioned emotions, or if it is a neutral emotion, and something we simply experience. 


I sincerely appreciate any guidance you can provide. 


With gratitude,




Dear H,


Good to hear from you.


The delusions are pretty straightforward: we recognize them: attachment, anger, etc. The voices of I.


But sadness as you refer to it is compassion, I’d say: your wish that they not suffer. And that’s a virtue.


On the other hand, it’s probably mixed with a delusion, which is why it’s not comfortable and makes us feel a bit hopeless, but it’s hard to identify.


In the case of the sadness you describe, it’s probably mixed with aversion to the suffering. You see, one of the main functions of attachment is always wanting everything to be nice; attachment can’t cope with problems. So there you are, on the one hand, with compassion for your parents, but at the same time your attachment is sort of upset and that causes aversion to arise. Aversion is the response when attachment doesn’t get what it wants.


This drags down your compassion and, as I say above, it’s what makes you feel uncomfortable or a bit hopeless.


Built-up aversion like this is what we call depression. 


So, have compassion for your parents, for sure, but then think, “What can I do to help?” That make you courageous. And if you can’t help, then just love them for who they are.


What do you think?


Love to you,




Dear Venerable Robina,


I am so grateful for your clear and compassionate response. You really hit the nail on the head and explained things in a way that makes a lot of sense to me. 


I will continue to work on my mind and do my best to handle this situation with compassion. 


With love and gratitude,



More Q & A

How to decide what’s best?

QUESTION Dear Venerable Robina, I had the pleasure of watching several of your teachings and have, of course, been watching your discussions and Q&As on YouTube. My family have been listening to you and your straightforward manner has put them at ease that I’m not...

Help your father be peaceful, that’s all that matters in his old age

QUESTION Dear Venerable Robina, Hoping this finds you well. I’m having a hard time dealing with something. My mother passed recently. We’ve just discovered that she gambled away all the family money in bad investments. My father is old and refuses to acknowledge this....

We don’t know who anyone is, so don’t judge

  QUESTION Dear Venerable,   I hope that you are well.   I know that sometimes my mind has a tendency to kind of lean toward being distrustful, so I'm working on that.   There has been a couple of times in the last year or so when I have heard a...

I’m struggling to find employment

QUESTION Dear Venerable, I hope you’re doing well. I attended your teachings during your recent visit. The topic on that occasion was “Karma and Afflictions” and this is exactly the reason why I have finally got the courage to contact you. I’m really struggling to...

Share this article