Vows, commitments and modern life: Retaliating to harm or abuse (part 1)

Downfalls that obstruct the perfection of patience

Retaliating to harm or abuse. 

If out of impatience we retaliate to harm or abuse we incur a secondary downfall.

We are harmed or abused by others all of the time.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise.  We have spent countless aeons in the lower realms where we ourselves harmed and abused others as a way of life.  Even in this life, despite having received Dharma teachings, we continue to lash out at people when they have done basically nothing wrong.  So it is only natural that now we experience the karmic echoes of our past actions.

People criticize us all of the time.  People put us down, directly or indirectly, all of the time.  People snap at us all of the time.  People blame us for whatever ails them all of the time.  People get mad at us for no reason all of the time.  When we make the slightest mistake, people respond disproportionately against us all of the time.  Our bosses or coworkers blame us for things we are not responsible for, and they take credit for our accomplishments.  People cut us off on the road, or cut in front of us in line.  People ask us to do their work for them, and then they get mad at us when we don’t do it as they wanted.  We can do everything we can to make others happy, but they still get upset at us, judge us and are never grateful for what we do.  We give to others, and they take.  When we ask for something in return they say no or make a problem.  People take advantage of our kindness and then forget us on our birthdays.  We make a point of investing in them, but they don’t really care what is happening in our life.  When something important happens in our life, they fail to notice or care.  Our political leaders play games and make the world’s problems even worse.  No matter how much work we do for others, they never give us a break.  They take, take take without end and give almost nothing in return.  When we become tired or frustrated they get mad at us for not being in a good mood.  Our business leaders drive the global economy into ruin for the sake of their own personal enrichment.  Companies pollute the earth, shortening lives, destroying the environment for future generations, all to make a little extra money for themselves.  People suffer from homelessness, hunger and crime, but nobody lifts a finger and indeed they blame the victims for being lazy.  In short, we live in a world with countless causes for frustration.  It is a small wonder that we are not in a perpetual war of all against all.

If we allow these myriad causes of frustration to get to us, it is very easy to begin lashing out at those around us.  Sometimes we rationalize it thinking we need to get angry to deter people from taking advantage of or harming us, but usually it is just our frustration that boils over.  Because we are Dharma practitioners, we know we are not supposed to get angry, so outwardly we pretend to be calm, but internally we are just repressing our frustration until it eventually blows up in some dramatic fashion.  We develop deep resentment for those who put us down again and again and again, and sometimes we can no longer keep it in and we lash out.  This is the nature of samsaric life.  When we do lash out, it invariably makes things worse.  We then either “double down” on our anger and get mad again, or we start repressing again waiting for the next volcanic eruption to occur. 

How do we stop this hellish cycle?  We need to stop it at its root.  Once anger has started, it is very difficult to rein back in.  But we cannot repress our anger, because doing so just guarantees one day it will explode.  The root of anger is wishing things were different than they are.  We wish those around us weren’t so difficult.  We wish life wasn’t so difficult.  We wish we could just have a moment to take a rest.  But the tighter we grasp onto things needing to go well, the more painful it is when they do not.  Samsara is wave after wave of aggravating circumstances.  This is its very nature.  This will never change.

The root of the problem is we want the wrong things.  We want what our eight worldly concerns want (pleasant experiences, happiness, a good reputation, praise, etc.).  In short, we want to experience good effects.  This is the root of our problem.  Instead, we need to want to create good causes.  Bad effects now are the karmic echoes of our past bad causes.  Good causes now are the karmic seeds of future good effects.  We cannot take with us into our future lives the good effects we experience now, but we can take with us the good karmic causes we create for ourselves.  They are our real inner wealth.  The inner wealth of good causes is to bodhisattvas what money is to business people or power is to politicians. 


One thought on “Vows, commitments and modern life: Retaliating to harm or abuse (part 1)

  1. Good post.

    One of the keys to being assertive is knowing ‘what I want’. Assertive people are neither passive nor aggressive and are rarely harmed, they pull their own strings. Once knowing what it is ‘I want’ and investigating how to really get it can that person really begin to work for that thing, in this context – their own happiness and the happiness of others.

    Many would say: I want happiness but I don’t know really understand how it comes about. So I want to surround myself with things that seem to make me happy. I also don’t want suffering and want to protect myself from it and hold myself so I don’t get harmed but I don’t really understand what suffering really is.

    As Kadam Ryan says, the root of the problem is we want the wrong things. This is a type of ignorance. Not knowing what causes happiness and suffering, being deceived about what is true. But most us try to practice non-harm, compassion. Yet still harm others. Here I would say, practice self-compassion and patience with ourself. We know that anger is poison. And we know we should stop anger from arising. But it will arise because of karma it is inevitable at this stage.

    “I have created this which means, I can have complete power over it” if I take responsibility of the harm I receive, I am empowered by it. It is within my control. Instead of blaming the external situation, person or thing I can now learn to create what is most beneficial.

    The same is true of harm. On one hand, we do not want harm and on the other, we welcome it by harming others. This is ignorance.

    Retaliation is a manifestation of our own lack of investigation into what causes suffering and happiness.

    This does not mean we do nothing. We respond with skilful means in the wisdom light of knowing. The situations we find orselves in with others are karmic echoes of past actions. If I continue to assent to the mistaken appearances that I, myself, am being harmed then this is what I will continue to experience, in life after life.

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