Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Why do we get most angry at those we love?

(6.66) Embodied beings are harmed
By both animate and inanimate objects;
So why become angry only with animate ones?
We should be patient with both types of harm.

When there is bad weather, or some device isn’t working properly, we don’t get angry at the weather or the device.  We might be frustrated, but we realize the futility of getting angry at inanimate things.  It’s not the weather’s fault it is bad, it just is.  We don’t get mad at our device because we know it will make no difference, though we might get mad at whoever made the device.  The point is we can see in our life that we don’t get angry – or at least not as angry – at inanimate things as we do animate ones. 

Yet, generally we find it more difficult to be patient with people. I believe we are particularly impatient with people who are closest to us, especially our family.  On the surface it is odd that we usually get more angry at those we love the most.  I believe this comes from three factors.  First, we expect more from our family, so they fail to meet our expectations more easily.  Second, we tend to take out our frustrations on those we know are more likely to forgive us or who are kindest to us.  And third, because we spend more time with our family, so their behavior is a slight irritant at first and absolutely intolerable after the 37th time! 😊

We also tend to get most angry at our family during the holiday season.  During the holidays, we have this unrealistic expectation that everything go perfectly, and so life’s minor annoyances are seen as a much bigger deal.  We also have higher expectations of others, thinking because it is the holidays they should be on better behavior, but delusions know no calendar.  In particular, it is very easy to expect gratitude around the holidays.  We work so hard to create a good experience for everyone, and they inevitably complain or focus on what is wrong.  The truth is all of this is normal.  As a general rule, we should expect problems, difficulties, and inconveniences.  That is the norm.  If we are at peace with this fact – it is the nature of samsara, after all – then when these things happen it won’t be a problem because we don’t expect it to be any different.

We make great effort to gather family and friends around us and then we become angry with them when they don’t act according to our wishes.  That’s terrible.  A bodhisattva doesn’t need others to change at all.  He accepts others as completely perfect just the way they are.  Because he doesn’t need people to change for his own purposes, he is able to accept others and help them according to their wishes.  Others will be unhappy, deluded, and grumpy.  So why should that be a problem for us?  It is just another opportunity for us to practice Dharma.  Somebody with the mind of patient acceptance doesn’t need others to act in any particular way – we can accept them as they are.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t respond normally or stop them from harming others if we can.  The point is we don’t get angry with them because we don’t expect it to be any different and because we view their behavior as an opportunity for us to train. 

As well we need to take into account, seriously take into account, the capacity of the people around us.  We shouldn’t take into account only what needs to be done, but also the karma and capacity of the people around.  If we don’t accept the karma in play, we can easily expect more than is possible and become angry when it doesn’t happen.  By listening to others, we can come to know where they are coming from, and in this way find the balance between encouraging them and expecting too much from them.  We have the Dharma and have been practicing for many years, yet we still get upset and deluded.  How much harder is it for somebody who doesn’t have the Dharma and hasn’t been training?  We don’t expect a baby to be able to lift up a couch, yet we expect others to be able to emotionally lift up their mind when life gets difficult for them.  That’s not fair. 

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