Shantideva in Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, cautioned that in one moment of anger we can destroy all the good we’ve ever done. There is a Chinese saying I see often, and I don’t know if it is authentic or not, but it’s a good one that says “If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.”
I had one of those moments of anger yesterday, and I was not patient. It was with a TSA agent at an airport. I thought she was being stupid but she was just doing her job. I was the stupid one. If for no other reason that TSA agents are not exactly the best recipients for outbursts of anger. That could lead to big trouble. Then, of course, the anger itself was stupid.
In the moments following my outburst, I reflected on a quote I included in Friday’s post: “You should cultivate a mind unconquerable . . . a mind invincible . . . a mind not shaken in the abyss and the currents of the ocean of evil temperaments.”
It was like in that one moment I hadn’t learned a damn thing in 30 years. And it disturbed me. I thought, why is it that I can’t be the perfect Buddhist? I mean, all I have to do is remember to practice patience and equanimity.
If I had stated my remark to the TSA agent, which was something along the lines of “this is why everyone hates you people”, in a different tone of voice, and with different words, it would have been fine. But, no, in that one moment, I lost control and raised my voice.
The truth is that none of us is perfect and we all screw up. That could be taken as a rationalization, but I feel it’s more a form of honesty. I don’t claim to be perfect. I don’t claim to be an arhat or enlightened. No one is. Those are idealized states of being. I think it is absurd to think that the Buddha never got angry. Even the Dalai Lama admits to getting angry.
And so, the quotes above are idealized as well. Ideals to hold in our hearts. Ideals to aim for. The only thing that one moment of anger destroys is that one moment. It could have been a peaceful moment. It can be more destructive if we don’t let go of that moment. The crucial thing, I think, than the anger, is to make a determination to avoid letting that one moment of anger rise again. It probably will, but it is the effort we make to improve that counts the most in the long run.
It’s all so simple. Just be in the present moment, let go of your anger but don’t take it out on anyone, practice patience, cultivate equanimity. Very simple, yet hard. Or as Carl Jung, the great psychologist, said, “It would be simple enough, if only simplicity were not the most difficult of all things.”
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