Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: What is wisdom anger?

Jealousy, in particular of towards those we dislike, is a common cause of our anger.  Now Shantideva suggests how we can rejoice in their good fortune instead.

(6.84) People become angry when someone benefits their enemy,
But, whether their enemy receives benefit or not,
It is the enemy’s own anger that urges him to attack;
So it is that anger which is to blame, not the benefactor.

We become angry when somebody helps our enemy, even if it is not helping them to harm us.  If somebody is engaging in a virtuous action towards another, we need to rejoice in that person’s action, not become angry at them!  If we see somebody enjoying themselves with our enemy, we become angry at them.  When we see people happy, we need to rejoice in that happiness, not become angry with them.  In any case, the friend of the enemy has done nothing wrong, so there is no reason to have any bad feelings towards him.  And why is the other person viewed as our enemy in the first place?  The person him/herself is our kind mother, it is their present or past delusions which propelled them to harm us at some point.  To get angry with somebody who has helped our kind mother surely makes no sense.  If we are going to direct our frustration towards anything, it should be the anger in our “enemy’s” mind.  Our objective should be to dispel their anger through healing the relationship.

(6.85) Why, by getting angry, do we throw away our merit,
The faith others have in us, and our other good qualities?
Would it not be better to get angry with anger itself,
For it brings no benefit to us or to others?

We hear this a lot in the Dharma teachings – it’s OK to get angry at the delusion of anger.  But what exactly does that mean and how do we practically put it into practice.  Anger views something as a cause of our suffering and then seeks to harm that cause.  Deluded anger views something external (and inherently existent) as a cause of our suffering, exaggerates the harm we have received, and then seeks to harm the object of our anger in some way.  Wisdom anger (anger directed against delusions) views delusions as the cause of our suffering and seeks to harm them as much as possible.  These are very different things.

The first main difference is the object of blame – an inherently existent external object or a delusion.  The second main difference is the method of harming.  Deluded anger typically retaliates through either mentally “hating/greatly disliking” the other person, grasping at them as a real cause of our suffering; verbally, by saying hurtful or divisive words; or even physically, by harming or even killing the other person.  Wisdom anger harms delusions by identifying them clearly, reducing them through applying Dharma opponents, and finally eliminating them altogether with the wisdom realizing emptiness. 

Wisdom anger can be directed at our own delusions or against the delusions of others.  The process is basically the same.  When we direct it against others, we first identify clearly that the reason why our so-called “enemy” harms us is because they are under the influence of their delusions, and thereby we make a distinction between the person (for whom we have compassion) and the sickness of delusion within their mind (which we want to heal).  To apply opponents to others delusions can take many forms.  The most common form is simply setting a good example.  This we can always do regardless of whether the other person is seeking our advice or not.  When we set a good example, we should do so completely free from any attachment to the other person changing and we should avoid making a point of “showing a good example” as some obvious attempt to shame the other person or show them that what they are doing is wrong.  Additionally, we can pray that those who suffer from delusions receive powerful blessings to pacify the delusions in their mind.  Our prayers will be effective in proportion to the closeness of our karmic connection with the other person, the purity of our motivation in praying for them, and the degree of our faith in the Buddha we are praying to. 

Sometimes we are able to apply the opponents to other’s delusions by offering Dharma advice or Dharma teachings.  But we must be careful here.  Giving unsolicited advice almost always backfires.  If the other person is not genuinely asking us for our advice or we are not highly certain that they have sufficient faith that they will be open to receiving our advice, then we should probably refrain from offering it.  When we offer correct advice to somebody who doesn’t want it, all we do is create the conditions for them to engage in the negative action of rejecting wisdom and grasping even more tightly to their wrong views.  We may feel self-righteous for the great advice we have offered, but in truth we have done harm to the other person by doing so. 

In terms of applying the antidote of the wisdom realizing emptiness to other’s delusions, we can again do so through giving wisdom advice that shows people it is how they mentally relate to things that is the problem, or even give teachings on emptiness itself (again, assuming they are open to receiving our advice).  We can likewise meditate on the emptiness of all phenomena ourself.  The other person’s mind is also empty of inherent existence, which means the delusions that appear to us to be arising in their mind are also empty and mere appearances to our mind.  Anytime we meditate on the emptiness of any phenomena, we purify the contaminated karma giving rise to that appearance.  When we meditate on the emptiness of other’s delusions, we purify the contaminated karma for such delusions to appear.  This is a very profound point. 

In my very first meeting with Gen Tharchin, more than 20 years ago, I was explaining all of the different delusions I saw in my then girlfriend (now wife).  He looked me straight in the eye, and then said, “the faults she appears to have are actually mirror-like reflections of the faults within your own mind.  If you purge these faults from your own mind they will, like magic, gradually disappear from her.”  He then leaned closer and said, “and never forget, she is an emanation of Vajrayogini (followed by a knowing wink of the eye).”  This is ultimately how Buddhas ripen and liberate us.  They have realized directly the emptiness of all our faults, this realization functions to gradually bless our mind to reduce and finally eliminate all of our faults.  By seeing us as already enlightened beings, they ripen our pure potential and draw out our own good qualities.  By mixing our mind with their minds, we come to adopt their view of us, first seeing the emptiness of our faults and eventually seeing ourselves as fully enlightened beings.  This very brief encounter with the uncomparable Gen Tharchin reveals the very essence of a wisdom Bodhisattva’s way of life.  

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