Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  There is no one who can live happily with anger

(6.5) Anger causes friends and relatives to grow weary of me
And, even if I try to attract them with generosity, they will not trust me.
In short, there is no one
Who can live happily with anger.

If we are honest, the primary emotion we show towards others is frustration.  When we communicate to others that they frustrate us it makes them think they are a bad person, and so they start to identify with that and it brings out that very behavior.  It also just makes them feel very bad.  When somebody gets angry with us, we dwell with it for a very long time and we feel really bad about it.  For the most part, people need to feel like they are loved and supported for them to have confidence to go out and grow.  When we get angry with somebody, we betray that love.  It is like emotionally raping them.  Sometimes when our parents or someone we deeply respect becomes angry with us, it can scar us for life.  Our trust and confidence are violated and it takes an enormous amount to earn it back.  The same is true of others who are the victims of our anger.

When we are young, we have a certain ability to absorb and bounce back relatively easy, but over time we store up so much anger that our tank fills up and then we become an angry and bitter person or depressed.  We don’t know where the tipping point is for somebody, but it could very well be that our next bout of anger is the one that fills it up and pushes them over the brink.  This is why it is so important to apologize often every time we get angry because this helps those we got angry with let go of their hurt and their own anger.  We really need to take this seriously, it is so important.

Nobody wants to be with angry people.  We just don’t want to be around them, and so it is no surprise that over time angry people find themselves all alone.  It is inevitable that this will happen as long as we are angry.  Sometimes people feel trapped with angry people and they don’t know how to get out.  This causes them to generate a lot of resentment towards the other person and they sit internally with their anger, day by day creating countless causes to fall into the lower realms.  Usually what happens is once the power balance shifts in the relationship, such as the angry person becomes the weaker one in some way, then all this anger and resentment comes out creating incredible misery for the angry person and terrible causes for the person who lets it all out.

As bodhisattvas, we need strive to maintain good and harmonious relationships with everybody.  It is through our relationships that we can help people.  Somebody can be a Buddha, and have incredibly precious advice to give, but if they don’t have the karma of having good relationships they can’t do anything to help.  We need to try to get on good terms with everybody.  It doesn’t take much effort to do so, we just need to try and be willing to apologize for our mistakes.  We need to start viewing others as our future spiritual responsibility, and start to cultivate our relationship in that direction right now.  The most important thing we need to do is overcome our anger with them.

Especially for people who are teachers or Sangha, there is nothing more devastating to our fellow practitioners than them thinking we are angry with them or do not accept them or that they bother us.  This destroys everything about their spiritual life, and prevents them from being able to trust us.  If they do not trust us, there is nothing we can do help them.  Even if we’re controlled enough not to say or do anything out of anger, our students or the other people in the Sangha may sense the impatience, irritation or anger we have in our mind towards them.  When they become aware of it they will not trust us and sometimes not trust the Dharma as a result.  They will judge the Dharma as being faulty when in reality it is us who is faulty.  How can we expect our students and fellow Sangha to develop open hearts towards us, to rely upon us, to draw close to us, if we become angry with them?

What will happen is they will keep some distance from us, and their mind will be closed. They will not be open to receiving whatever good things we have to offer, even during teachings.  If their mind is closed as a result of experiencing our anger towards them, they will not fully take the teachings  to heart, just a memory of a time we became angry or impatient with them.  We know, if we’re honest, we know that we have become impatient with our students or fellow Sangha, we have become angry with our students and fellow Sangha. We have to stop, because what is most important is our improving our relationships with our students and spiritual friends.  When we become impatient or angry with them our relationship is damaged. To that extent we are responsible for hindering spiritual progress and creating divisions within the Sangha.

Sometimes we feel we’re being wrathful: something needs to be said in a strong way. We think, “I need to be wrathful with this person.”  But we need to check very, very closely in our mind, to see if there’s this enemy, poison of anger, still influencing our thoughts.  Even if our mind is at peace, those we are wrathful with may still perceive us as getting angry. Our relationship needs to be a particularly good one.  Will the other person perceive an angry action instead of a wrathful one? We do need to be careful.

 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Anger harms ourselves first and foremost

While anger can also be nothing more than a mild frustration, wishing things were different than they are; usually anger is the wish to inflict harm on others because they hurt us in some way.  Anger always feels like it is “justified.”  The other person is wrong, they have treated us unfairly, they have hurt us deeply and when we think of them we feel nothing but rage.  We want to say things to them which we know will hurt them so that they realize the hurt they have caused us.  But the truth of the matter is anger hurts the person who is angry far more than it hurts the person we are angry with.  We are harming ourselves.

(6.3) If I harbour painful thoughts of anger,
I shall not experience mental peace,
I shall find no joy or happiness,
And I shall be unsettled and unable to sleep.

Usually we justify our anger in our mind by thinking at least by getting angry we will get what we want.  But even if we get what we want, we are not able to enjoy it because our mind is not at peace, and inner peace is the essential condition for mental happiness.  Mental unhappiness leads to anger, and since there is no inner peace we will be increasingly unhappy and we will look for something to blame.  This then leads to yet more anger.

A few years ago, for about an 18 month period, my mind was consumed with anger – even rage – about a situation that transpired with my father.  Because I couldn’t let go of my anger towards him (despite trying every day to do so), I became an angry person.  This anger pervaded every aspect of my life, clouding my enjoyment of anything.  During the day, I couldn’t stop thinking about my hurt and how wrong he was for inflicting it on me.  I would awake in the middle of the night and not be able to fall back asleep because my mind would resume its anger towards my father.  Even from an ordinary point of view, anger makes us miserable.  I was torturing myself.

We need to make a complete distinction between what we are experiencing now and what causes we are creating.  All of the effects we are experiencing right now have nothing to do with right now, but are the ripening of karma from previous lives.  What we will experience in the future is determined by what causes we create right now in our response to our situation.   Knowing this, we can realize that the only thing that matters is what causes we create now, not what effects we are experiencing.

We all have countless negative seeds on our mind, some ripening, others not.  We are all the same in this regard.  Where people differ is how they RESPOND.  If we respond with Dharma, happily accepting our situation as purification, then no matter how uncomfortable the situation may be, we will be doing what matters.  Good causes, good future, guaranteed; bad causes, bad future, guaranteed.  We realize that nothing we do in this life will really make a big difference in this life, so we stop worrying about what happens in this life and instead focus our attention on collecting our spiritual pennies for future lives.  Then we become a pure practitioner and develop a genuine equanimity towards the inevitable tides of samsaric life.

(6.4) Overcome by a fit of anger,
I might even kill a benefactor
Upon whose kindness I depend
For my wealth or reputation.

Anger is at the root of most negative actions.  Anger itself is a negative mental action, and so just the thought creates negative karma.  But it also leads to us engaging in all sorts of negative actions such as speaking harshly, speaking divisively, harming others, covetousness, malice, etc.  Anger always makes the situation worse because when we get angry with people they no longer want to help us, and if they do so it is only grudgingly, so in the long run it makes things worse.  This makes it almost impossible even to accomplish our worldly goals.

If we look at the arc of human history and the story of our own lives, the most destructive and harmful acts are almost always driven by anger.  Once we hit “send” on that angry email, there is no pulling it back; and sometimes the consequences of it echo for years to come.  One moment of anger can destroy a lifetime of friendship.  By getting mad at our family, our employers, our friends, we create problems and destroy our relationships.  It makes “sense” to us to do senseless things.  We need merely check our own life and that of those we know to come up with endless examples of the harm anger leaves in its wake.

New Year’s for a Kadampa

New Year’s Day is of course preceded by New Year’s Eve.  The evening before is usually when friends get together to celebrate the coming of the new year.  Sometimes Kadampas become a social cynic, looking down on parties like this, finding them meaningless and inherently samsaric.  They mistakenly think it is somehow a fault to enjoy life and enjoy cultural traditions.  This is wrong.

If we are invited to a New Year’s party, we should go without thinking it is inherently meaningless.  Geshe-la wants us to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life.  New Year’s Eve parties are part of modern life, so our job is to bring the Dharma into them.  Venerable Tharchin said that our ability to help others depends upon two things:  the depth of our Dharma realizations and the strength of our karmic connections with living beings.  Doing things with friends as friends helps build those karmic bonds.  Even if we are unable to discuss any Dharma, at the very least, we can view such evenings as the time to cultivate our close karmic bonds with people.  Later, in dependence upon these bonds, we will be able to help them.

One question that often comes up at most New Year’s Eve parties is what to do about the fact that most everyone else is drinking or consuming other intoxicants.  Most of us have Pratimoksha vows, so this can create a problem or some awkward moments for ourself or for the person who is throwing the party.  Best, of course, is if you have an open and accepting relationship with your friends where you can say, “you can do whatever you want, but I am not going to.”  It’s important that we don’t adopt a judgmental attitude towards others who might drink, etc.  We each make our own choices and it is not up to us to judge anyone else.  We might even make ourselves the annual “designated driver.”  Somebody has to be, might as well be the Buddhist!

If we are at a party where we can’t be open about being a Buddhist, which can happen depending upon our karmic circumstance, what I usually do is drink orange juice or coke for most of the night, but then at midnight when they pass around the glasses of Champagne I just take one, and without a fuss when it comes time, I just put it to my lips like I am drinking but I am not actually doing so.  If we don’t make an issue out of it, nobody will notice.  Why is this important?  Because when we say we don’t drink, they will ask why.  Then we say because we are a Buddhist.  Implicitly, others can take our answer to mean we are saying we think it is immoral to drink, so others might feel judged. When they do, they then reject Buddhism, and create the karma of doing so. We may feel “right,” but we have in fact harmed those around us. What is the most moral thing to do depends largely upon our circumstance. It goes without saying that others are far more likely to feel judged by us if in fact we are judging everyone around us! We all need to get off our high horse and just love others with an accepting attitude.

Fortunately, most Kadampa centers now host a New Year’s Eve party.  This is ideal.  If our center doesn’t, then ask to host one yourself at the center.  This gives our Sangha friends an alternative to the usual New Year’s parties.  We can get together at the center, have a meal together, do a puja together and just hang out together as friends.  We are people too, not just Dharma practitioners, so it is important to be “exactly as normal.”  If our New Year’s party is a lot of fun, then people will want to come again and again; and perhaps even invite their friends along.  It is not uncommon to do either a Tara practice or an Amitayus practice.   Sometimes centers organize a retreat weekend course over New Year’s weekend.  For several years in Geneva, we would do Tara practice in six sessions at the house of a Sangha member.  The point is, try make it time together with your Sangha family.  Christmas is often with our regular family, New Year’s can be with our spiritual family.

What I used to do (and really should start doing again), is around New Years I would take the time to go through all the 250+ vows and commitments of Kadampa Buddhism and reflect upon how I was doing.  I would try look back on the past year and identify the different ways I broke each vow, and I would try make plans for doing better next year.  If you are really enthusiastic about this, you can make a chart in Excel where you rank on a scale of 1 to 10 how well you did on each vow, and then keep track of this over the years.  Geshe-la advises that we work gradually with our vows over a long period of time, slowly improving the quality with which we keep them.  Keeping track with a self-graded score is a very effective way of doing this.  New Years is a perfect time for reflecting on this.

Ultimately, New Year’s Day itself is no different than any other.  It is very easy to see how its meaning is merely imputed by mind.  But that doesn’t mean it is not meaningful, ultimately everything is imputed by mind.  The good thing about New Year’s Day is everyone agrees it marks the possibility for a new beginning.  It is customary for people to make New Year’s Resolutions, things they plan on doing differently in the coming year.  Unfortunately, it is also quite common for people’s New Year’s Resolutions to not last very long.

But at Kadampas, we can be different.  The teachings on impermanence remind us that “nothing remains for even a moment” and that the entire world is completely recreated anew every moment.  New Year’s Day is a good day for recalling impermanence.  Everything that happened in the previous year, we can just let it go and realize we are moving into a new year and a new beginning.  We should make New Year’s resolutions spiritual ones.  It is best, though, to make small changes that you make a real effort to keep than large ones that you know won’t last long.  Pick one or two things you are going to do differently this year.  Make it concrete and make sure it is doable.  A former student of mine would pick one thing that she said she was going to make her priority for the coming year, and then throughout the year she would focus on that practice. I think this is perfect. Another Sangha friend of mine would every year ask for special advice about what they should work on in the coming year. This is also perfect.

When you make a determination, make sure you know why you are doing it and the wisdom reasons in favor of the change are solid in your mind.  On that basis, you will be able to keep them.  Making promises that you later break creates terrible karma for ourselves which makes it harder and harder to make promises in the future. We create the habit of never following through, and that makes the practice of moral discipline harder and harder.

Just because we are a Kadampa does not mean we can’t have fun like everyone else on New Year’s Eve.  It is an opportunity to build close karmic bonds with others, especially our spiritual family.  We can reflect upon our behavior over the previous year and make determinations about how we will do better in the year to come.

I pray that all of your pure wishes in the coming year be fulfilled, and that all of the suffering you experience become a powerful cause of your enlightenment.  I pray that all beings may find a qualified spiritual path and thereby find meaning in their life.  I also pray that nobody die tonight from drunk driving, but everyone makes it home safe.  Since that is unlikely to come true, I pray that Avalokiteshvara swiftly take all those who die to the pure land where they may enjoy everlasting joy.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  There is no evil greater than anger

Overcoming delusions is not complicated.  First, we need to identify what they are.  Then, we need to break our identification with them – they are thoughts passing through our mind, they are not us.  Then, we contemplate the faults of the delusions and the benefits of the opponents.  On the basis of that contemplation, we choose to not believe the lies of the delusions and we choose to try think differently in accordance with the opponent.  We then continue this process until we develop new mental habits, where virtue and wisdom come naturally.  Among delusions, anger is the most harmful of them all.

(6.1) All the virtuous deeds and merit,
Such as giving and making offerings,
That we have accumulated over thousands of aeons
Can be destroyed by just one moment of anger.

This is quite a striking introduction to the chapter. Shantideva is pointing out straightaway the faults of an angry mind.  There are many ways in which we can understand anger as being destructive, and from a spiritual point of view it is most destructive in that it takes away the merit that we’re working so hard to accumulate every day of our life.  As spiritual practitioners, we have been given a very special opportunity to create every day of our life an enormous amount of merit. Yet that merit is taken away from us each time we become angry, and it doesn’t have to be full-blown anger to destroy that merit in our mind.

From a worldly perspective, merit is the principal cause of wish-fulfillment.  If you have merit, things will go your way; if things don’t go your way, it is because you lack merit.  So if you have no merit, everything will be difficult and good things will not happen.  From a spiritual perspective, merit is the fuel for our spiritual progress.  It is the fertile ground for a crop of inner realizations.  Without merit, we can make no progress on the spiritual path, and therefore never find the happiness we seek.

For most people the prospect that anger destroys our merit may not seem like a big deal, but for pure spiritual practitioners it is the most terrifying danger.  Pure spiritual practitioner and old people nearing death understand that the only thing that matters is the causes that we create, because they are the only things we can take with us into our future lives.  Everything else is meaningless.  We don’t want to go into our future lives empty handed.  We have worked very hard and endured considerable difficulties to create the good causes we have created for ourselves.  All of our effort becomes a total waste if its fruit all gets burnt in the fire of our anger.  It is like we have been saving up our money our whole life for our retirement, and then on the day of our retirement we take it all out in cash and our house burns down so it is completely gone.  All that wasted work.  Or when we have worked hard on a document for a long time and it gets deleted because the computer crashed.

Perhaps one reason we find it still difficult to fulfill our wishes, and we find ourselves making little progress along that path to Bodhisattva-hood and Buddhahood is because much of the merit we are creating is being destroyed by our anger.  Dedication functions to protect our merit, but if we’re honest we’re not exactly perfect at dedicating our merit.  How often do we dedicate, and when we dedicate, how well do we do so?  We should see anger as a thief stealing our spiritual life.  It makes it as if you never did all the hard work we have done.

 (6.2) There is no evil greater than anger,
And no virtue greater than patience.
Therefore, I should strive in various ways
To become familiar with the practice of patience.

Anger is the worst of all delusions, therefore patience is the greatest of all practices.  Every moment of anger not only destroys our merit but it creates the cause for us to fall into the lower realms.  Shantideva is not saying we need to be attached to the result of not being angry, he is saying the conclusion is we need to apply ourselves fully to trying to practice patience.  The name of the game is trying, even if we don’t succeed, it doesn’t matter because we create causes.  To understand this we need to make a distinction between what tendencies are ripening and what new minds we are generating.  If the tendency to get angry at somebody arises within our mind, this only becomes a new delusion if we assent to that tendency – in other words, we believe it to be true and start thinking that way.  If instead, when the tendency arises, we recognize it as the delusion of anger, realize that it is self-defeating to think in this way, and then choose to try be patient instead, we are not generating the delusion of anger, rather we are practicing the moral discipline of restraint.  Not only does moral discipline create the cause for higher rebirth, each time we train in this way we create the karma for new tendencies of patient acceptance in the future.  With time, we will experience results, it is guaranteed.

Christmas for a Kadampa

For those of us who live in the West, or come from Western families, Christmas is often considered the biggest holiday of the year.  Ostensibly, Christmas is about the birth of Christ, and for some it is.  For most, however, it is about exchanging gifts, spending time with family and watching football.  Or it’s just about out of control consumerism, depending on your view.  Kadampas can sometimes feel a bit confused during Christmas time.  It used to be our favorite holiday as kids, but now we are Buddhists, so how are we supposed to relate to it?

It’s true, Christmas time has degenerated into a frenzy of buying things we don’t need.  It is easy to criticize Christmas on such grounds.  Of course, as Kadampas, we can be aware of this and realize its meaninglessness.  We can correctly identify the attachment and realize it’s wrong.  But certainly being a Kadampa means more than being a cynic and a scrooge.  Instead, we should rejoice in all the acts of giving.  Giving is a virtue, even if what people are giving is not very meaningful.  There is more giving that occurs in the Christmas season than any other time of the year.  Yes, the motivations for giving might be mixed with worldly concerns, but we can still rejoice in the giving part.  Rejoice in all of it, don’t be a cynic.

Likewise, I think we should celebrate with all our heart the birth of Christ into this world.  Why not?  Our heart commitment is to follow one tradition purely while appreciating and respecting all other traditions.  Instead of getting on our arrogant high horse mocking those who believe in an inherently existent God, why don’t we celebrate the birth of arguably the greatest practitioner of taking and giving to have ever walked the face of the earth?  The entire basis of Christianity is Christ took on all of the sins of all living beings, and generating faith in him, believing he did so to save us, functions to open our mind to receive his special blessings which function to take our sins upon him.  He is, in this respect, quite similar to a Buddha of purification.  By generating faith in him, his followers can purify all of their negative karma.

Further, he is a doorway to heaven (his pure land).  If his followers remember him with faith at the time of their death, they will receive his powerful blessings and be transported to the pure land.  In this sense, he is very similar to Avalokiteshvara.  Christ taught extensively on being humble, working for the sake of the poor, and reaching out to those in the greatest of need.  Think of all the people he has inspired with his example.  Sure, there are some people who distort his teachings for political purposes, but that doesn’t make his original intent and meaning wrong.  In many ways, one can say he gave tantric teachings on maintaining pure view, and bringing the Kingdom of Heaven into this world.  Who can read the Sermon on the Mount and not be moved?  Who can read the prayers of his later followers, such as Saint Francis of Assisi, and not be inspired?  Think of Pope Francis.  You don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate his positive effect on this world and the church.  All of these things we can rejoice in and be inspired by.  A Bodhisattva seeks to practice all virtue, and there is much in Jesus’ example worth emulating.  Trying to be more “Christ-like” in our behavior is not mixing.  If we can see somebody in our daily lives engaging in virtue and be inspired to be more like them, then why can we not also do so for one of the greatest Saints in the history of the world?  Rejoicing in and copying virtue is an essential component of the Kadampa path.

Geshe-la has said on many occasions that Buddhas appear in this world in Buddhist and non-Buddhist form.  Is it that hard to imagine that Christ too was a Buddha who appeared in a particular form in a particular place in human history for the sake of billions?  Surely all the holy beings get along just fine with one another, since they are ultimately of one nature.  It is only humans who create divisions and problems.  Geshe-la said we do believe in “God,” it is just different people have a different understanding of what that means.  Christians have their understanding, we have ours, but we can all respect and appreciate one another.

Besides celebrating Christ, Christmas is an excellent time for ourself to practice virtue.  Not just giving, but also patience with our loved ones, cherishing others, training in love and so forth.  It is not always easy to spend time with our families.  The members of our family have their fair share of delusions, and it is easy to develop judgmental attitudes towards them for it.  It is not uncommon for some of the worst family fights to happen during the holiday season.  Christmas time gives us an opportunity to counter all of these delusions and bad attitudes, and learn to accept and love everyone just as they are.

When I was a boy, Christmas was both my favorite time of year and my worst time of year.  My favorite time of year because I loved the lights, the songs and of course the presents.  It was the worst time of the year because my mother had an unrealistic expectation that just because it was Christmas, everything was supposed to work out and nothing was supposed to go wrong.  This created tremendous pressure on everyone in the house, and when the slightest thing would go wrong, she would become very upset and ruin the day for everyone.  This is not uncommon at all.  People’s expectations shoot through the roof during the Christmas season, and especially on Christmas day.  These higher expectations then cause us to be more judgmental, to more easily feel slighted, and to be quicker to anger.  We can view this time as an excellent opportunity to understand the nature of samsara is for things to go wrong, and the best answer to that fact is patient acceptance and a good laugh.

As I have grown older, Christmas has given rise to new delusions for me to overcome.  When I was little, I used to get lots of presents.  Now, I get a tie.  Not the same, and it always leaves me feeling a bit let down.  I give presents to everyone, yet nobody seems to give me any.  As a parent, I cannot help but have hopes and expectations that my kids will like their presents, but then when they don’t I realize my attachment to gratitude and recognition.  During Christmas, even though I am supposed to be giving, I find myself worrying about money and feeling miserly.  I find myself quick to judge my in-laws or other members of my family if they don’t act in the way I want them to.  Since I live abroad, far away from any family, I start to feel jealous of the pictures I see on Facebook of my other family members all together and seeming to have a good time while we are alone and forgotten on the other side of the planet.  When kids open presents, they are often like rabid dogs, going from one thing to the next without appreciating anything and I can’t help but feel I have failed as a parent.  Trying to get good pictures is always a nightmare, and getting the kids to express gratitude to the aunts and grandmas is always a struggle.  The more time we spend with our family, the more we become frustrated with them and secretly we can’t wait until school starts again and we can go back to work.  None of these are uncommon reactions, and these sorts of situations give rise to a pantheon of delusions.  But all of them give us a chance to practice training our mind and cultivating new, more virtuous, habits of mind.

Christmas is also a time in which we can reach out to those who are alone.  Suicide and depression rates are the highest during the holiday season.  People see everyone else happy, but they find themselves alone and unloved.  Why can we not invite these people to our home and let them know we care?  Make them feel part of our family.  There are also plenty of opportunities to volunteer to help out the poor and the needy, such as giving our time at or clothes to homeless shelters.  People in hospitals, especially the old and dying, suffer from great loneliness and sadness during the Christmas season.  We can go spend time with them, hear their stories, and give them our love.

Culturally, many of us are Christian.  People in the West, by and large, live in a Christian culture.  Geshe-la has gone to great lengths to present the Dharma in such a way that we do not have to abandon our culture to understand the Dharma.  Externally, culturally, we can remain Christian; while internally, spiritually we are 100% Kadampa.  There is no contradiction between these two.  On the whole, Christmas time gives us ample opportunities to create virtue, rejoice in goodness and battle our delusions.  For a Kadampa, this is perfect.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Bodhisattva vows of patience

We continue with our explanation of the downfalls of bodhisattva vows associated with the practice of patience.  In the previous post, we talked about the first one of not retaliating to harm or abuse.

Not apologizing when we have the opportunity.  If we have disturbed another person by acting unskillfully, and later the opportunity to apologize arises but, out of pride or laziness, we fail to do so we incur a secondary downfall.  Until we have deep experience of the practice of patience, we will get angry.  This is normal.  We should not expect that we won’t still get angry just because we know better or are taking a Dharma class.  But when we do get angry, after we have calmed down, make a point of saying sorry for having gotten angry.  Explain that getting angry only makes the situation worse, and you are sorry.

When we apologize it does several things:  First, it softens the heart of the other person.  When people are harmed by us, they wind up bearing a grudge against us.  Every moment anger is running through their mind, they are creating terrible karma for themselves and they feel terrible.  When we apologize it enables them to let go because we have admitted we made a mistake and said we are sorry.  A huge emphasis of Christianity is related to forgiveness.  By apologizing we give the other person a chance to forgive.  Second, it is a powerful form of purification.  Purification works primarily on the basis of the mind of regret.  Regret is a mind that accepts that we have made a mistake.  It is quite different from guilt, as we will discuss more as our explanation of this chapter goes on.  But accepting we have made a mistake and making a point of admitting that to the other person is a powerful purification of the negative karma we accumulated by getting angry.  Third, it creates a special patience in the other person.  When we get angry with somebody and don’t apologize, we infect them with our anger and pretty soon everybody is angry at everybody.  But when we apologize for getting angry, the person becomes more accepting of the mistakes of other people.  It also teaches that anger makes us uncontrolled and is an object to be abandoned.  It helps them accept themselves more when they make their own mistakes.  By us apologizing to them, we indirectly teach them to apologize when they make mistakes.  It also gives them a chance to forgive.  I know an abusive father who only once apologized to his family, admitting that he was out of control, and this was enough for the wife and family to forgive him for countless wrongs, before and after.  This has protected them against so much anger.  Fourth, it undoes the bad lesson taught.  When we get angry with somebody about something, what does it teach the other person?  It teaches them that it is justified to get angry about the given issue, so we set them up for a lifetime of getting angry and creating the cause to go to hell on that issue.  When we apologize for getting angry, we undo that damage by showing it is never justified to get angry.  We can apologize for getting angry while maintaining our position on the issue we got angry about (if we are right on the issue in question).

Sometimes we fear saying sorry and admitting our mistakes, because we fear if we do so the other person will lose respect for us.  This is completely wrong.  There are two possibilities:  First, the other person does not think we made a mistake, at which point if we do not apologize and admit our mistakes, we teach them that it is not a mistake to get angry and that this mistake was not a mistake, but the right thing to do.  Second, the other person realizes that it is a mistake, at which point if we do not admit to it, they lose respect for us because we cannot face up to our mistakes.

If we apologize, it cures all of these problems.  In the first possibility, by admitting our mistakes and apologizing, we teach what is a mistake, thereby protecting the person from making the same mistakes, and we show integrity of admitting our mistake even when the other person didn’t see it, so their respect for us grows.  In the second possibility, by admitting our mistakes and taking corrective action, their respect for us increases because we have the courage to learn and do not fear the consequences of owning up to our mistakes and faults.  We should really focus on this one.  Make a point of doing it.  Mentally make the decision to apologize every time you get angry, even if that means you are apologizing 6 times a day.

Not accepting others’ apologies.  If someone who has previously harmed us later apologies and, without a good reason but not out of resentment (which is a root downfall) we refuse to accept, we incur a secondary downfall.  When somebody apologizes to us, by accepting it we are able to let go of our anger and stop creating a mountain of negative karma.  We also give the other person a chance to let go of their anger.  If we don’t accept their apology, they will likely renew their anger and create a bunch of negative karma for themselves.  Again, take everything you know about Christianity and forgiveness and apply it here.  There is enormous healing power of forgiveness.

Making no effort to control our anger.  If we do not make a special effort to practice patience when we find ourselves getting angry we incur a secondary downfall.  We are not vowing to not get angry, that will be impossible for now.  Rather, we are making the vow to try our best.  Because the methods we have work, if we apply them persistently over a long period of time our anger will gradually subside.  All it takes is persistent effort.  When we try, we create the karma to have the effects of being able to be patient in the future.  Our interest is in creating causes, not in experiencing their effects.  Even if we are a raging inferno inside, if we try not to be then we are creating lots and lots of good causes.  With time, this will manifest in our being less and less angry.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  A reminder of our Bodhisattva vows

In an earlier post, we talked about generating the mind of bodhichitta, the wish to become a Buddha for the benefit of all.  Essentially we become aware of our samsaric situation, and that of others; and how if we gained control of our mind we would be able to escape from it.  We see how all living beings are in the same situation, and if they are going to be saved it is up to us to do it.  This leads to the superior intention to take responsibility for the spiritual welfare of others.  We see how we are currently incapable of doing so, but if we were a Buddha we would be able to.  Understanding this, we generate the wish to become a Buddha for all living beings.

The question now is how do we act on this wish?  We do so by practicing the six perfections.  The six perfections are the actual pathway to enlightenment.  By training in them we travel the internal path to enlightenment.  The six perfections are:  giving, moral discipline, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom.

We can synthesize our practice of the six perfections into the keeping of the Bodhisattva vows.  A few years ago, I did an extensive series of posts going over all of the different Kadampa vows and commitments, which you can find in the special series in the link at the top.  The bodhisattva vows are a practical means of practicing the six perfections.  One of the main reasons why we take vows is it is a special way to continuously accumulate virtuous causes, even when we are not thinking about it.  For as long as we have not un-done our vows, we continue to accumulate merit.  For example, once a trench or a valley has been dug, any subsequent water poured into it will effortlessly follow the path previously forged.  In particular, the karma keeping our Bodhisattva vows functions to create the causes to maintain the continuum of our Mahayana Buddhist practice between now and our eventual enlightenment.  The biggest fear of the wise is losing the path.  If we fear losing the path, we won’t, and therefore we will have nothing to fear.  If we don’t fear losing the path, we very well could and then we would have all of samsara to fear.

If you have not yet taken the Bodhisattva vows, I strongly encourage you to do so.  You can make the request at any Kadampa center around the world, and they are almost invariably given at every empowerment.  Once we have taken them once with a preceptor, we can then take them again any time we wish on our own, and most Kadampas renew their vows every day.  Nonetheless, it is good to retake them in a more formal way from time to time as the impact this has on our mind is often deeper than just taking them every morning in the context of our daily practice.

In this and the next post, I will review the transgressions of the bodhisattva vows associated with the practice of patience.

Retaliating to harm or abuse.  If out of impatience we retaliate to harm or abuse we incur a secondary downfall.  When somebody harms us in some way, our natural instinct is to harm them back.  This just perpetuates the cycle of harm and sows the seeds for future suffering for everyone.  Wishing to break the cycle, we should not retaliate when we are harmed, but instead we should accept it as purification of a long-standing debt.  We should be happy that we are finally bringing an end part of the harmful dance we have with living beings.

Very often we get angry with people when they do not show us the respect that we think we deserve and when they do not listen to us.  But when we get angry at them, we send the message that we are not worthy of respect or listening to – how can we respect somebody who is out of control and cannot admit their faults?  If they show us respect in response to our anger, it is not real respect but rather fear of us, or mafia-respect.  This never works because as soon as the threat of fear is gone, the feigned respect will disappear and they will rebel and retaliate for all the anger we sent at them over a long period of time.  When this happens, they lose all of the benefit that we have given them.  Parents experience this all the time.  If we are patient regardless of the provocations against us, people naturally gain respect for us because this takes enormous strength.  If we are able to go further and respond constructively and positively while everybody else is out of control, then we really stand out and their respect for us grows abundantly.