On the eve of what could become war in the Middle East, when the sweet scent of peace is in the air along with autumn's leaves; I think that we must look into our hearts and minds and see what we may be doing to contribute to these problems, and how we might become part of their eventual solution. Aren't religions supposed to further peace and harmony, not contribute to prejudice, bigotry, violence and war? Nonviolence is the first precept of Buddhism, and a fundamental tenet of many world religions; yet look what actually happens in the world, recently in the Middle East and Bosnia and Sri Lanka as well as throughout history. Even here at home in America, guns in the schools and at home continue to harm us. Meanwhile, this is national Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an issue that strikes too close to home -- a problem that will, I am afraid, outlive both of our presidential candidates and most of us too. Violence has come to the fore in our time as a major focus of concern, but we have not made much progress in averting or dealing with it.
Martin Luther King said that we have two choices: to peacefully coexist, or to destroy ourselves. Do you know how many countries in the world are experiencing war right now? Dozens! Yet here in America we don't feel as much evidence of it as we did during the several wars of the twentieth century. War does not begin outside somewhere, on a battlefield, along some disputed border, or in a diplomatic conference room or economic summit meeting; war begins with the cupidity, hatred, prejudice, racism, ignorance and cruelty in the human heart. This is because the true battlefield is the heart of man, as Dostoevsky says. If we want peace in the world -- and I firmly believe that we all do -- we need to face this fact and learn how to soften up and disarm our own hearts, as well as work towards nuclear disarmament and peace in our time. We need to think globally and act locally, beginning with ourselves and each other at home, in the family, as well as outside at work and in the community, reaching out more and more in broad, all-embracing circles of collective caring and responsibility.
In Buddhism, Avalokiteshvara is the embodiment of the Buddhist heart of love and compassion, lovingkindness, mercy, forgiveness, acceptance and joy. He/she is the spiritual archetype personifying those qualities which are latent in all of us, only waiting to be developed, cultivated, and actualized. That's what it means to become enlightened and to be a Buddha, which anyone can do if they follow the spiritual path to the end; it means to realize and actualize all that is already in us. That is our Buddha nature, or the innate Buddha within -- not the historical teacher from India, but the actual awakening of the god or goddess, the wisdom and compassion that is in all of our hearts and minds. Being Buddha means awakening that, realizing that through and through, and embodying it in the world by sacralizing our entire life. Tonight we meditated together, and then we chanted the Tibetan mantra of love and compassion, the mantra of Avalokiteshvara OM MANI PEDME HUNG, the Dalai Lama's mantra and the most popular mantra in Tibet. We chanted it while visualizing infinite light rays radiating out from our heart chakra and reaching out to touch and awaken all beings, illumining them all with healing love and blessings. We cultivated the Four Boundless states of mind: compassion, lovingkindness, joy and equanimity/forgiveness. This Buddha Avalokita -- technically a Mahasattva Bodhisattva, who has renounced her own nirvanic peace bliss in order to continue her mission of liberating all beings -- is called Chenrezi in Tibet, Kuan Yin in China, Kannon in Japan; one can see her images everywhere in the Buddhist art and temples of those countries. This meditation on love and compassion is one of the most important Buddhist meditations, and is common to all schools of Buddhism.
Key elements of spiritual awakening through most traditional paths are the practice of non-violence, forgiveness, and compassion; this necessarily includes learning to deal with anger and hatred by purifying ourselves and rooting out anger from our hearts and minds. One of the principle tenets of Buddhism, as of all deep spirituality, is non-violence, non-harming -- and even more radically, to be helpful and altruistic, if you can. But I don't want to ask too much on the first attempt! At least let's start with non-violence, non-harming, and living lightly on this planet rather than destroying it and ourselves. That's the minimum, I think. And this is a practice, not just an ideal; these virtuous principles not just something the Dalai Lama or Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, Jesus and Buddha could do, but something we can practice in our own lives, in countless ways great and small. We all care about, and perhaps even work for, peace in the world and in our communities and homes, and for inner peace, too, in ourselves and our relations with others. But the war, violence, and aggression we struggle with on so many levels all come from the anger, hatred, greed and ignorance in our own minds. That is the root, and the only root, of these evils.
So let's zero in on the negative emotions, which lead us into undesirable
behaviors and results. Klesha is the technical Buddhist term for them. Klesha
is sometimes translated as "afflictive passions", or as obscuring
emotions. These words are not totally accurate. They easily lead us to misunderstand,
to judge too quickly, and perhaps to think we have to get rid of all of our
feelings, emotions, and sensitivity in general, in the name of some kind of
idealized equanimity and spiritual detachment. For our purposes here, kleshas
are disturbing, egocentric habits of thought and conflicting feelings, which
drive us into unconscious reactions and unskillful, nonvirtuous actions. The
kleshas we are discussing here are the self-referential and intense, overwhelming
destructive emotions, such as anger, hatred, jealousy, overweening desire and
lust, avarice and the like. We are not considering the positive emotions or
healthy emotions, such as love, tenderness and compassion. In dealing with the
difficult negative emotions, anger is a particularly crucial one to talk about
right now. How do we deal with that intense energy?
Buddhist teachings say that at the heart of the vicious cycle of samsara, the wheel of becoming, are the three poisons, the three root kleshas: greed, hatred and ignorance. The main klesha that fuels this whole dualism of attachment and aversion which drives us is ignorance, or delusion and confusion. From ignorance comes greed. Greed, avarice, desire, lust and all the rest. Also from ignorance comes anger, aggression, cruelty and violence.
These two poisons are the basic conflicting forces within us: attachment and aversion. They come from ignorance, and they're really not that different: "Get away" and "I want" are very similar, just like pushing away and pulling towards; and both cause anger to arise. Anger has been singled out as one of the most destructive of the kleshas, because of how easily it degenerates into aggression and violence.
But anger is easily misunderstood. It is often misunderstood in our Buddhist
practice, causing us to suppress it and make ourselves more ill, uneasy and
offbalance. I think it's time to think about this. Psychotherapy can be helpful
It can sometimes feel that the most frightening thing in the world is to honestly face ourselves. How do we deal with these difficult emotions like fear and rage when they arise, like a tsunami or a volcano? I think it is good to start by examining ourselves first in a somewhat less stressful situation, starting first with the little forms in which the difficult emotions arise, like during meditation. When we are alone in daily practice, or maybe in a Dharma center, yoga studio or meditation retreat -- where everything's perfectly arranged for your protection, comfort and security -- it's hard to get too overwhelmed by anger. But still there are the little irritations, like mosquitoes buzzing around the ears or traffic sounds from outside. Perhaps somebody inadvertently steps on your toe in the lunch line, or the person sitting next to you keeps coughing and shifting around; or maybe the teacher says the wrong thing for your hypersensitive ears? How do we deal with that when anger, aversion and judgment when it flares up? Do we just keep a stiff upper lip and suppress it, mistaking this stony pseudo-serenity for calmness, detachment and equanimity when it's actually violence against your own nature: violence in the form of suppression, repression, and avoidance? This kind of avoidance and repression is similar to more blatant forms of aversion, such as in the gesture that pushes undesirables away. Some people can seem very cool, calm and collected, yet they may be seething inside -- and some of us may be those very people! Maybe our fangs and claws are not out, visibly pointed towards others, as in the case of some short-tempered individuals; but those jagged weapons may be pointed inwards towards ourselves, as in the case of low self-esteem, self-loathing and self-hatred, which are all common strands of depression. Denial is one of the largest rivers running through our heartland. We would do well to consider our little subterranean upsurges of anger and hatred along with the occasional larger outbursts, and not pretend they're not there, if we want to be in a better position to deal with them. The seeds of anger are in all of us.
Shantideva, the Gentle Master, who wrote the classic book "Entering the Bodhisattva Path" (Bodhicharyavatara) twelve hundred years ago, said: "Anger is the greatest evil; patient forbearance is the greatest austerity." Isn't that interesting? Anger is thought to be the greatest negativity, just as killing is the greatest sin. Patience and forgiveness is said to be the greatest virtue, the hardest practice or austerity. Usually we think of austerities as fasting or vigils, staying up all night in prayer, pilgrimages, or fakirs in India sleeping on beds of nails or never sitting or lying down. Yet Shantideva said that patience, forbearance, is the greatest austerity; not mere physical vicissitudes. Isn't that amazing?
Why is anger the greatest evil? Shantideva points out that this is because
a small moment of anger can in an instant burn down a whole mountain of merits
and good karma. For example, you might become blind with rage and do something
that you regret for the rest of your life. In a moment of blind rage, or being
drunk one night, you could ruin the rest of your life if you get in the driver's
seat, for example
The car could become a deadly weapon, in just one moment.
So we have to be careful, attentive. That's why Shantideva warns about how destructive
anger can be, just as a mindless moment of carelessness in throwing a cigarette
butt out the window of a car can burn down an entire forest. Shantideva says
anger is the greatest evil, patience and forgiveness is the greatest virtue.
Even the acid-tongued 18th-century poet and social critic Alexander Pope recognized
that, in his own words, "to err is human, to forgive divine". We can
access our inner divinity by practicing forgiveness, which is within all of
our hearts' capacities; but shall we choose to exercise that innate capacity,
or not? We all know life is not always simple, and that it really is hard to
practice patient forbearance and forgiveness in the face of injustice and in
the face of harm, isn't it? And yet we must, if we're going to walk the radical
path of non-violence, as Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, and others have shown. I think
it is possible, once we commit ourselves to it.
We can work from the outside in as well as working on ourselves from the inside out, to be better people and cultivate our noble heart. Certainly we need to work externally for peace in the world, for disarmament among nations, and against injustice, racism and genocide; for "The gift of justice surpasses all gifts", according to Lord Buddha in the ancient "Dhammapada". But we also have to work from the inside out, disarming our hearts, softening up, unveiling the tender heart in our breast. The good heart, the Little Buddha, is in each of us, underneath all those intractable defense mechanisms, underneath that socialization we were put through -- the hard carapace we've developed like armor to cope with the exigencies of life. This basically means finding our tender heart, letting down our defenses, loosening up the impacted persona, and cracking the hardened shell that we formed around ourselves to protect our vulnerable, defenseless selves when we were growing up. Disarmament is not just about war and weapons. It's about fear, survival and vulnerability.
A great deal of aggression comes from fear, from egotism, and from perceived danger. When I feel angry, I find it personally useful to look at what am I afraid of. Or I ask myself, "Where and how do I hurt?" This instantly helps me better get in touch with what's going on, rather than just blame somebody else or react in kind. After calming down, to get some higher guidance I like to ask myself: "What would Buddha do in this situation? What would Love do here and now?" This helps me cool my passions; be more creative and proactive, rather than reactive; feel fearless yet gentle, and more comfortable; feel more fearless, and transcend blame, resentment and bitterness. Here are a few clues about anger: a lot of it stems from fear and fright, and in the primitive fight or flight response. Peace comes about from working with our own mind, disarming our heart, not just passing gun control legislation or ceasefire treaties. In Buddhist training, there's a great deal of emphasis on cultivating lovingkindness and compassion, forgiveness, acceptance and mercy, as well as the nonattachment and desirelessness which uproots greed and cupidity and has an incredibly soothing effect on our troubled, dissatisfied minds.
My own teacher, His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, wrote a wonderful
book on bodhicitta, on how to awaken the Buddhist heart and enlightened mind,
called The Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones. Khyentse Rinpoche was the
Dalai Lama's Dzogchen teacher, and the lama of many other lamas, including Chogyam
Trungpa Rinpoche, Sogyal Rinpoche and Tsoknyi Rinpoche. The Dalai Lama has a
book called "Healing Anger, the Power of Patience and Forbearance from
a Buddhist Perspective". Robin Casarjian, a Boston-based therapist who
also works in schools and prisons, has written a fine book called "Forgiveness:
A Bold Voice for a Peaceful Heart". My friend Sharon Salzberg, one of the
foremost Insight Meditation teachers, has authored "Lovingkindness: The
Revolutionary Art of Happiness", and also "A Heart as Wide as the
World." There is much for us to learn here.
We should not be paranoid, despondent or hopeless, because we have all have anger in us; it is part of human nature. The Dalai Lama himself admits that he gets angry; he knows what to do with it, however. Thich Nhat Hanh gets angry, too, as does Aung San Suu Kyi and other Buddhist leaders. And these Buddhist activists have plenty to be angry about, don't they, considering what they have experienced in their lifetimes and what they have seen happen to their countrymen and homelands of Tibet and Vietnam and Burma in recent decades. Yet their anger doesn't destroy their peace of mind and serenity, because they have purified and transformed themselves and can constructively channel that hot emotional energy. They've learned how to do that, through Mahayana attitude transformation practices (lojong).
Buddhist author Ani Thubten Chodron has written: "Science says that all emotions are natural and okay, and that emotions become destructive only when they are expressed in an inappropriate way or time or to an inappropriate person or degree .Therapy is aimed more at changing the external expression of the emotions than the internal experience of them. Buddhism, on the other hand, believes that destructive emotions themselves are obstacles and need to be eliminated to have happiness."
In the moment of anger's arising in our body-mind complex, at first there is just an energy, a feeling, the merest glimmer of an experience; it has not yet devolved into violence and aggression. We can learn to deal with it, through mindful awareness coupled with patience, self-observation and introspection. Afflictive, destructive or negative emotions can be skillfully antidoted by cultivating positive emotions, such as patience, compassion, lovingkindness and so forth. As a specific antidote to anger when it surges up in you, try cultivating patience, loving kindness and forbearance. When feeling hatred, cultivate forgiveness and equanimity, trying to empathize with the other and see where they are coming from: see things through their eyes for a moment, if you can. If moved towards aggression, try to breathe, relax, quiet and calm the agitated mind and strive for restraint and moderation, remembering that others are just like yourself in wanting and needing happiness and avoiding pain, harm and suffering . Regarding violence and rage, the ultimate external extreme of the internal emotion of anger, redirection and psychological reconditioning are absolutely necessary.
One very simple practice to apply in the moment that anger arises is:
1. SAY: "I know that I'm angry." ( Or fill in the blank: afraid sad lustful )
2. Breathe deeply, and while breathing out, with the exhalation, SAY: "I send compassion towards that particular emotion/energy."
In this practice, do that mantra, or some variation of it; this will magically interrupt the general pattern of unskillful, thoughtless reactivity. This on the spot practice can instantly provide a moment of mindfulness and sanity. It helps you take better care of yourself, rather than putting yourself down; and it heads off negative behaviors that we realize we don't want to do, because such reactions have not really helped us in the past.
Here are: Five Mindful Steps to Dealing with Anger in the Present Moment
1. Notice what you are feeling, and where that feeling is in the body.
2. Embrace it with awareness, rather than judging, rejecting and suppressing it.
3. Reflect on what you are feeling, and why, and whether it is really caused by someone else or from within yourself.
4. Channel the energy constructively rather than destructively.
5. Transform and release the arising energy, recognizing its transitory, empty, dreamlike nature.
In the Mahayana lojong (mind training) teachings we find the startling statement by Shantideva: "The enemy/adversary is one's best teacher." The Dalai Lama often quotes this as something to reflect upon when attacked or harmed by others in any way, so that one can grow in inner strength, patience and forbearance, and even develop compassion for those who do harm to others -- even when the one harmed is oneself! You can read about this in the last part of my new book "Awakening the Buddhist Heart", in chapter ten, "Spiritual Alchemy: Embracing Life's Lessons"; and chapter eleven, "Learning to Love What You Don't Like". You can also study my translation of an ancient Tibetan mind-training and attitude transformation (lojong) text which forms the appendix to that book, called "The Thirty Seven Practices of the Bodhisattvas," stressing unselfishness, compassion and lovingkindness; and bodhicitta, the luminous heart of the Dharma. Tonglen practices are found in that book on pages 208-217.
The Vietnamese zen master, poet and activist Thich Nhat Hanh says: "Our
attitude is to take care of anger. We don't suppress it or hate it, or run away
from it. We just breathe gently and cradle our anger in our arms with the utmost
tenderness." The Dalai Lama always says: "My religion is lovingkindness.
The most important thing in life is warm human affection
. Don't try to
convert others; contribute to others well-being and happiness." This is
spirituality at its best, I think, beyond -isms and schisms.
In his book "The Path to Tranquility", the Dalai Lama writes: "When people get angry they lose all sense of happiness. Even if they are good-looking and normally peaceful, their faces turn livid and ugly. Anger upsets their physical well-being and disturbs their rest; it destroys their appetites and makes them age prematurely. Happiness, peace and sleep evade them, and they no longer appreciate people who have helped them and deserve their trust and gratitude."
Robert F. Kennedy said over thirty years ago that "Politics is a noble profession," and no one snickered. I have been thinking lately about the lack of moral leadership and ethics in politics, business and public education lately, and reading "The Art of Moral Leadership", a new book by Robert Coles for ideas and inspiration. I recommend page 190 of that book, about the qualities of moral leadership which any of us could cultivate and develop. Recently I read some sermons by Desmond Tutu, who I consider an exemplar of moral leadership in this world. He said that during the lengthy apartheid crimes tribunal in which he participated in South Africa, despite all the cruel and horrible acts of violence perpetrated against his own people that came to light, he came to the incredible conclusion that, ultimately, "people are beautiful". When I read this, I instinctively felt that this Christian Bodhisattva had really taken Jesus' message to heart in order to transcend bitterness and arise with such a radiant spiritual realization, like a phoenix out of the ashes.
Holy men such as the Archbishop Tutu, the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh have learned how to manage and deal with anger, and all the many difficult feelings, emotions and mental states that inevitably arise in human beings. In the world but not entirely of it, they do so through opening the heart to the difficult sides of life -- not suppressing anger or moral indignation, but fully experiencing it and then knowing how to either use or by channeling it creatively or how to release it through the strength of their inner spirit. Buddhist wisdom teaches us how to find inner peace and freedom from conflicting emotions by practicing meditation and intentionally cultivated mindfulness. We use pure attention and awareness to experience emotionality and delusions directly in the present moment. This kind of contemplative practice helps further mental clarity and balance while insightfully recognizing the transitory, dreamlike, insubstantial nature of all such mind moments, seeing through them to their essential emptiness. In this way we see the light better, not just the lampshade around it. We learn experientially, not just conceptually, not to identify so completely with whatever arises in our mind, and to recognize that it's not just MY anger so that we don't get even more angry about it, thus just adding oil to the flames. (As when we say to ourselves, "I'm an angry person, goddamn it; when is this anger going to stop!") By simply feeling anger or any strong emotion arise and directly experiencing the heat of it, or the earthquake of it, or the volcano of it -- perhaps experiencing it in our stomach as heat, or as vibration, energy, and maybe shaking a little with it By being aware and balanced enough to just have that experience, it need not immediately drive undesirable behavior. Therefore, I think what we have to do with anger in the present moment is to see it simply as an energy, just like any other klesha or emotion that arises. It's nothing but a momentary surge of energy. We don't have to judge it harshly, suppress it or repress it; which, as we know, has negative, unskillful, and unwholesome effects on our physical health and our mental health too. Emotional energy such as anger is just like a swollen balloon; if you push it down somewhere, it bulges out somewhere else. That pressure has nowhere to go, unless we know how to discharge and release it. So when we press down on or repress the anger, it makes us sick. Maybe it bulges out into our organs, gives us ulcers, migraine headaches, hypertension, cancer or kidney stones. That is why it's important not to suppress it when it comes up, but to be wise and aware enough to lighten up about these things by taking yourself and everything that happens to you so damn seriously.
Emotions occur quickly; moods linger longer. These temporary states of mind are conditioned, and can therefore be reconditioned; they are workable. Through self-discipline, attitude transformation and internal practice negativity can be transformed into positivity and freedom and self-mastery achieved. In that initial moment of experience, when it arises, anger is just an energy; has not yet become violent or aggressive. We don't need to be afraid of it. Anger is just an energy, a feeling, an emotional klesha (passion, defiling obscuration) in Buddhist terms. Anger can be either a productive or an unproductive energy. There's a certain emotional intelligence to anger. Anger helps us see more sharply, see what's wrong; it can help us to perceive injustices and right them, for example. It can help drive strong actions, such as in moral outrage. That is why in Tantra and in Dzogchen -- the non-dual mystical teachings of the Vajrayana, the diamond path of Tibetan Buddhism -- we say that the inner nature of anger, it's true nature, is discriminating wisdom and discriminating awareness. Anger is sharp and quick; it can cut through and penetrate, which compels us to not just ignore it. So anger can be productive; it doesn't have to be destructive. It all depends on how you handle it. It has always been a timeless spiritual principle that it is not what happens to us that determines our experience, our character and our destiny; but it is what we do with what happens to us that matters most in the long run. This is where the steering wheel remains always in our hands. An oppressor can harm or imprison my body, but not my mind and spirit.
The Buddha said: "See yourself in others, and others in yourself; then whom can you harm, whom can you exploit?" So one of the best practices to disarm the heart is to connect, to see others in ourselves and ourselves in others, and recognize the interwovenness, the inter-beingness, of us all. We practice seeing others in ourselves and ourselves in others, finding the common ground, and connecting meaningfully through all our different relationships, all our daily contacts. That can make a huge difference in our lives. This kind of practice can transform our days and all of our lives; seeing others in ourselves and ourselves in others, through our intimate relationships, our family and friends, our colleagues and acquaintances and pets too -- finding the common ground by seeing ourselves in others, and others in ourselves, and how much we're so much the same and want and need the same. In our neighborhood we can include the people that we pass on the street: the bus driver, the mail person, the dry-cleaning lady, and whoever. And the animals too, not just the pets we love so much; what about the other animals and creatures? When we recognize the light shining in one and all, then whom can we harm, whom can we exploit? Therefore we are impelled towards nonviolent practices such as vegetarianism, conscious eating, animal rights, living lightly on the planet, not using up all the resources, not to mention not littering and not polluting.
All these beautiful practices come naturally when we connect, when we make that spiritual connection, when we see how others are just like us, even beyond just the people we love. Even the ones we don't like are also just like us, and we can love them in a bigger way. Even if we disagree with them, or don't like what they do. Even if they don't look like us, and even if they are the "them" to us The other color, the other gender, the other age group, the other social class. Or the other race, the other side of the world, or the other religion. THEM. But they are us. That's the secret: the secret of spiritual love or compassion, realizing they are us. And realizing that we are "them" in their world, to them.
So the question is not just do we believe in "thou shalt not kill". That's a nice ideal. And the first Buddhist precept, similarly, is to try to refrain from killing. It's not as simple as just vowing not to kill, but to endeavor to refrain from taking life, since morality is a little more complicated than just black-and-white. But at the very least, we must I think cherish life. We endeavor to refrain from taking life, and we cherish life in all its forms. That's the first principle; it's the first precept of Buddhism. Even meat-eaters can cherish life. I eat meat. The Buddha ate meat. The Dalai Lama eats meat. Not only humans have Buddha nature: it extends to all creatures, seen and unseen, great and small. Lamas who eat meat, very simply, pray for the animal. The meal prayers include gratitude for the nourishment the animal provides us, and heartfelt prayers that the animal have a higher rebirth. We pray to take this poor animal into our temple, into the internal Buddha-field of our body, where he or she can make a connection to the Dharma in a higher rebirth in the next life. This might seem like a weak rationalization, but at least it is a way of cherishing life and cultivating compassion, rather than not unconsciously and greedily eating meat and treating everything the same, not knowing the difference between leather and Thinsulate, or silk and nylon. Silk, ivory, leather -- all these things actually come from some body, even if they are not human. It's not just as simple as not eating meat; ethical issues are complex, and deserve our attention. We all have to draw the line somewhere.
In disarming the heart, in practicing empathy, in cultivating nonviolence in ourselves -- ahimsa, as Gandhi called it -- it's important to remember again and again that violence and war doesn't come from guns, and war doesn't come from outside. War comes from our hearts, from the anger and cupidity in the human heart and mind. This concerns me, especially because our lives seem to be getting increasingly stressful and frazzled. With the lack of security and the erosion of family and community life; the increased pace of life and the number of interruptions in our days; with all the technology beeping and buzzing all the time, and the speed of things in the Information Age; with the lack of privacy, the widening gap between the rich and poor, and the materialism rampant in our materialistic, corporate-led society . It should come as no surprise that we have a lot of depression in our society today, and a lot of hyperactive kids, plus road rage and people going postal, not to mention kids with automatic weapons at school and at home. The problem is systemic, not just individual. There is a huge amount of anger and frustration, dislocation and alienation, due to the decline of strong family and community ties and values and resultant lack of healthy parenting; and it's the society at large that is responsible. These are the problems we have to look at. So let's look at the anger in ourselves first, and then we can be clearer about it and see what's happening outside of ourselves, and how to address these personal and societal problems. I think it's very important to see today there's a lot of violence in the world, and be part of the solution, of becoming peace. I no longer want to be fighting for peace and kicking ass for peace, as we did in the Sixties. Fighting and waging war for peace is an enormous contradiction in terms. We should become peace, as Thich Nhat Hanh says. Be the changes we want to see in the world. Nhat Hanh's best books on this subject are "Being Peace", and "Peace Is the Way".
It's so easy to get angry today, and there are so many things making us crazy and invading our peace of mind. I mean, we all know it's not our fault -- or so we think, in our confusion. "It's Bill Clinton's fault", or "It's that intern's fault!" Maybe it's Congress's fault, or it's the media's fault, or it's the big corporations' or the chemical preservatives' fault. Or it's our boss's fault or our mate's fault, or somebody's fault. We all feel like that to some extent, subconsciously if not explicitly. But there are more subtle things that are driving anger today. I think it's good to be aware of those, because awareness is curative. I think am lot of our stress and irritation is due to fatigue, and to a combination of our eating, drinking and work habits, including multitasking; it is no wonder why attention spans have become short today.
We need more connectedness and grounding in the fundamental universal values
in order to feel more balanced, secure, comfortable, and at ease. Karmic reactivity
only perpetuates the cycle. There's a tremendous power in nonviolence. Gandhi
freed India through non-violence. It has great power: the power of non-violence,
coupled if possible with the power of truth. Nonviolence can help us dance with
life, not just be overwhelmed by it. If we are overwhelmed by it, that means
we are not processing it in a healthy way. Buddhist teachings always say, the
enemy or the adversary can be the greatest teacher. If you can make that difficulty
or obstacle into grist for your spiritual mill, you can actually profit by that.
This is one way to turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones, and to use lemons
to make lemonade.
The Bhagavad Gita tells us not to be attached to our actions. You do what has to be done, and the less attached you are about the outcome, the better for you. It doesn't mean we don't care, but that we know we can't control everything. We do the best we can, and then we let go; there's a joyous certainty in that kind of trust in the universe and its lawful working.
When we look at anger closely, and search for clues on dealing with it, we find a whole spectrum out there: anger itself, and then all the things it can degenerate into. There's a difference between anger, hatred, aggression, violence, and rage. Let's consider the first band of the spectrum, anger itself. The way to deal with anger is, from the beginning, to take the longer view. When we feel anger arising in ourselves, or when we are subjected to the anger of others, we take the longer view. Instead of being overly reactive or unstable or just caught up in the moment, we "count to ten", as my grandmother used to tell me, give ourselves a little space before hitting back, and let our empathy, or our grasp of karma, or our tonglen practice kick in.
"When people get angry," says the Dalai Lama, "they lose all sight of peace and happiness. Even if they are good-looking when normally peaceful" He's so practical he knows what we care about! "their faces turn livid and ugly." And, I'll add, they get wrinkles. So you don't want to get angry, no! One of my teachers said that when you get angry, your face shrivels up like a scorched shrimp!
It says in the Buddha's loving-kindness teachings that if you practice lovingkindness, you'll be less angry, your face will shine, you'll be more cheerful, you'll have less wrinkles, and so on The Buddha said that 2500 years ago: that loving-kindness can help protect us from the destructive aspects of anger, that in fact loving-kindness is the greatest protection.
Going to the next more intense band of the spectrum, there's hatred. Hatred is a little more developed and lasting, where anger becomes more like a grudge or a vendetta -- something that you feel regularly about an object of dislike. Anger settles in and hardens in place, spawning hatred. The antidote for that is forgiveness, tolerance, non-attachment and equanimity. We may not feel that we have those naturally, and we may not feel much of them, but it is possible to cultivate these positive emotions as antidotes to the poisonous ones; it is possible to actually practice forgiveness, tolerance, equanimity, and non-attachment.
In the third band, the inner feelings of anger and hatred degenerate even
further, into aggression. Notice we haven't even got to violence yet! Anger
is not the same as aggression and violence. We need to renounce violence and
the aggression that leads to it, not necessarily to renounce anger. Anger is
just a feeling. Violence is an action, is a problem, is destructive. The antidote
for aggression is calming and quieting the mind, so that then we can be more
inclusive. Including the other, rather than seeing him or her as some alien
thing outside ourselves, an enemy that we have to fight off, to survive. That
does take some centering, some quieting and grounding, some restraint, in order
to be inclusive, to not be so reactive, to not fight back aggressively.
So from anger comes hatred and meanness. And from that comes aggression. And from there, aggression devolves into the fourth band of the spectrum, violence. For violence, the antidote is redirection and reconditioning, which happens as we rehabilitate ourselves, as we become more loving, soft, kind, generous, giving people, rather than competitive, adversarial, selfish, mean-spirited people.
The extreme and fifth band, I think, is rage. What is the antidote for that?
I don't know. Enlightenment, perhaps. Perhaps the antidote to that huge eruption
called rage is working on the other things, and being more up-to-date with ourselves
so that our anger doesn't build up to that explosive pitch where we're totally
out of control and enraged.
Those are the five bands in the spectrum of this troublesome klesha. And the best place to get a grip is when we're in the first band, the band of simple anger. In the Buddhist practice path, there are five steps we go through in dealing with a klesha. The same five steps work for all of the kleshas, but right now we're talking about anger, simple anger, before it devolves.
Step one is to actually acknowledge it rather than suppress it, rather than ignore it. Just being able and willing to say that it's there. So first thing, being aware that it's coming up for us and just acknowledging that instead of denying it. This does take some mindfulness or some attention in the present moment. I'm not talking about a theory or an ideal, I'm talking about the application in practice. I'm talking about in the present moment, being with-it.
Step two is to experience it or feel it. Feel what it is, where it is in the body. Maybe we feel it as heat, maybe our heart is pounding or our pulse is racing, maybe we're trembling a little. Whatever is happening in us, we want to know about it; this is the essence of self-knowledge and self-observation. This continuous practice of being mindful -- this awareness of how it is -- gives us some space for just experiencing it as an energy which has not yet become destructive or aggressive or violent. For anger, on arising, is just an experience, just a momentary energy. Our ego hasn't seized on it yet and reacted. There is no violence and aggression directed outwardly or inwardly yet. We haven't done that either.
Step three is to embrace the anger, to cradle it like a child having a tantrum.
We don't throw the child out of the house. We don't like the tantrum, but we
still love the child; there's a bigger perspective, a bigger container, a bigger
heart to embrace that child having the tantrum. So we cradle it, as Thich Nhat
Hanh expresses it, like a baby. In other words, not throwing it out, not rejecting
it out of hand, not just labeling it as "bad", any more than you can
tell your child they're a bad child. They're not a bad child. They may be acting
badly, or have acted badly, but they're not a bad child. Gandhi said we don't
judge the person, we judge the action: a big difference. That way we can learn
to love even what we don't like, even those we don't like. There's a difference
between "love", which is of the heart-mind, and "like",
which is merely of the personality and of our own particular circumstances and
Step four is observing it, examining it and seeing how it works; what it does to us, and where it's coming from. we need to investigating it inwardly and examine it outwardly, and try to determining what the real reason for our anger is. We observe it in relation to what we're disturbed or irritated about, what our likes and dislikes are, what attachments or aversions are driving it: "I want, I don't want." Simply observing it, getting to know it, applying mindfulness to it: pay attention, because attention pays off. Pay attention, and see what gifts it may have to bring. Maybe the child's having a tantrum for some reason. Maybe there's something wrong with it that we don't know about, that we would want it to cry about. Maybe its tooth is doing something, or one of its bones is fractured, or God knows what! It shouldn't stop crying necessarily. Maybe the child should cry until we take it to get x-rayed. There is a lot of learning possible here, in seeing what the message is. Maybe there's a good reason for that anger.
In the Vajrayana, we say all the poisons, and all the emotions, have their own intelligence, their own logic. Their essence is one of the wisdoms. The wisdom side of anger is discriminating awareness, seeing what's wrong. Anger is very sharp and quick to criticize, but anger also helps us see what needs to be fixed. Maybe it can drive us into some constructive action instead of just remaining passive. So there's righteous indignation. There's righteous anger: not self-righteous, but right-on anger that can power action to right what's wrong, what's unjust, what's harmful to beings. We can read about this in Daniel Goleman's fine book, Emotional Intelligence. Emotions are like intelligence agents that bring us information from the field. Fear drives much anger; wherever you find fear, dig down into your psyche and you'll find hidden treasure buried there, psychologically speaking. We could look into what we're afraid of. If we're angry, we might say, where... what... where is it, why am I hurting. When I'm angry, where am I hurting? Or what am I afraid of? This will bring clarity, balance and understanding, and mitigate inner turmoil and violence.
In practice, first we must be aware of our anger as it arises, and not suppressing it; second, experiencing it, really experiencing how it is to feel anger; third, cradling it, embracing it, accepting it, even loving it, the same way we accept, embrace, love, and have patience towards the child when it's having a tantrum. And fourth, learning what we can from it. Grokking it, making it ours again, not disowning that part of ourselves. Seeing what the pain is, or the fear, as with the child. This is the time to look into, is it this person's actions that are making me mad really? Are there no other causes? Like if there's no anger or fear or egotism and pride in you, would you still be angry? If whoever it was did that same thing to somebody else, would you be angry? If they criticized or made fun of somebody you don't know, would you be angry? So you look into what's your part in it. That's why, again, the Buddha said that the purified sage or liberated Arhat has rooted out the seeds of anger, of delusion, and fear from his or her mind. So then it's as if sparks were thrown into a cool mountain pool, where they just sputter and hiss out, rather than into a flammable lake of gasoline. Buddha said: "If there are no seeds of anger in our hearts, no one can make us angry."
The awareness that we gain in these steps gives us more space and time to
decide whether we are acting intentionally from our higher principles, or just
re-acting from the reptile brain or the flight-or-fight instinct. This is all
part of growing up spiritually, dealing skillfully with our combativeness, our
reactiveness. That's why we have practices like attitude transformation, mind
training, lojong. That's why we have vows in the outer level of training precepts,
so we start to learn how to restrain ourselves. Until we've retooled our inner
workings, until we've reconditioned our conditioning, the vows and precepts
can help prevent us from devolving into aggression and violence. It's like holding
onto an external barrier, which is our vows, so we don't get blown away by the
wind. So we don't get intoxicated and then have to drive home, so we don't actually
lie, steal, cheat, kill. The training precepts and vows are the outer level
of protection. They protect ourselves and others while we recondition on the
inner level, so that later we'll be naturally moral, and free of the need for
any external restrictions.
In the fifth step, we either release the energy of our anger or we transform that energy so that it is constructive rather than destructive. We have two alternatives here.
There's the Dzogchen way of natural spontaneous release, which frees the pent up emotional energy. It feels kind of like when a soap bubble bursts; we just stretch our awareness and relax, and release the energy --- though that's easier said than done. Rather than dumping on somebody, rather than returning harsh words with more vitriol, we could just burst the bubble. Maybe we learn how to let the energy dissolve into the Twelve Vajra Laughs. Or we shout PHAT! into the void, instead of shouting back at someone. Releasing emotional energy immediately upon arising is the Dzogchen style of practice; to do this, one must be clear enough to just experience things as they are and see through them as they momentarily appear, recognize their dreamlike emptiness and impermanence. But this is advanced practice, and can prove tricky.
The second alternative is to transform and recondition it. One way of doing that is to recognize the bad karma somebody's getting by harming you. Recognizing the negative karma being generated by the harmful acts done by another, you feel like when you see a child doing those silly things that children do and hurt themselves. In the Buddha's own words, hatred is never overcome by hatred; it's only overcome by love and patience. So I think that's an injunction to us, to try to learn how to forbear and to return harsh treatment with tenderness, with understanding, with compassion, recognizing who is really being harmed when somebody harms you. Those who harm you are really harming themselves; it's their bad karma. The Tao Te Ching, in Stephen Mitchell's wonderful rendering of it, says: "Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world."
In the Vajrayana, through tantric deity practice we can learn how to transform anger into the flames of wisdom, the flames of gnosis. These are the flames of wrath that surround and enhalo the protective guardians, as we see them iconographically depicted in Tibetan art. Like the wrathful deity in the tangka scroll painting on the wall above the altar, we too can manifest flames of wrath -- which is not the same as mere anger directed towards another or against ourselves. You can be creative with the hot emotional anger of anger, transforming it into the flames of alchemical transmutation, through which the base metal of emotionality achieves its true form as spiritual gold.
If you often find yourself being angry, and then are in the habit of blaming
yourself, you can use wrathful deity practice to cut through that destructive
self-talk. If you practice the wrathful deities, that self-talk becomes heard
as the sound of the flames crackling around your halo
So feel free to
crank it up, and crackle as much as you can! You'll get tired of it eventually;
it's a creative way to release that energy. Vajrayana transformation practice
is an entire subject in and of itself. But specifically with dealing with your
own anger and fear, you can learn to go directly at these ghosts and feed your
inner demons, rather than being afraid of them; instead of fighting with your
so-called demons, you just offer ourselves to them. If intense fear arises,
you offer yourself to the demon, rather than always try to push the demon away.
It totally reverses one's tendency toward ego-clinging and self protection.
In Tibetan this is called "chod", or Cutting Practice. It cuts through
the egotism that always wants what it thinks is desirable and doesn't want what
it thinks is undesirable. Chod practice helps us become fearless in meeting
your own demons and in meeting them, seeing how empty they are.
In the Vajrayana, this kind of deity practice is thought of as a higher level of practice. There's also a lower level of practice which is also extremely useful and which we can use if that's not what's happening for us, if we're not becoming deities right now. In this practice, once we have acknowledged and honestly felt the anger, cradled it, found out what it has to say to us, we offer up to the Buddha the anger and whoever or whatever we're angry. This is a simple yet profound and powerful practice. By surrendering up whatever we are afflicted by, we receive help and relief from the burden, and reach inner peace and serenity.
In the esoteric tantric teachings of the Vajrayana, it is said that all the kleshas, the afflictive emotions, have their own sacred power: their own particular intelligence, wisdom and logic. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche often taught that the five kleshas -- greed, hatred, delusion, pride and jealousy, in the Tibetan system-- are in essence the five wisdoms. For example, the wisdom side of anger is discriminating awareness. How can this be so? Anger is very sharp and quick to criticize, but anger also helps us see what's wrong. Our feelings and emotions are actually bringing in news from the field of our experience; we should not dismiss, ignore or repress them. In Tibetan tantric iconography, not all the Buddhas and meditational deities (archetypes) are pacific; some are surrounded by flames and wear fierce masks, symbolizing the shadow side of our psyche; yet we never fail to see the pure light through those archetypal images, and remember that shadows are essentially nothing but light. It is always taught that the wrathful Buddhas and Dharma Protectors have a peaceful, compassionate Buddha at their heart.
Perhaps this notion is connected to our modern idea that righteous anger can help drive strong righteous action in order to redress injustices in the world. I would say the jury is still out on this one; but the Dalai Lama recently answered the question "Is there a positive form of anger?" by saying that righteous anger is a defilement that needs to be eliminated if one seeks to achieve nirvana. He said that although anger might have some positive effects in terms of survival or moral outrage, and therefore be useful in some cases; he did not accept anger of any kind as a virtuous internal emotion nor aggression as a positive or constructive external behavior. This is a radical statement, but His Holiness is a proponent of radical nonviolence, including total nuclear disarmament and abolition of the death penalty.
We spiritual activists today try to be Engaged Buddhists rather than enraged Buddhists. Karmically speaking, we understand that like produces like, and what goes around comes around. Therefore, we try to cultivate compassion, empathy, and a peaceful heart, and act from that state of mind. Only skillful means motivated by compassion can be the truly Buddhist intention driving forceful actions.
In the Metta Sutra (Lovingkindness Scripture), Buddha said that lovingkindness is the greatest protection. At a private meeting a few years ago, the Dalai Lama advised President Clinton: "You are the most powerful man in the world. Every decision you make should be motivated by compassion." I think we too can learn to live in this sacred way, with our hearts as wide as the world.