Vows, commitments and modern life:  Not retaliating, but not being a doormat either.  

Do not retaliate to verbal abuse. 

If someone speaks to us harshly or criticizes us we should never respond with sarcasm or anger.  Sometimes it is justified to respond, but never with anger.    If we do not get angry in return, we can help the other person calm down, but if we get angry in return we just inflame the situation.

In today’s world, it is very rare for people to physically harm us.  From this perspective, we can say that the world we live in is far less hostile and violent than it was in the past.  But we have replaced our physical violence towards others with increased verbal violence towards others.  If we go on-line to non-Kadampa discussion groups, usually what we find is a bunch of people with anonymous names speaking rudely to one another.  We would never talk like this in person with people, but online we get sucked into all sorts of inane verbal battles with people we have never met.  When we are “live” with other people, we will rarely be rude to others directly, but once the person has left our presence we talk behind their back, saying all sorts of disparaging and nasty things.  Since we do this to others, of course others are doing the same towards us.  So we seek our verbal revenge.

Why do people say bad things about us?  Why do people verbally assault us?  The answer is simple:  we did the same to others in the past.  We may be good in this life, but that doesn’t change the fact that we have aeons of karmic nastiness just waiting to ripen.  Everything others do to us is what we did to others in the past.  If we retaliate, we keep the karmic cycle going and it never ends.  If instead, we learn to accept such verbal abuse, we can break the cycle once and for all.

It is important, however, to make a clear distinction between “not retaliating” and “allowing others to abuse us.”  Sometimes people mistakenly think they should do nothing when others are abusive towards us, viewing it as our opportunity to repay some karmic debt.  Not wanting to get angry, they then allow others to mistreat us.  This is wrong.  We do not help others by allowing them to abuse us because the other person creates terrible karma for themselves for the future.  So of course we should use all of the virtuous means at our disposal to prevent others from abusing us.  We just don’t retaliate in kind.

The most effective way to disarm somebody else’s abuse is to simply sit down with them and try to work through your difference with a constructive attitude.  Apologize if you have wronged them in some way.  Genuinely seek to try understand their point of view and why they find you so objectionable.  Doing so will often reveal things about us we never knew.  Most people attack us out of some feeling of insecurity.  If you take the time to understand the basis for their feelings of insecurity and you address those, then often times their attacks will simply disappear.  Geshe-la famously said at the Toronto Fall Festival, “Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies.”  If the other person no longer views you as a threat because you have demonstrated to them you only seek to help, then their anger towards you will be “destroyed” and they will no longer be your enemy.  Sometimes, however, people aren’t interested in resolving their differences with you.  We need to accept this to.  In such a case, the best strategy is usually to say, “when you are ready and willing to work through our differences, my door is always open.”  But until that time arrives, it is generally best to just break off contact and avoid them.  This protects them from creating negative karma towards you.


9 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  Not retaliating, but not being a doormat either.  

  1. In the first sentence you have provided a rule most Buddhists take on. We should never….. Let me explain. Meditating on Lamrim changes our wishes. Keeping our vows helps us to make good decisions.

    With this being said, what happens is that internally our ‘inner rules’ and wishes change. So as Buddhists we get angry about things that ordinary folk do not. We see people wasting their lives, harming each other constantly, we see distraction and engagement in pointless endeavours and it all just winds us up. Our views become somewhat inflexible. We must never, we should never etc because we know the results.

    This is because our inner morals are taking over but what this means is that we also have inner rules that say, don’t get angry, be loving. Which on the surface seems fine but leaves us with our wishes in conflict with what we know deep down we should be doing, which is cherishing others. No teacher has right to say to a student do not get angry. We all get angry. How we deal with the anger is the key. We could also say, never respond with delusion, rely upon a happy mind alone. Again, this comes back to our internal wishes. It is preference in how we view our samsara.

    I would prefer if I do not retaliate as this is beneficial to myself and others. Never get angry. These statements are worlds apart.

    Anger is all about ACTION. Our wishes are unfulfilled. We cannot do what we want to do. Things don’t go according to our inner morals. Our samsara seems unpredictable and uncertain not according to the plan. Anger is spiritual impotence in disguise. You get stuck in how things ought to be, should be, should never be, not how things actually are in reality.

    Recognise, reduce and abandon is the way of sutra. Enhance, intensify, transform is the way of Tantra. ONLY in Tantra can anger really be overcome. Anger is explicitly accepted as being ok to generate because of the sheer power the minds of anger ride.

    • I don’t want to get into a debate, but I don’t know of anywhere Geshe-la says anger is OK to generate. It’s only function is to harm. It is true anger will arise, ultimately in resposne to attachment, but we don’t actually use attachment we use the pleasant feelings normally associated with attachment to realize the very subtle mind of great bliss by disconnecting the object of attachment with the pleasant feeling. The general approach is: Tantra is used to cut the delusion of attachment, patient acceptance is used to cut the delusion of anger.

  2. Geshe-las books offer much suggested reading, he hasn’t mentioned lots of
    things. But we can be clear:
    Geshe-la has never stated anywhere in any books that anger is OK to
    So why mention trying to generate uncontrolled, harmful poison in my mind?
    If that is the meaning.

    The real cure for poison is Tantra, what is the importance of delusion in

    Delusions are specifically abandoned by controlling the winds and purifying
    the wind it rides, it gives rise to the emptiness of that mind that attains
    true cessations. It is this that protects us from suffering. It is the
    emptiness of the mind that attains complete abandonment of any obstruction
    through a true path. This cannot be done in Sutra as it does not mention
    the subtle minds up to the various clear light minds.

    The mind of anger only functions to harm, like some crazed animal in our
    mind. It is a delusion because it is uncontrolled, it has no inherent
    existence and transforming attachment is often used to explain a
    transformation of feelings in Tantra. But this is still working with
    delusion not the winds it rides.

    In Tantra, delusions are not the main objects to be abandoned, they are
    given very little importance. Much greater importance is placed upon
    locating and purifying impure winds since impure minds arise in dependance
    of them. You cannot have pure winds without pure minds. Once you know how
    to find the source of poison, you don’t try and generate more of it you
    simply purify it. Transforming pleasurable feelings (that would usually get
    us grasping at it as outside mind) is only one method of generating bliss
    in Tantra and that goes from Action Tantra up to HYT but more often in the
    lower Tantras.

    When dealing with wind in Tantra, once you start working with the winds, it
    is in fact entirely appropriate and beneficial to expose and generate these
    minds in a controlled way since it provides the basis of locating the wind,
    the impure mind which it is mounted upon. Our mind will still be
    uncontrolled at this point but our awareness is wisdom. You do this either
    peacefully, through mere observation from the Dharmakaya ( a bit like
    silent watcher ) or you do it forcefully by generation. Buddha has given extensive teachings on this in the Tantras but is not widespread for obvious reasons.

    It has nothing to do with transforming, the chief objective is not to
    transform delusion but to locate wind. This is a completion stage
    perspective. You do not even need to use any transformation.
    Geshe-la reveals a method in one of the books where he mentions that
    stimulating the I to arise by recalling times when we are embarrassed,
    afraid and so forth, our I will appear vividly. This is similar.

    Essentially, locating wind trumps transforming delusion.

  3. Page 15, Tantric Grounds and Paths, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso:

    “Qualified Tantric practitioners are not afraid of delusions. Indeed in some Tantras Buddha gives Tantric practitioners permission to develop desirous attachment, and in other Tantras he gives them permission to develop anger and jealousy. Tantric practitioners do not regard delusions as their principal objects to be abandoned. They do have the intention to abandon them eventually”

    It is to be rejoiced and commended for Sutra practitioners to abandon anger. If you know someone who sincerely practices working with the wind energies, at completion stage level, we should also rejoice.

  4. If when living in good conditions and acting with freedom you don’t act to hold yourself back, when you have fallen into the abyss and lost your freedom how shall you ever raise yourself from there in the future?!

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