The Real Enemy and True Heroes

Mass shootings like the one in Oregon last week leave many of us with feelings of despair and frustration. Are we helpless to stop these incidents? They also lead to questions about guns and mental illness. Investigators have portrayed the Oregon shooter as an angry young man disconnected from others. How can prevent people like this from amassing stockpiles of weapons?

Frankly, angry and disconnected describes an awful lot of us, and from the Buddhist point of view, we all have mental health issues.

Buddhism teaches that all human sufferings stem from mental afflictions. We also call them delusions. The Sanskrit word is kleshas, meaning, “that which disturbs the mind from within.” A primary affliction is anger, also known as aversion or hatred.

Anger is a vengeful attitude toward one’s self, toward others, towards things that produce frustration, and towards frustration itself. Individuals who live in the realm of anger are obsessed with fault-finding, and while they may display a victim mentality, the truth is, as T’ien-t’ai master Chih-i put it, they are more “like a hawk sweeping the sky in search of prey.”

Dalai Lama6One of the most instructive and powerful Buddhist texts dealing with anger is the one I mentioned in a recent post, Shantideva’s A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life (or “Way of the Bodhisattva”). The Dalai Lama has given teachings on this work many times, in particular on the “Patience” chapter.* In 2001, I attended one of these teachings in Pasadena California and took copious notes.

Anger has lingering effects. The Dalai Lama said that when strong anger arises, all our normal senses of behavior are destroyed:

When one is under the domination of anger, those around us suffer also. Even friends and family suffer because they worry about our bad mood. Small outbursts of anger may seem to bring some satisfaction but there are long term negative effects. Anger [that arises when another person has harmed us] does not reverse. If we return the harm then the person responsible just becomes angrier and it becomes a vicious circle.”

The Dalai Lama pointed out that Shantideva identifies anger as “the real enemy, our inner enemy.” Anger is very powerful and comes from causes and conditions that we need to analyze so that we can prevent the causes from arising. He said, “The Buddhist way is to try and trace back the causes and counteract them.”

Here, I’d like to say that when we talk about causes and conditions, it is not just causes and conditions. It is also choices. I don’t accept that Shantideva or Buddhism in general is determinism. We have free will. Many of the causes were produced by actions we chose to undertake, and because mental afflictions disturb the mind from within, only we can chose whether or not to take the necessary actions to defeat them.  This should be empowering, for it tells us that we are not at the complete mercy of external forces.

Verse 8 in the chapter on Patience reads,

Therefore, I should eradicate
the fuel of this enemy,
for this enemy has no other function
than to harm me.

According to Shantideva, the practice of patience is the most effective antidote to anger. It involves cultivating tolerance and compassion, but it also requires an ability to endure hardship and maintain a strong determination to remove the causes of anger.

What happens in society is a reflection of what happens in the minds of those who live in that society.  Because of this, we are not helpless to stop gun violence and societal anger.

I believe that Buddhism rejects the notion of helplessness. If there were not a possibility of rational hope for human beings in the face of suffering, the Buddha would not have taught the Four Noble Truths, in which he said, “Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the way that leads to the cessation of suffering . . .”

We change the world by changing ourselves and it can have a ripple effect. We are only helpless when we become hopeless, and because we can change, there is always hope.

As the Dalai Lama noted, in itself the mind is neutral and can take either the form of mental affliction or insight into true reality. It is up to each one of us to decide in which direction our minds will move.

Shantideva wrote,

Since my mind is not physical,
no one can destroy it.

And the Dalai Lama said,

We are changing our natural habitual patterns and since what we are changing is so monumental, there can be no relaxing in the battle against mental afflictions. Those who battle mental afflictions are true heroes.”

– – – – – – – – – –

* A 1993 teaching given by the Dalai Lama on the “Patience” chapter in Shantideva’s Guide was published as Healing Anger The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective

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Mind, be strong!

Shantideva in Chapter 6 of “A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life” (Bodhicaryavatara) wrote,

There is no evil like hatred, and no fortitude like patience. Therefore, one should earnestly cultivate patience in various ways.”

This work by Shantideva work is perhaps the definitive text on the path of the Bodhisattva, and many consider Chapter 6, Kshanti-paramita (“The Perfection of Patience”)  the most important chapter of the book.

Kshanti is one of the Six Paramitas (Perfections), the crucial steps on the path.  Kshanti is derived from khamati, a Pali word that according to the A.P. Buddhadatta Mahathera’s Concise Pali-English and English-Pali Dictionary means “to be patient, to endure, to forgive; to forgive a fault.”

Our basic nature tends to view difficult people in our lives as “the enemy.”  However, Shantideva tells us that anger and hatred are the true enemies, and he urges us to understand their destructive effects.  He states that the perfection or practice of patience is the most effective antidote to anger and hatred.  Anger has no real purpose.  Often the person we are angry with is also a victim, driven to their actions by the same poison of ignorance that inflicts us.  All the more reason, to practice patience.

Throughout the Bodhicaryavatara, Shantideva points out that patience, and indeed the path itself, requires great strength and endurance.  Later in Chapter 6 he says,

Happiness is obtained with great difficulty, whereas suffering occurs easily.  Only through suffering is there release . . . Therefore, mind, be strong!”

In Buddhism, when we talk about “happiness,” we are not talking about happiness sans suffering, but rather happiness in the midst of suffering.  This kind of happiness leads to wisdom or prajna.  The 9th chapter of the A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life is “The Perfection of Wisdom,” which begins with these words:

Wisdom is the only true final antidote to all suffering (the whole path aims at this).”

The perfection of wisdom (prajna-paramita) is said to be the vessel capable of ferrying all beings across the sea of suffering to the shore of Nirvana.  The Heart Sutra tells us that “Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, while practicing deep Transcendent Wisdom  . . . crossed over all suffering.”  One cannot really leap from one shore to the other in a single bound.  The journey of the raft known as Transcendent Wisdom over the sea of suffering is a long, hard voyage.  Without weighing anchor and navigating the rough sea, without the experience of being tossed by great waves or being buffeted by strong winds, ravaged by storms – there is no meaningful happiness, let alone useful wisdom.

If, as Buddhism teaches, the mind determines everything, then achieving happiness, perfecting patience and wisdom, requires a single-minded determination to grind through the hard parts of life.

Therefore, as Shantideva says, mind, be strong!

– – – – – – – – – –

Quotes from A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life by Santideva, Vesna A. Wallace and B. Alan Wallace, Snow Lion Publications, 1997.

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“Forgiveness is a sign of strength”

Last Friday at Western Connecticut State University, in Danbury, CT, the Dalai Lama gave a one-hour public talk titled “Advice for Daily Life.” The Buddhist Examiner reports that he said in part,

Forgiveness does not mean bowing down to others who have wronged you . . . It means not letting negative feeling toward the wrongdoing increase fear and distance . . . Forgiveness is a sign of strength. Anger is a sign of weakness.”

This is simple advice. It is the sort of practical guidance that any person regardless of their religion or outlook at life can benefit from, and actually, it only should serve as a reminder, since most of us already know that anger is destructive and forgiveness sublime.

“Anger destroys virtue.” – Dalai Lama

By the way, for anyone dealing with the issue of anger in his or her life, I recommend the Dalai Lama’s book, Healing Anger, which is based on a teaching he gave on Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara (“A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life”). It”s a very useful book, and I’ll discuss a bit more about Shantideva’s text below.

While there are many traditional Buddhist teachings that discuss the subject of anger, I am not aware of any that deal directly with the concept of forgiveness. Ksamate and kshaamati are two Sanskrit words that have the meaning “forgive.” Kshaamati is related to another word, khamati (also Pali) that according to the A.P. Buddhadatta Mahathera’s Concise Pali-English and English-Pali Dictionary means “to be patient, to endure, to forgive; to forgive a fault,” although it seems that it is used most often in the sense of “apology.”

Khamati is related to kshanti or “patience, endurance and forgiveness.” This word appears quite frequently in Buddhist teachings, especially in Mahayana, because kshanti is one of the Six Paramitas (or Perfections) that is a crucial part of the path of the Bodhisattva.

Perhaps the definitive text concerning this path is the aforementioned Bodhicaryavatara by Shantideva. Many consider the chapter on the practice of patience (kshanti-paramita) the most important chapter of the book.

The paramita of patience encompasses the ideal of forgiveness. In verse 102 of the Patience chapter [1. A guide to the bodhisattva way of life (Bodhicaryavatara) by Santideva. Vesna A. Wallace and B. Alan Wallace, Snow Lion Publications] Shantideva says,

It is wrong to feel anger toward someone, thinking that person impedes my merit. As there is no austerity equal to patience, shall I not abide in that?”

And in verse 107:

Therefore, since my adversary assists me in my Bodhisattva way of life, I should long for him like a treasure discovered in the house and acquired without effort.”

Thich Nhat Hanh says that with the practice of patience, the kshanti-paramita, “what has made you suffer in the past is no longer capable of making you suffer anymore.”

If no person ever did us wrong, injured or slighted us, then we would never have the opportunity to practice patience, or for that matter compassion. For this reason, we can say that our so-called adversaries are “helpful.” They afford us the opening through which to win over ourselves, to destroy the seeds of our own desire to cause harm, to resent others, and to hate. To be grateful toward one who has hurt us, I think, implies, and requires, a great deal of forgiveness.

Until recently there was no scientific research on the power of forgiveness. Now, thanks to folks like A Campaign for Forgiveness Research, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, and others, a number of forgiveness studies have been completed that have looked into the role of forgiveness in such areas as reducing heart disease, preventing crime, healing troubled marriages, and even how forgiveness was a factor in rebuilding South Africa after apartheid.

Dr. Fred Luskin, Senior Consultant in Health Promotion at Stanford University, who has conducted his own studies, says that forgiveness can be learned, and that

Our research has also shown that forgiveness has physical health benefits. People who learn to forgive report significantly fewer symptoms of stress such as backache, muscle tension, dizziness, headaches and upset stomachs. In addition people report improvements in appetite, sleep patterns, energy and general well being. Finally, one research project showed that angry people with high blood pressure showed a decrease in both anger and blood pressure when they were taught to forgive.”

Forgiveness is not easy, but as I have heard the Dalai Lama say, it is rather foolish not to practice it. We might harbor anger and resentment toward someone who has harmed us, carrying all the heavy negative emotion around until it weighs us down, until we are unable to move from that place of hate and anger. Meanwhile the person who we viewed as our “adversary” has gone on, and likely forgotten about all about us, and our petty antagonism.

Forgiveness is the perfection of patience, the practice of loving-kindness, a way to freedom:

‘He insulted me, he hurt me, he defeated me, and he deprived me.’ Those who do not harbor such thoughts will be free from hatred.

Buddha, The Dhammapada

———————-

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Anger and Forgiveness

Last Friday at Western Connecticut State University, in Danbury, CT, the Dalai Lama gave a one-hour public talk titled “Advice for Daily Life.” The Buddhist Examiner reports that he said in part,

Forgiveness does not mean bowing down to others who have wronged you . . . It means not letting negative feeling toward the wrongdoing increase fear and distance . . . Forgiveness is a sign of strength. Anger is a sign of weakness.”

This is simple advice. It is the sort of practical guidance that any person regardless of their religion or outlook at life can benefit from, and actually, it only should serve as a reminder, since most of us already know that anger is destructive and forgiveness sublime.

“Anger destroys virtue.” – Dalai Lama

By the way, for anyone dealing with the issue of anger in his or her life, I recommend the Dalai Lama’s book, Healing Anger, which is based on a teaching he gave on Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara (“A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life”). It”s a very useful book, and I’ll discuss a bit more about Shantideva’s text below.

While there are many traditional Buddhist teachings that discuss the subject of anger, I am not aware of any that deal directly with the concept of forgiveness. Ksamate and kshaamati are two Sanskrit words that have the meaning “forgive.” Kshaamati is related to another word, khamati (also Pali) that according to the A.P. Buddhadatta Mahathera’s Concise Pali-English and English-Pali Dictionary means “to be patient, to endure, to forgive; to forgive a fault,” although it seems that it is used most often in the sense of “apology.”

Khamati is related to kshanti or “patience, endurance and forgiveness.” This word appears quite frequently in Buddhist teachings, especially in Mahayana, because kshanti is one of the Six Paramitas (or Perfections) that is a crucial part of the path of the Bodhisattva.

Perhaps the definitive text concerning this path is the aforementioned Bodhicaryavatara by Shantideva. Many consider the chapter on the practice of patience (kshanti-paramita) the most important chapter of the book.

The paramita of patience encompasses the ideal of forgiveness. In verse 102 of the Patience chapter [1. A guide to the bodhisattva way of life (Bodhicaryavatara) by Santideva, Vesna A. Wallace and B. Alan Wallace, Snow Lion Publications] Shantideva says,

It is wrong to feel anger toward someone, thinking that person impedes my merit. As there is no austerity equal to patience, shall I not abide in that?”

And in verse 107:

Therefore, since my adversary assists me in my Bodhisattva way of life, I should long for him like a treasure discovered in the house and acquired without effort.”

Thich Nhat Hanh says that with the practice of patience, the kshanti-paramita, “what has made you suffer in the past is no longer capable of making you suffer anymore.”

If no person ever did us wrong, injured or slighted us, then we would never have the opportunity to practice patience, or for that matter compassion. For this reason, we can say that our so-called adversaries are “helpful.” They afford us the opening through which to win over ourselves, to destroy the seeds of our own desire to cause harm, to resent others, and to hate. To be grateful toward one who has hurt us, I think, implies, and requires, a great deal of forgiveness.

Until recently there was no scientific research on the power of forgiveness. Now, thanks to folks like A Campaign for Forgiveness Research, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, and others, a number of forgiveness studies have been completed that have looked into the role of forgiveness in such areas as reducing heart disease, preventing crime, healing troubled marriages, and even how forgiveness was a factor in rebuilding South Africa after apartheid.

Dr. Fred Luskin, Senior Consultant in Health Promotion at Stanford University, who has conducted his own studies, says that forgiveness can be learned, and that

Our research has also shown that forgiveness has physical health benefits. People who learn to forgive report significantly fewer symptoms of stress such as backache, muscle tension, dizziness, headaches and upset stomachs. In addition people report improvements in appetite, sleep patterns, energy and general well being. Finally, one research project showed that angry people with high blood pressure showed a decrease in both anger and blood pressure when they were taught to forgive.”

Forgiveness is not easy, but as I have heard the Dalai Lama say, it is rather foolish not to practice it. We might harbor anger and resentment toward someone who has harmed us, carrying all the heavy negative emotion around until it weighs us down, until we are unable to move from that place of hate and anger. Meanwhile the person who we viewed as our “adversary” has gone on, and likely forgotten about all about us, and our petty antagonism.

Forgiveness is the perfection of patience, the practice of loving-kindness, a way to freedom:

‘He insulted me, he hurt me, he defeated me, and he deprived me.’ Those who do not harbor such thoughts will be free from hatred.

Buddha, The Dhammapada

——————–

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