Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: We are harming them by serving as their object of anger

Now is when Shantideva starts to get very radical.

(6.47) Although those who harm me
Are provoked into doing so by my own karma,
It is they who will take rebirth in hell as a result;
So, is it not I who harm them?

(6.48) By depending upon them as my objects of patience,
I can purify many non-virtues;
But by depending upon me as their object of anger,
They will fall for a long time into hellish states of suffering.

(6.49) Thus, since it is I who inflict harm on them
And they who benefit me,
Why, unruly mind, do you distort things so
By becoming angry with them?

Here, Shantideva explains that when we look closely, we see it is not we who are being harmed when somebody tries to harm us – we are purifying our negative karma; rather, it is the other person who is being harmed because they are creating negative karma for themselves.  Seen in this way, we are actually the one receiving benefit and they are the ones being harmed.  Why are they harmed?  Because we have not yet purified the negative karma on our mind to serve as an object of anger for them.  Our unpurified negative karma compels them to harms us.  Besides not retaliating (more on that below), two conclusions can be drawn from this.  First, we must purify our negative karma so that we no longer serve as an object of anger for others; and second, if we can get out of a harmful/abusive situation, we must do so because for us to remain means we are harming the person by continuing to be the object of their anger when we could otherwise escape.

For the most part we try to bring out good things in others.  But we have to acknowledge that we sometimes bring out bad things too. When we bring out these bad things, we can’t get angry with them. Why are those bad things coming out? Why are they acting in the ways that they do, such as getting angry with us, criticizing us, disagreeing with us, not accepting what we want them to do, shouting at us, and so forth?  Perhaps it’s something to do with us. Perhaps we’ve got something to sort out. We cannot get angry with them, if things come out of their mind and they behave in the way that they do, in perhaps harmful or negative ways. We must be patient and help them, really try to help them to change their karma and try to change our own karma.  Especially those with whom we have a strong connection, we must try to help.

We don’t want them to create the cause for even more suffering by getting angry at them through retaliation, making matters worse for them.  If we do, then they will become more upset and more angry, and even develop bad thoughts towards other people.  We need to remind ourselves it is in dependence upon the karma we have created to be their object of harm that they create the cause of suffering.  In this sense, we’re harming them.  We’re harming them simply by being the object of their anger. We harm them by serving as their object of anger.  They benefit us by serving as the object of our patience.  Why on earth do we become angry with them? Surely, we must take the opportunity to practice patience, to be considerate, kind … and return their kindness by patiently helping them.

Thinking in this way naturally gives rise to a series of objections.  Shantideva now explores them.

(6.50) If I maintain this positive view,
I shall not create the cause to be reborn in hell;
But, although I protect myself through the practice of patience,
The same effect will not ripen on others.

From a karmic point of view, when we practice in this way, when others harm us we receive benefit, but they still accumulate negative karma.

(6.51) “Then would it not be better to return their harm?”
No! Retaliation would not protect them;
It would just cause my Bodhisattva vow to degenerate
And destroy my practice of patience.

Perhaps we should be the object of their patience, after all they need to practice patience. We will give them the opportunity. It does happen!  Perhaps we tell someone off because we feel they need to learn patience. This is just our anger hijacking our Dharma to try rationalize getting angry at others.  If we follow this way of doing things, the other person will just get angry back.

One thought on “Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: We are harming them by serving as their object of anger

  1. Patience gives me the courage to see the mirror of Dharma.

    How blessed we are to have others as our constant spiritual Guides.

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