Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Stopping anger early

(6.8) Therefore, I should never allow this fuel of mental unhappiness
That causes anger to grow within my mind,
For this enemy of anger has no function
Other than to harm me.

(6.9) I will not allow anything that happens to me
To disturb my mental peace.
If I become unhappy, I shall be unable to fulfil my spiritual wishes
And my practice of virtue will decline.

In Joyful Path, Geshe-la explains the stages by which delusions develop.  In the case of anger, first we view an external object as being unpleasant and we conceive of it as being a cause of our suffering, then we exaggerate its bad qualities through inappropriate attention, and finally we assent to this exaggeration as if it were actually true.  Geshe-la explains that it is very hard to counter a delusion once they are in full force, but that it is much easier to do so early in its development.  We can think of delusion as like a wildfire.  Viewing an external object as being unpleasant is like the spark, inappropriate attention is like fanning the flames with the wind, and assenting to the exaggeration is allowing the flames to spread in our mind.

The most effective way to stop anger is to prevent it from ever arising in our mind in the first place by stopping the delusion at this first stage.  Ultimately, we do this through a realization of emptiness, understanding how nothing exists from its own side so nothing is actually inherently an unpleasant object.  From a Tantric perspective, we can view everything as a manifestation of the bliss and emptiness of our own mind.  All things are equally pure to a pure mind, therefore there is no basis for anger to arise.  But such a realization is perhaps a long ways off.  What can we do now?

For me, faith in Dorje Shugden accomplishes the same practical function as a realization of emptiness.  I have requested Dorje Shugden (and continue to request him every day) that he arrange everything so that it is “perfect” for my swiftest possible enlightenment.  I have offered to him all of my karma and requested him to manage its ripening for me.  In our Dorje Shugden prayers we say, “all the attainments I desire arise from merely remembering you.”  By simply remembering Dorje Shugden with faith, this “unpleasant object” is transformed mentally into “perfect for my practice.”  If it is perfect, it is no longer a cause of my suffering, rather it is a cause of enlightenment.  If it is perfect, I do not wish it to be any different, and therefore there is no basis for anger to arise in my mind.

We can stop delusions at the second stage by stopping all inappropriate attention.  Inappropriate attention has two parts, the first is we focus on the wrong things and second we exaggerate.  For example, we live in a human realm where virtually all of our conditions are outstanding.  We have ample food, shelter, resources, the environment is relatively clean, we largely live in peace free from war, we live in free countries with stable (though often ineffective) governments.  By and large, compared with the overwhelming majority of living beings in samsara, our external conditions are outstanding.  But if we focus 99% of our attention on the 1% of the problem, it will feel to us as if 99% of our experience is problematic.  This is simply not an objective assessment of our situation.  Restoring balance to our attention, in other words, “seeing the good,” can help us see our suffering in perspective.  Yeah, things are not perfect, but they are pretty darn good in the big picture of things.

We likewise need to be very mindful not to exaggerate how bad things are.  Have you noticed that the more you tell a particular story of your suffering, the more the story grows with each telling?  Maybe we don’t even notice, but very often we will overstate what happened and leave out mitigating factors.  When we dwell on things within our mind, we feed our anger and amplify he harm.  We then feel so hurt, and once again renew our blaming of something outside of ourselves when in reality our exaggeration is us harming ourselves far more than the other person harmed us.  Inappropriate attention of everything that is wrong gradually crowds out our ability to see anything good until eventually everything we see is yet another cause of our suffering and we feel trapped, suffocated by the crushing weight of an impure world.  While our body may be in a human realm, our mind will have sunk down into a lower realm.

There is a very close relationship between our mind and our body.  Persistent inappropriate attention harms our mind so much that it can also eventually harm our brain and its chemical balance, throwing us into what can sometimes be prolonged bouts of deep depression.  Having witnessed seasonal depression of my mother growing up and a profound depression of somebody close to me, I can say without a doubt it is a horrible thing to go through.  Not only is one’s mind pervaded by darkness, one loses all confidence in one’s ability to dig oneself out of it.  The feeling, quite simply, is “everything is bad, and I am unable to get out of it.”  Those who have some experience of Dharma then compound their depression with guilt.  They know it is just their mind and their karma, but they can’t stop it, so they feel guilty and like a failure.  It is hell.  It is true some people are born with a genetic predisposition to become depressed, and so falling into depression is easier; but in all cases the path that leads to depression is always the same:  inappropriate attention.  If we want to avoid this mental hell, we must stop it in its earliest stages of development by developing appropriate attention.  If we don’t, the mental pit we fall into can take months or even years to get out of.

3 thoughts on “Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Stopping anger early

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head in describing the guilt that a Dharma practitioner can feel when they experience depression. Depression is always awful and can be extremely difficult to overcome for anyone. Being a Dharma practitioner can make it even harder. The internal conflict between patient acceptance and inappropriate attention is, as you say, hell. Because depression lies, because it tells you that you are not good enough and will never be good enough, it becomes very hard to hold onto faith – but if you can, and if you allow yourself to have compassion for yourself, you can emerge from that deep, dark pit – perhaps with an even stronger connection to the Dharma, a deeper understanding of the dangers of inappropriate attention and anger (especially anger directed at yourself), and with more compassion for others who are victims of their delusions.

  2. Wow. Thank you for your thoroughness and clarity. This is exactly what I need to remember today…and every day.

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