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.