Taking Refuge and Awakening Compassion
Tonight I'd like to talk a little bit about what it means to go for refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha; to find reliable refuge; to generate compassion or altruistic bodhicitta, the altruistic mind of enlightenment, the aspiration for enlightenment, the bodhi mind. This is a very basic, yet totally profound area of spiritual inquiry. It is not just going through some formalities, chanting some mumbo-jumbo that some high priests alone understand (if even they do), like the Latin mass. If we really get down to it, what does it mean to say, "I take refuge in the Buddha, the teacher." Does it mean I bow down to an old piece of metal from the antique shop? Or to some old boy who lived 2500 years ago? Naropa, Marpa's guru, sang: "My heart-mind is the perfect Buddha; my speech is the perfect Dharma; my body is the perfect Sangha."
What does it mean to take refuge? It means to make a commitment to awakening. That's the Buddha-awakening; Buddhahood; Buddha-nature; Buddha-mind; enlightened mind; truth; reality; realization. That alone is a refuge, a sanctuary, an authentic reliance. That's what it means to take refuge in awareness itself, which is freedom and peace. To make a commitment to awakening. Not just to bow down to an idol, not just to subscribe to a dogma, but to make a commitment to knowing the truth. That's what it means when you say "I take refuge in Buddha, the enlightened teacher." It means the Buddha within, to know how things are. That's the ultimate refuge. That's the inner truth, the inner teacher, the absolute guru-to know the truth, to know how things are. Not just know with the mental computer, the brain, but to know with the heart-mind. Not just to know information with the mind, but to know through intuitive experience, self-realization. That's finding refuge, something to rely on-enlightenment itself, within one's own experience. Knowing the truth is the ultimate reliance, the ultimate refuge. To realize truth for one's self, to find refuge in the Trikaya-the three kayas or Buddha-bodies, Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya-within the empty openness, the luminous clarity and the unobstructed compassionate responsiveness of your own true nature. The three innate jewels. The good, the true, and the beautiful: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
What does it mean to say "I go for refuge in the Dharma"? The Dharma is the truth, the teaching, the Buddhist doctrine; not just something to believe in, like dogma. It is the truth of how things actually are. We find refuge in expressing that truth, learning that truth, integrating that truth. That's the Dharma teaching. That's the way to find refuge in that way of life: speaking the truth, sharing in the truth of realization. That's the Dharma. The Dharma is what relieves suffering and confusion, alleviates pain, and heals our ills in the deepest sense. It is something we can rely on, and find refuge in-the truth, not just Buddhist doctrine, but truth; being truthful and straightforward, having good character, integrity, and impeccability; in harmony with life as it is. It's where we can find refuge from all of this confusion and madness that we see around us, and within us. That's a refuge, a sanctuary, an oasis. The Dharma, the truth: awakening to that and living it. Speaking it, sharing it, being honest, straightforward, impeccable, genuine. Even being ourselves is Dharma, our own home Dharma. That's true. Being true to ourselves; not just living someone else's life, doing something because we think we should. How about walking our own path? That's finding refuge in the truth, in Dharma; living truly. That is a reliable sanctuary or refuge. If we lie and so on, we can't really say we are seeking truth, because that's crooked, not straight.
And finally, taking refuge in the Sangha, in the community. Buddha is knowing the truth; Dharma is speaking the truth or living truly; Sangha is being the truth, embodying the truth. Of course, all of these are very much connected: three facets of one single jewel. Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are traditionally called the Triple Gem, the Triple Jewel. So Sangha is embodying the truth, living the truth; it is those who live the truth and live truly. It's a great support, something we can all rely on in the midst of all the confusion and agitation, all the distress and alienation of these times. It is a commitment to living harmoniously with others and to awakening together, and working to bring all beings along with us towards lesser suffering and greater freedom, peace, and clarity. That's refuge in Sangha; not just taking refuge in people who have orange monastic robes. Not just taking refuge in other hippies or Buddhist groupies. Not just taking refuge in people in our little Buddhist ghetto here. Rather, it is taking refuge in true community itself; communion with others-collaboration, connectedness, engagement, responsibility. That would be finding refuge in Sangha, rather than falling into alienation, isolation, and egotism.
Listen to the beautiful rain. We also take refuge in things as they are. It is very enlivening. Every drop, every sound radiates the sublime Dharma. It says in the sutras that the devas (celestial beings, archangels, gods) rain down blessings when the Dharma is expounded. So when we take refuge in the Three Jewels, in the outward way it is Buddha-the beautiful Buddha statue, representing on one level Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical enlightened teacher who is an example and inspiration for us all-but in an inner way it is taking refuge in knowing truth for ourselves. Knowing truth within, the genuine wisdom of awareness itself. That is Buddha-nature. That is the refuge. And the Dharma is living truly, speaking truth, expressing truth, not just the Dharma doctrines and teachings. And the Sangha is the entire community; for all beings are spiritual beings, living spirit-let's face it. Let's affirm our connection with them. That's our real community. Not to mention the Dharma brothers and sisters that we are consciously walking together with on the path; the slippery, muddy, uphill-seeming path to enlightenment. Here we are, paving and making that beautiful path with our awkward footsteps. We can rejoice in that. It's a lot of fun, also. This is a good time to be good Buddhist bulldozers and Buddhist steamrollers, icebreakers, pioneers, bridge-builders between East and West, between past and future, too. Not just for ourselves-always having to achieve something-but for the community, being snowplows clearing and opening a path that all can walk on.
This refuge is not a small thing. Affirming it every day is a very beautiful practice, done in all Buddhist countries, and now in all the Western countries also. Whether you chant it or just think it in your own language, go deeper, keep exploring until finally finding refuge in present awareness itself, which is the real Triple Gem, the true Buddha within. Recognize that, and see that there is really nothing else needed, nowhere else to go, nothing missing, and nothing extra to get rid of. We can just be, live like Buddhas. We are far more Buddha-like than we think. Whether we are momentarily sleeping Buddhas or awakened Buddhas, still we can live like Buddhas, sit like Buddhas, walk like Buddhas, eat like Buddhas, talk like Buddhas. We can awaken others too, like Buddhas. Recognize the Buddha-nature shining in each person you meet and in all beings and every experience. Every part of our life can be Buddha-like. That's refuge in the Three Jewels. Making every part of our life Buddha-like. If you really want to know what Buddha-like is, don't think Buddha sat like this all day. He also had a life. For 45 years after enlightenment, walking around with friends, eating, talking, answering people's questions. Every part of life can be part of the Buddha way. Not just sitting like a stiff wooden or bronze statue all day.
I personally find a lot of joy in chanting these ancient prayers and refuge stanzas, and in reflecting upon these things, thinking these things, and remembering and affirming these things daily as a practice. These practices are very helpful. It turns one more and more inward in the sense of being more centered, with less reaching for other refuges, other oases, other reliances, other commitments. With the commitment to awakening, everything becomes part of the way to realization. It says in the Mahayana scriptures that as soon as you make the Bodhisattva Vow to realize enlightenment, to relieve universal suffering, all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and devas applaud and rain down flowers. As poetical and metaphorical as that seems, I really feel that it is true. You can feel it yourself as you start to open a little more to the joy of the awakening spirit. The Mahayana scriptures also say that when the Bodhisattva Vow has taken root in your heart, then everything you do is beneficial. Even turning over in your sleep. They say even when a Bodhisattva turns over in sleep, beings are awakened! So even if it's only poetic or metaphorical, the point remains that it is very important, this awakening mind, this bodhicitta, this aspiration for enlightenment.
Don't think there is nothing to seek. It's true, but it's too soon to say it. Seek, and you'll find it. Don't paralyze yourself with nihilistic philosophy: "There's no one to seek, nothing to do, no practice. I'll just sit at home and follow my usual habits: drink myself to death or whatever. It doesn't matter!" That's just a different practice. Why do that practice, if there is nothing to do? That's also doing something. That is karma, too. So it is too soon to say there is nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to seek. Seeking with all of your heart is bodhicitta. Rumi calls it the passionate longing for the Beloved, for awakening. Opening with passion and compassion; intensely, with heart.
We have gotten into this by accident here already, the bodhicitta. Bodhicitta means the enlightened heart-mind, the aspiration for relieving the suffering of all by being more and more enlightened. The whole Dzogchen teaching, the whole Vajrayana teaching, is based on the Mahayana Bodhisattva Vow. Realizing suffering, we want to end it everywhere, not just in our knee or in our back or in ourselves temporarily. Wherever suffering is, may we release it! When we do this, we really dissolve the selfishness, egotism, the self-clinging that we have. It is always said that the entire spiritual life depends on your motivation, not just what position your legs are in. It depends on your motivation, your intentions and aspirations. That's why many saints have said, "Be careful what you pray for. It may come true." Everything depends on what you're motivated towards. Oscar Wilde said, "There are two tragedies in life: One is not to get your heart's desire; the other is to get it!"
In this way, we make this totally absurd wish that we are going to liberate all beings. It is beyond the scope of our mind, this boundless aspiration to never stop spiritual work until there is no more suffering left in the universe. That greatly enhances our spiritual power and possibilities.
Shantideva prayed, "As long as space endures, as long as beings remain, as long as there is any suffering anywhere, may I continue to strive towards enlightenment." That's where compassion, empathy, loving-kindness, and the other paramitas come in-energy, effort, patience, fearless courage, and so forth. It is a huge, boundless undertaking. But we are never going to give up until suffering is ended. That's the scope of our intention. Again, I want to reiterate: Everything depends on our intentions, our motivation. So it is very important to check our motivation. Why did we come here? We must be looking for something. Let's not pretend that we are not looking for anything. What are we looking for, really? Can we ask ourselves? What are you looking for, each of you? Trying to get away from your wife, your husband, the crying baby at home? Trying to quiet your mind for a moment? Trying to meet a boyfriend or a girlfriend; Dharma-dating? Spiritual retreats are famous for matchmaking! Maybe that's why you come here, to have a Vipassana romance! But don't idealize anyone too much, including the teacher, without knowing them better.
What are we looking for? The answer to all of our questions? The end of pain and dissatisfaction? What are we afraid of? Death? Confusion? Meaninglessness? Are we looking for the meaning of life? What are we looking for? That determines very much what happens. The motivation, the intention is very crucial. Are we coming here just to get in the right club and find the right answer that will solve all our problems? Maybe hoping we won't feel any feelings or pain or confusion; just suppress ourselves and not feel anything, like staying in the closet where nobody will bother us. That may be fine, but it is a very limited motivation. And it brings very limited results, because when we go out of here we just get bothered again. No matter how quiet we make our minds, when we go out the volume is turned up again. The fast forward button is on. Life speeds up. Only wisdom, realization, insight stays with us. Not the concentration and the peace, which is conditioned, fabricated here for however long it lasts. True peace is beyond the quiet and the noise level. Peace means inner fulfillment, wholeness and ease, knowing and being at one with ourselves.
So what are we looking for? Are we just looking to get by until we die? To be part of the club of meditators? Or are we really looking for the freedom and eternal peace that the Dharma promises? The perfect peace and wholeness. The end of all suffering.
So I ask you to ask yourselves, because everything depends on our intentions: What does drive us? That's the basic teaching of karma. Not just what we do, but what we think and intend. As it says in the first line in The Dhammapada, the sayings of Buddha, the ancient Buddhist book, "As you think, so you become." The mind is the ruler. Like the cart following the horse, body follows mind. If you want to go somewhere you don't command the cart; you prod the horse. It is the intention, the heart-mind that moves us; not just the cart, the body. Body is like a mere shadow of consciousness. Our motivation is crucial. That's why we make the indispensable Bodhisattva Vow to liberate all beings, transcend illusion, master the Dharma teaching, embody the truth, and so on. We are not just trying to stop our thoughts, to pacify our brains, which is very temporary. We can have a lobotomy if that's all we want, or take Librium or some other designer drug or drink. Enlightenment in a bottle! But it is only very short-term, stopping our minds. The mind will start again. It is an eternal motion machine.
I think it is very important to look into our motivation and learn about egotism, desire, selfishness, and the end of selfishness. And see what compassion is, what empathy means and can mean. We are all more or less the same, so all beings want and need more or less the same as we do. Why treat them differently than we treat ourselves, than we want to be treated? We are all more or less the same. Of course, we are not all exactly the same. We are different and same at the same time. It's just one more little paradox. The more we can live with paradox, the freer we are.
Compassion is really crucial for spiritual life and also in our turbulent times. It is something we can cultivate and practice. It is not something we have to wait for to come and land on us one day. We can train our attitude to be more gentle, kind, compassionate, and empathetic. Feel what the others feel; that's compassion. Then we treat them as we would like to be treated, as Jesus says. So this is a practice path. We can actually practice this and develop in this way. It is doable!
So it is very important to develop this genuine heart of compassion; this warm, basic goodness; a good warm heart. We don't necessarily have to use fancy words like bodhicitta, karuna, maitri, metta. Those are all fancy, foreign words. Even in our own native language, we can say all this. How about unselfish, compassionate, empathetic, tender-hearted, caring, kind? If it doesn't show up in our life in that way, what kind of spiritual practice are we really doing? Are we just fooling ourselves, hiding in a corner in a dark room where nobody will bother us? Trying to get away from it all. If you want to get away from it all, get drunk. Take a good drug. That will get you away from it all for a moment. But we've all tried that. How long does it last? Why hide in the corner like a cur that has been kicked too many times?
Let's face it. We'll do anything to find what we are seeking. So let's really go for it wholeheartedly, not just sit around waiting for the meditation period or teaching hour to end. If you are just waiting for the gong to ring, it is better just to get up and go do something else. Killing time is just killing ourselves. If we don't really love this work of awakening, you'd better do something else. Go look for it somewhere else, wherever we think it is. But look for it wholeheartedly. That's also an aspect of bodhicitta. Wholeheartedly, thoroughly, passionately; put ourselves into it completely. Not just hiding in the corner hoping that nobody will bother us until we die. That's just hiding and denying. That's not awakening. And that's not responsible; it is irresponsible. We are the guardians of this gift. We should share it with all. We must bring forth the Dharma, our own Dharma, our own truth, through our lives.
Compassion and love is absolutely necessary. If we just think of Buddhism as wisdom, clarity, insight, and realization, we are just living from the neck up. What about the rest? The rest of our body, our emotions, our feelings, our life? How does it show up in our life? Is our life more sane, or not? This whole teaching is about sanity, not insanity. It is about wholeness and togetherness, not about being flaky. The spiritual way is responsibility, straightforwardness, impeccability, integrity-not crookedness, not avoidance, not denial. Not just trying to get by, but doing your best, wholeheartedly and thoroughly, and at the same time letting things go. Whatever happens, happens. As a Zen master said, "My life is just one mistake after another." But you keep trying. You fall on your face, but you just get up again and keep going. We have no choice anyway. Let's just keep on keeping on, in the great Way of awakening.
People tell me they are not getting anywhere with their meditation. That doesn't bother me in the least bit. I really like to hear that, because we need to reflect on this and keep trying. Actually, we can't very easily judge if we are getting anywhere or not; but if we are just complacent and satisfied, we are probably not getting anywhere. It's good to keep questioning and to live the question, as Rilke said. Not be satisfied with some easy, quick answer. We all would prefer instant coffee answers. Just add hot water and presto-there's the answer. Enlightenment powder. Just add hot water. But the truth is more subtle than that, better than that. We must continually refine our spiritual pursuits, not become brain dead.
Let's really look into ourselves. What are we seeking? What are we missing? What do we want? Let's put it very crassly. Not just what do we "aspire to," but what the hell do we really want? And go for that. Even if it is just money or a new car or a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Because then when we have that, we might still find that we want more. Then we must go on and go deeper and deeper until we find out what is really satisfying. But if we are afraid to reach out, afraid to ask, to want or take anything for ourselves; if we pretend we don't want anything; if we deny all our impulses, desires, and needs, then we don't get anywhere. We take all the passion and energy and juice out of our path. So I ask you: Ask yourself what you are really seeking and want. Also, what are you afraid of? What is holding you back? What is your greatest fear, and would you be willing to face it? What would make it safe for you to proceed, even in the face of that fear? That fear is already motivating and conditioning us. If you are afraid of being alone, then everything you do is fabricated, is unconsciously coordinated, so you won't be alone, to protect you from discomfiting feelings of loneliness. If you are afraid of pain, then you are always seeking for pleasure and avoiding painful situations, so you are never free to really follow your true vocation and find fulfillment, even if it is difficult at certain points-painful even-to pursue it. You are always conditioned by some unconscious fear or neurosis or desire. The Dharma is the end of all desire. Not the end of passion, but the end of grasping desire. It is a transcendence, not a rejection, denial, suppression, or repression. A lot of pure, raw energy awaits us just below the surface of desire and passion.
Tricycle magazine was interviewing a lot of us Buddhist teachers, asking us if we thought the Buddha had an emotional life. After Buddha was enlightened, did he have any emotions? There has always been some kind of debate about this, but the real question is: Can we have emotions or not? Do we have to get rid of them all? From the tantric point of view, I had to say, of course Buddha had emotions. Maybe he didn't identify with them, but he had them. He also had thoughts. It says in the sutras that he had a headache one day. I don't know why it never says in the sutras or in the bible that Buddha or Christ ever laughed. Do you really think they were that overly serious? I doubt it. Maybe the monks who followed were too serious to write down and record frivolity; that would seem to make more sense, historically speaking. They didn't want anybody to think their master was just a comedian or superficial. But you know and I know that they must have laughed, so let's not be too rigid and earnest. We too can allow ourselves to freely experience emotions and feelings; also fantasies, imagination, passion, anything. What are we holding back for? What are we saving ourselves up for? The real thing? Saving ourselves for the real thing? "Not this dance, I'm waiting for the big dance. The real dance. The real relationship. Then I'll give myself." You just never do. You are just procrastinating. You become a mere wallflower in life's grand ballroom that way, and miss most of the fun. Why be so stingy with yourself?
So let's go for it fearlessly and really seek what we are after. Let's relinquish our tendency to always hold back. This kind of tantric, Vajrayana practice is very good for that. There are many skillful ways of working with our energies; not just trying to deny and suppress them. We can't control the wind, but we can learn how to sail with it and even how to tack into it. We can't control our conditioning and karma, but we can learn how to be more skillful with them, how to be free of them finally.
That's all I wanted to say tonight. Are there any questions? Don't be shy. No one else is here. It's a Buddhist principle: there is no one up there listening.
Really what I mostly want is to be free myself. I find that for me, the Bodhisattva Vow is a fiction, that it is manufactured.
Well, manufacturing it is the beginning of making it. That's the beginning. This is a training path. It is an attitude transformation. It is a cultivation of bigger, more unselfish attitude. Of course, it seems a bit much to take on freeing all beings when we can't even free ourselves from fighting with our wife and colleagues. But we try; we try to cultivate unselfishness, restraint, patience, tolerance, and loving-kindness. We are included in that wish to liberate all beings. It's not just thinking about all of them and excluding ourselves. But the Bodhisattva Vow takes away some of the selfishness. It is a way of broadening our scope. Of course, we are here for selfish reasons, because we are individuals seeking our own happiness. And that's fine. I'm not asking you to repent for that. This is a vow for the present moment of letting go of selfishness. To raise our aspirations; elevate our gaze; awaken the bigger mind; open our loving heart.
What about rebirth?
I heard a Theravadin monk say the Dharma is rebirth control. I thought that was a good joke; but what does it really mean to you to be reborn or not to be reborn? I don't know what the hell it means! Do you think you are going to be reborn; as an ant, perhaps? What do you think?
I don't know.
I don't know also. So why do you care so much about being reborn or not being reborn? Do you want to wake up tomorrow or be dead tomorrow? You want not to suffer, right? Like all of us. Suffering comes from resistance, from grasping and clinging, from hanging on. So besides thinking about not being reborn, which is a long-term project, in the short-term, just open the tight fist of grasping and drop the stereo before you impulsively, angrily throw it out the window. Forget about rebirth and everything else. Just open the tight fist of grasping. Surrender. Trust a little, accept things, and reduce friction and conflict. The more we can accommodate whatever happens, the more inner freedom and peace we will experience.
Hundreds of thousands, probably millions of people are meditating, but it doesn't seem to be doing anything.
How do you know? Maybe you have to be enlightened to see the results! So what's the point? Does meditation work? Buddha said, according to Zen teachings, "When I was enlightened, the whole universe was enlightened."
Sometimes it seems like the carrot in front of the donkey.
It is. That's why I asked you what you really want. Forget about enlightenment. Go for what you really want. What do you want? Peace? A better job? Can you be honest with yourself? Or do you have to say "enlightenment"? Many people are afraid of enlightenment and what it might mean. Does enlightenment mean you become a monk or have no more fun, or disappear into Nirvana, or what? Enlightenment as we think of it is just a concept. That's why Trungpa Rinpoche said that enlightenment is the biggest disappointment of all. It's not what we think it is. But it's not really disappointing, of course; it's a great joy. It is our highest, ultimate, deathless happiness; peace and fulfillment.
Many people are meditating and many people are getting enlightened, I assure you. Maybe you're not thinking about it in the right way. Let me straighten you out if I may try: There is no such thing as enlightened people; there is only enlightened activity. That is perfectly congruent with the teaching of anatta, no-self or emptiness/openness. So meditating definitely brings more enlightened activity. Even one moment of letting go will do for now. The Buddha said, "To have even one moment's recognition that everything is impermanent is more valuable than living 100 years without such a thought occurring." No matter how long you live, without recognizing truth it is more meaningless than just having one moment's recognition of the truth. So that's why I say there are many getting enlightened. Even us here! Don't get discouraged. Those moments of recognition make life meaningful. And we all have them. And the more aware and honest we are, the more we inquire, the more that happens. No doubt about that. Awareness cures. Don't you think?
Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche always says that hundreds of thousands of yogis attained the Rainbow Body of Perfect Enlightenment over the centuries at his Katok Monastery in Kham. You think there aren't enough Dalai Lamas around? There are lots of them. Perhaps you just overlook them. Morever, remember that sometimes just a small amount of yeast can make the bread rise. And that's why we dedicate our lives to this practice. We see the suffering. And, of course, some of it we make ourselves. It's not just the planet that is in a mess. We are in a mess too.
Buddha taught one thing only: Suffering and the end of suffering.
How can I deal with anger without suppressing it?
It seems to me there are three or four stages with an arising energy. It could be lust-attachment. Or it could be anger-aversion. They're not that different really. Let's talk about anger and aversion. We could suppress it, but we need not suppress it. We have to experience it, and let it liberate itself. But we don't want to act it out on somebody else harmfully. In between these two stages-the moment of its arising in us and the moment of acting it out-there is a lot of room for just experiencing it. Not suppressing it. Not identifying with it, superimposing judgmental thoughts like "I'm an angry person, I shouldn't be angry," and all that beating ourselves over the head with concepts and judgments. Should-ing on ourselves. Can we just experience the energy with awareness? Be with it; perhaps even acting it out a little, like shouting P'et, or visualizing ourselves in anger, like the wrathful deity erupting with flames. Why be afraid of it? We need not direct it at somebody else. Recognize that this is just your own energy. It's not the other person's fault that you are getting angry.
Let's say it's your mate/partner and he, I don't know, leaves empty beer bottles and socks on the floor every night. Actually it's not his fault that you get angry. Some other people wouldn't care. They wouldn't even see them. It is your responsibility. No one can make you angry if the seeds of anger are not in you. You're reacting. Once you start to see that and start to own the anger, it changes everything. Then you can act it out a little more consciously, more skillfully, and less destructively. For anger can be destructive, can't it? So you express it a little. Like you could express it by moving your body or by shouting or doing some artwork, or chanting and visualizing, or pounding pillows. It's a way of acting it out without harming another. So there are a lot of levels and possibilities for working with the rough negative emotions.
We are really getting down to something here. If you can really own your anger, which does not mean identify with it, it means you are not blaming him (I'm saying him because you mentioned two important cases in your life, and I imagine your partner is a him). So if you are mad at the him in your life, there is a lot to look into about what you are doing. Not everybody is mad at him. Some are mad at her. Mad at me. Mad at it. Mad at everything. So you have to own that you're mad at him. There might be a very good reason for that. Maybe he has been not so great to you. He is also not perfect. So you start to have compassion for him, and own your own part of the conflictive process, your own contribution-it takes two to tango, doesn't it? Even when the anger comes, you have compassion and empathize, you don't harm him, and you express your own anger so you don't have to push it down into yourself and make yourself sick. Anything we suppress will cause us problems. It's like a balloon; if you push it down here, it comes out there. Or you eat too much or drink too much or think too much or something. You have to compensate. It shows up somewhere else.
Can you take responsibility for your own anger so you don't have to direct it to somebody else? Let's take an extreme case: Even if he beats you, if you really are the most saintly kind of fool, then you sort of say, "Thank you God for this training in patience," and you have compassion for their bad karma. The gentle sage Shantideva said, "Enemies and hindrances are my greatest teacher." You could do that. Some have been known to do that. The fearless holy fools! They don't even know they should be angry. They just have compassion for the beaters. That's how far you could take it.
You have to say "I am responsible for my reaction." It's the ego that is the enemy, not the beater, not the him. That's a big stretch to make. It says in the Mahayana mind-training texts by Atisha to drive all the blame into one. That means it is the fault of egotism, of dualism, not of anyone else. Not to blame your father or blame the boss or blame the government. Rather, drive all the blame into one, ego-clinging. Ego-clinging is the one main enemy to be blamed. That's who we should be angry at. Shantideva said to stop being haunted by that specter, that ghost, who torments us continually.
You want something practical? I don't know what is practical to say. Some people say count to ten before you hit. That's like for children. Or on the other side, how about, own your own anger? It's your choice how you react even if they beat you. You could have compassion rather than being angry that someone is obstructing you or taking something from you. What are they taking in actuality?
Then I feel too much stepped on.
It's very difficult. So maybe you have to draw the line and just say no sometimes. You don't have to become like a doormat, for everyone to step upon. You have to bring more awareness to it, and know in a sane and mature way where the line should be. Not just say a Buddhist should never get mad or a Buddhist should always say thank you when they beat you and steal your car. Even the Dalai Lama discusses this very question. He said that for twenty-five years he's been trying not to react against the Chinese, that he kept compromising. But every time he compromised, they didn't give anything, until he has just given everything away. He said to me that maybe he needs to do something different now. So you have to find out for yourself. These are very difficult questions.
If you can understand how people feel, if you put yourself in their shoes, then you might maybe not even be so angry. You know why they are doing what they are doing, that you're not that different from them. Anger is considered the hardest of the kleshas to overcome. The whole Mahayana teaching about this is very detailed because it is so difficult to transcend anger. Shantideva's book Entering the Bodhisattva Path is a classic about this attitude transformation, this mind training. There is a whole chapter in it about acceptance, tolerance, forbearance, and patience. He says patience is the greatest austerity. Usually we think about austerities like fasting or not sleeping or walking naked to the top of a mountain or some austere yoga practice like sitting in a fire. But he says that genuine patience is the greatest austerity. Patience in the face of anger. He says anger is the greatest evil; not murder, not stealing. Anger is the greatest evil because it causes so much harm.
It is very difficult to deal with anger. And we all have it. If we don't show it outwardly, we have passive aggression. If we think we should never show it, then we are passive aggressive. We do things like we don't say no, but we act no. Besides hot anger there is also cold anger: brooding, withdrawal, giving our loved ones the cold shoulder, ignoring others, not listening.
But where does anger come from?
It comes from conditioning, from previous reacting in that way and from feeling frustrated, thwarted in our desires, and so on. That's why I said some people get mad if the boyfriend leaves the beer bottles all over the floor, but other people will have a different reaction. If we are meditating and somebody sneezes or someone walks in late, some people get very angry and other people laugh. Different conditioning. That's where the kleshas come from: psychological, very personal, inner conditioning.
To realize profound patience you need awareness. You need to pay attention to that. You need to bring some awareness, some attention, some perspective to it. This whole awareness training is about mastery, unselfish self-mastery, rather than being a victim of the conditioning-learning to master it by being more aware, more present, less caught in it, less identified and attached to it, less reactive. So we are more creative and proactive, more master than victim, more free of external circumstances and conditions. You begin to live in a different sphere, as it were.
Trungpa talks a lot about being afraid to say no. He calls it idiot compassion. You think you're being compassionate, but in fact you're being an idiot. Saying yes, yes, and smiling. Yes, give the children the matches. Yes, go out and play in the street. Spoiling them. That's being stupid. Then they die. Better to say no when it is time to say no. Or let them burn their hands on something small, instead of learning in a much harder, more disastrous way.
Anger is a very difficult matter. It really takes a lot of practice. I think a lot of it is about just owning up to it, rather than disowning the negativity and projecting it on others, blaming others. We really have to see that we alone are responsible for how we react to things. It's not outer things that entangle us. It's inner clinging; it's attachment that entangles us, as Tilopa said. It's how we relate to it that matters the most. And why be afraid of anger? As long as you are aware of it and you don't harm others and you don't harm yourself by suppressing it, you can afford to just experience it and even enjoy it. Be like the wrathful deities surrounded by flames. Flames of wisdom. It's just energy. Feel it arising. It could be lust also. Working with lust and desire is not so different. One notion is "I don't want," the other is "I want." What's the difference? It's equally karmic. You can just feel the raw energy, not get lost in the action. Simply let the pure presence of that energy animate your presence of mind.
You know you can't really get any lasting satisfaction from somebody else. If you can realize that you don't get satisfaction from outside, then you can realize that you don't get suffering from outside either. When you really train your mind it becomes like a very peaceful lake. Even if people throw sparks and fire into it, it doesn't explode because it's just water, not volatile gasoline. The untrained mind is like a big pool of gasoline. Every spark makes it explode. There will always be sparks. But will there be an explosion? That's your responsibility.
As Atisha said, it is ego-clinging that is to blame for all the different flavors and varieties of suffering.
We are all afraid of our negative emotions. Aren't we also afraid of our positive ones? So we are just very conflicted. And we don't really have to be. It's no big deal. Everybody sees them anyway. We don't have to think we are hiding them, that nobody knows. Everybody knows. We can relax and be ourselves. It's fine. I love, accept, and honor you just as you are. But, do you?
October 5, 1994