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.