Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Who are the real heros?

(6.19) Whenever I experience hardship,
I should fight my delusions, such as anger;
And whenever I experience physical pain,
I should use wisdom to maintain a pure and peaceful mind.

(6.20) Those who disregard all suffering
To destroy the foes of anger and so forth
Are the true conquerors worthy of the name “hero”;
Other so-called heroes merely slay corpses.

There are two main pieces of advice Shantideva is giving us here:  First, we should use every experience of suffering to strengthen our determination to win the war against our delusions.  This is called armour-like effort, where the more we suffer the more motivated we are to practice.  Second, we need to be ready to endure whatever difficulties there may be in the name of completing the path.  This is called the power of steadfastness.  Athletes, business people, soldiers, etc., are ready to endure enormous suffering and difficulty to accomplish worldly goals.  As Bodhisattvas, we should be willing to endure any difficulty on the path because the cause we are working for is so great.  A Bodhisattva will happily do so, knowing that because they have the courage and strength to do so, countless living beings will become freed from their suffering.

We have difficulty doing this because our attachment to pleasant feelings and worldly concerns is stronger than our spiritual intentions.  Our self-cherishing makes us concerned only about our happiness and our immediate freedom from our difficulties.  We give in to this, and as a result remain forever trapped.  If we want to break out of our delusions we have to be willing to endure temporary difficulty to gain long term freedom.  If we don’t, we will endure temporary difficulties forever and never break free.  This is our choice.  Kadampa’s see this is the choice and happily endure the difficulties, knowing they are bound for freedom and the ability to lead others to the same sate.

Some people mistakenly feel situations which provoke delusions are obstacles to our spiritual practice.  Quite the opposite, it is those situations that normally provoke delusions which are our opportunities to practice.  Every situation that provokes a delusion in us is an opportunity to train in its opponent.  Once again, we need to make a distinction between the ripening of a deluded tendency similar to the cause and generating a new mental action of a delusion.  A new action of a delusion follows a simple formula:  deluded tendency + assenting to it as being true = mental action of delusion.  If a deluded tendency for anger, for example, ripens, and we subsequently assent to that tendency as being true (strongly believing this external thing is indeed a cause of our suffering and wishing to harm that external thing), then we generate a new mental action of a delusion.  But if a deluded tendency ripens but we respond to it by NOT believing it to be true, and instead by generating the opponent to that delusion, then far from generating a new delusion, we actually just engaged in the virtuous action of the “moral discipline of restraint.”  This mental action creates the cause for upper rebirth and plants new tendencies on our mind which will make virtuous responses increasingly natural in the future.  If situations which normally give rise to delusion are in fact opportunities to practice, then quite literally there is no such thing as an obstacle to our Dharma practice.

There will be times when we experience physical pain, such as stubbing a toe or even having cancer.  At such times, our main practice should be to recall the wisdom of emptiness.  Quite simply, we try break the identification with our body.  If our friend stubs their toe, does it hurt us?  No.  Why?  Because we are not identifying with that toe as our own.  Yet when we stub our toe it hurts.  Why the difference?  Because we are identifying with our toe as being our own.  Every time we experience any pain, we should think, “not my body.”  We can observe the pain, but not identify with it as being our own.  If we see somebody hurt in a movie, we don’t experience any pain because we are in the audience.  In the same way, when we see this body being hurt, we should take a step back into the theater of the clear light emptiness and observe from a distance the movie of the hurt body.  I have a friend who has fibromyalgia, which is an experience of constant bodily pain.  She wrote Geshe-la asking for advice, and he said, “meditate on the emptiness of your body.”  This can be accomplished through breaking our identification with our body or dissolving our body into clear light by meditating on its emptiness.

Another useful way of doing this is to try “find the pain.”  The interesting thing about pain is the more you go looking for it, the more it disappears.  Very often doctors will ask us, “where does it hurt?”  And we point to our arm.  But don’t be satisified with such generalized identification, try identify exactly where it hurts.  When you probe deeper and deeper you can’t actually find the pain anywhere, and it goes away.  I agree, this is not easy; and I agree, it won’t work perfectly right away.  But if we are persistent with this practice, it does become more and more effective.  This does not mean we shouldn’t still take pain killers if we have them, but it does mean we can also apply the ultimate pain killer of the wisdom realizing emptiness.

Defeating external enemies does not make us a hero.  A true hero is able to defeat the internal enemies of their delusions.  Those who have done so are true conquerors, and their victory has actual meaning.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  We suffer in proportion to our non-acceptance

(6.16) I should not become impatient
With heat and cold, wind and rain,
Or sickness, confinement, or beatings;
For, if I do, the pain will only increase.

We try then to increase our capacity to experience suffering with a patient mind.  We all have to start somewhere, build and increase that capacity, until eventually we are able to accept all the sufferings of human life.  When we have patient acceptance, it is not that there is a hardness of mind, we become so tough that nothing gets through to us.  Rather, it’s that there is no longer any resistance, any rejection in our mind. There’s actually an openness of mind.  Accommodating.  Open, accommodating, and peaceful.  And in this way, our mind becomes stronger.

How do we reconcile renunciation and patient acceptance?  It seems that acceptance says we should accept whatever suffering, whereas renunciation says we need to reject all suffering.  Actually, the mind of patient acceptance is the foundation of renunciation.  How so?  Renunciation can only arise in the mind of somebody who has accepted, fully and completely, that samsara is the nature of suffering.  As long as we are holding out that happiness can be found within it, we will not be sufficiently motivated to get out.  It is by fully accepting samsara is the nature of suffering that we become prepared to leave it behind.  Not accepting suffering is the same as thinking samsara should be giving us happiness.

Renunciation is developed with a very simple mathematical formula:  patient acceptance + correct identification of the problem = renunciation.  If we grasp at “samsara” as being some inherently existent external world, then we will develop aversion for everything in our lives.  Aversion is not renunciation, it is a delusion.  We have to correctly identify what our problem is, namely our delusions.  Samsara is not the world, it is the world as seen and experienced through the lens of our delusions.  More precisely, it is the world projected by our delusions.  The mind of renunciation is a wisdom that understands delusions can never fix the problems created by delusions.  It is a wisdom that understands deluded, impure glasses will perceive a deluded, impure world; but pure glasses will perceive a pure world.  By purifying our mind and abandoning all delusions, the world created by our delusions will simply cease to appear; and in its place, a new, pure world will appear.

The world we currently perceive is the karmic echo of our past delusions.  This karma is ripening, so we must accept it for what it is.  What gives us the power to accept is our ability to use everything, good or bad, for our spiritual progress.  Each contaminated appearance is another reminder to abandon our delusions.  If we are pushing away our suffering, or rejecting it, then we are not using it.  I would go so far as to say the mind that can patiently accept everything is, functionally speaking, liberation since if we can accept our difficulties they are no longer experienced as “suffering.”  A mind that can accept everything is a mind free from all suffering.

(6.17) Some, when they see their own blood,
Become even stronger and braver;
While for others, just seeing someone else’s blood
Causes them to become weak and even to faint!

(6.18) Both these reactions depend on the mind –
Whether it is strong or it is weak –
So I should disregard any harm that befalls me
And not allow myself to be affected by suffering.

We need to make a clear distinction between what is hard to do and that which is worth doing.  Many people when they hear about the path and overcoming delusions object saying, “but it is so hard.”  Yes, it is hard.  But what does that have to do with anything?  Just because it is hard does not mean it is not worth doing.  The real question is, “what is harder:  doing the path or not doing the path?”  It is far harder to not do the path because then we remain in samsara forever.  Following the path is hard, but it has an end to it and will deliver us from all suffering.  Not following the path might be easier in the short-run, but is infinitely harder in the long-run.  In short, we have no rational choice to not practice.

I’ll admit it, I like war movies and I like the Rocky movies.  These movies always follow the same pattern.  An underdog confronts nearly insurmountable odds, but through the force of their perseverance and ingenuity, they overcome and emerge victorious.  There is always some point where they face the prospect of defeat, then dig deep and give it that extra effort which pushes them through.  Samsara will knock us down – again and again.  Sometimes really hard.  Just as we get up, it will knock us down yet again.  But the hero never gives up, they keep getting up as many times as it takes.  In World War II, in the darkest days of the Battle of Britain, Winston Churchill famously came out and simply said, “Never give up!  Never give up!  Never give up!” and then he went back inside.  That is the mind we need.

I believe to attain enlightenment we only need two things:  armor-like effort and the power of perseverance.  Armor-like effort is a mind that the more it is hit the more determined it is to keep up the fight.  The power of perseverance is a Winston Churchill like mind which will never give up, no matter how long it takes and no matter what the cost.  If we have these two, the mind of patient acceptance comes easy.  With patient acceptance, problems are no longer “suffering.”  On this basis, nothing can stop us from completing the path.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Start with accepting the small stuff

(6.14) There is nothing that is not easy to accomplish
If we develop familiarity with it;
So first I should learn to forbear small sufferings
And then gradually endure greater ones.

(6.15) This can be seen in those who voluntarily endure minor sufferings,
Such as animal or insect bites,
Feelings of hunger or thirst,
Or irritations of the skin.

Modern life is full of countless minor irritations.  From the moment our alarm goes off in the morning until having to get up to pee in the middle of the night, the entire day is filled with one minor annoyance after another.  There is almost nobody who does not awake with a groan, wishing to sleep some more.  Our morning practice is often filled with distractions, sleepiness, or little feeling.  We then have to get into uncomfortable clothes, such as a suit, or uncomfortable shoes, to go to work.  We then have to fight traffic only to arrive at work with an inbox filled with tasks to do and nonsense to sort through.  We have to attend mind-numbing meetings where we listen to those who go off on tangents irrelevant to the group or simply like to hear themselves speak.  We never have everything we need to complete our tasks, so they pile up, deadlines are missed and we feel constant pressure.  There is no time to take a break at lunch, just enough time to refill while eating at our desk.  Our work colleagues seek to blame us for their mistakes or pile their work onto us.  The help we receive is often inadequate or poorly done, requiring us to do it all over again ourselves.  Endless administrative paperwork fills our day.  The long report we have been working hard on lies unread on our bosses desk and nothing of substance ever comes of it.  The people who seem to least deserve it get promoted before us.  We leave work late, battle the traffic again, only to come home to a house filled with things to do, like make dinner, do the dishes, give baths to the little ones, brush the teeth of squirming kids, read the same stories for the umpteenth time, plead the kids to go to bed, and help older kids with their homework which we ourselves sometimes don’t understand.  Then, needing some time to unwind, we crash in front of the TV for a short period of time before going to bed later than we would want to.  Having a sex life seems like a distant memory from college.  Only to have to wake up to go the bathroom in the middle of the night with increasing frequency as we get older, leaving us feeling like we never get a full night’s sleep.  And all of this is just daily life.

Add on top of that financial stress of bills to pay, college tuition to save up for, family members becoming sick, ridiculous conflicts over insignificant slights with our closest relatives, family members who never appreciate what we do and who always complain about everything, weather that is too cold in the winter too wet in the spring and fall and too hot in the summer, never having enough money to do what we want, getting sick ourselves, experiencing death of loved ones, watching teenage dramas playing out with flowing tears, being blamed by our kids for all of the different ways we are a failure as a parent.  All of this only to be greeted with our friend’s Facebook feeds showing smiling faces, delightful vacations, award-winning kids, homemade bread making parties and nature hikes while we remain frazzled, exhausted and feel like a failure.  Speaking of Facebook, nobody has conversations anymore, friends are little more than pixels on our mobile phones.  While “friends” with the world, people have never felt so alone.  Oh, and don’t forget the invasion of ants and cockroaches in your kitchen which you try not to kill because you are a good Buddhist followed by the judgmental attitudes of those wondering why you can’t keep your FP or TTP commitments and make it to all the festivals.

Life is filled with minor annoyances, each one not a big deal, but added together and it becomes unbearable.  Chinese water torture is one drop at a time incessantly, so too is modern life.  Even being beaten with a wet noodle will eventually draw blood if struck enough times.  And we haven’t even confronted big suffering, like the death of a child or the sickness that will finally kill us.  If we can’t learn how to accept the small things, they will add up into a crushing burden.

When we do not accept the minor annoyances, each one takes a toll, and eventually we run out of strength to deal with anymore.  We then get into a very fragile state, where even the slightest problem becomes a huge deal for us because we simply can’t take anymore.  This is the experience of millions, but we always feel as if we are the only one enduring such endless problems.  Welcome to modern life.

Geshe-la said the purpose of our tradition is to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life.  We have modern lives such as these, our job is to bring the Kadam Dharma into them so that they become the training ground in which we attain enlightenment.  There is no task more important than learning to accept our small sufferings.

To accept them does not mean to endure them, rather it means to use them in some meaningful, spiritual way.  We can accept them as purification, use them as a reminder of the nature of samsara, view them as an opportunity to train our mind in patience and love, use them as a reminder of the far greater suffering of others and thereby generate compassion, we can recall that in and of themselves, they are nothing, just mere karmic appearances of mind; we can transform them into our pure land with our tantric practice (the charnel grounds resemble quite closely modern life…), we can view ourselves as an emanation sent into this world to help others.  Or we can just take a step back into our clear light mind and watch it all pass like clouds in the sky.  The point is simple:  we either learn how to use these minor annoyances or they will eventually crush us under their constantly accumulating weight.  By learning to accept the small stuff, we can eventually gain the ability to transform worse and worse sufferings until eventually everything for us is an equal dance of bliss and emptiness.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Accepting suffering is the foundation of renunciation

After his introduction to patient acceptance, Shantideva goes on to describe the three types of patience in which we should train.  There are three kinds of situation in which we need to learn to be patient.  One is when we are experiencing suffering, at which time we should practice the patience of voluntarily accepting suffering.  Another is when we are practicing Dharma, at which time we should practice the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma.  Third is when we are harmed or criticized by others, we should practice the patience of not retaliating.

The first type of patience we need to train in is the patience of voluntarily accepting suffering:

(6.12) In samsara, the causes of happiness rarely occur,
Whereas the causes of suffering are innumerable.
Without suffering, there would be no renunciation;
Therefore, mind, you should remain firm.

This is how it is. We have to accept this.  “In samsara, the causes of happiness rarely occur, whereas the causes of suffering are innumerable.”  We cannot change that. That’s what we have to accept within samsara.  As explained in the previous post, the teachings on the nature of samsara are essentially a giant exercise in expectations management.  We get angry because we expect things to go differently.  When we let go of that expectations, we cease getting angry.

Recognizing samsara is the nature of suffering is the basis for developing renunciation.  It can only dawn within the clear and open mind of patient acceptance.  If we cannot accept the nature of samsara, we cannot develop renunciation.  If we cannot accept suffering whilst in samsara, we cannot accept that samsara is in the very nature of suffering.  For as long as we’re in samsara we will continue to experience suffering; if we cannot accept any of this, then we will not be able to develop renunciation.  This is a very important point.

Without renunciation we will never find the freedom we seek.  Without renunciation our suffering will never come to an end.  The end of our suffering depends upon renunciation, which in turn depends upon acceptance of how things are within samsara. We still don’t accept, which is why still we have no renunciation. We haven’t developed authentic renunciation because there is a lack of acceptance in our mind.

In Transform Your Life, Geshe-la says, “patience allows us to see clearly the mental habit patterns that keep us locked in samsara, and thereby enables us to begin to undo them.”  Change leading to the attainment of a pure mind and pure body takes place in dependence upon possessing a mind of acceptance.  Or we can say such change can’t take place if there is no mind of acceptance. Then we remain a samsaric being.  We remain a samsaric being for as long as there is no such acceptance in our mind. Change, improvement, depends very much on possessing patient acceptance.

There is still much rejection in our mind we need to look at. We ought to look at that rejection.  We still reject that negative actions and self-cherishing are the causes of all our suffering. We still reject that samsara is the nature of suffering, that happiness can’t be found in samsara. We still reject that there are no external enemies or causes of our problems. We still reject our experiences of suffering.  As long as there is a non-acceptance of the way things are, it will be impossible for change to take place and for us to get better.

(6.13) If some ascetics and the people of Karnapa
Can endure the pain of burns and cuts for no great purpose,
Why can I not endure hardships
For the sake of liberating everyone from their suffering?

We cannot tolerate unpleasant, painful things. Why not?  If we look there’s no good reason.  When we do experience pain, what happens? We identify with that pain.  We think ‘I am in pain.’   Then we naturally exaggerate those painful feelings, don’t we? We are in real pain. I am in pain. I am really suffering.  We are like children, always exaggerating whatever pain we experience.

If we are to make progress along the path, we must be willing to endure hardships, knowing that by doing so we are drawing closer to being able to liberate everyone else from their suffering.   When we have a good reason for experiencing pain, we can accept it.  We gladly accept a needle poked into our skin if we know it contains life-saving medicine.  When we know that accepting and working through our suffering is bringing us to enlightenment, which will free all living beings, we will gladly accept it because it has so much meaning.  A former student of mine has severe anxiety and psychotic tendencies.  But his faith in Dorje Shugden is even greater.  He views his situation as Dorje Shugden preparing him to be a Buddha in extremely degenerate times.  He is being given extremely degenerate minds now so he can learn how to practice and transform such a situation, thereby giving him the realizations beings of degenerate times will need.  This is perfect.  As Shantideva says, “why can I not endure hardships for the sake of liberating living beings from suffering?”  It’s a good question, why not?

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  What do you expect?

(6.11) People do not want suffering, criticism,
Harsh words, or anything unpleasant
For themselves or for their friends;
But for their enemies it is the opposite!

Bad things are happening to everybody all of the time.  When bad things happen to those we love, we become angry; when bad things happen to those we dislike, we become happy.  Both reactions are completely wrong.  The first reaction is wrong because getting angry just makes things worse and does nothing to solve the problem.  The second reaction is wrong because rejoicing in the suffering of others creates the karmic causes for ourselves to experience the same suffering in the future.  The correct reaction in both cases is to develop compassion.  We cannot develop compassion for our enemies unless we love them, so our first task is to learn to love everyone.

Sometimes people hear the teachings on how samsara is the nature of suffering and they develop all sorts of wrong understandings.  Some people become very depressed, viewing everything as somehow inherently the nature of suffering and there is nothing we can do about it other than be miserable.  Others wrongly think that it is somehow wrong to be happy since everything is the nature of suffering, instead we should be miserable and grim.  They transform the Joyful Path into the Eeyore Path.  These views are also completely wrong.  Instead, we need to lower our expectations to zero.

If we check, our suffering largely arises out of the gap between our expectations and reality.  We expect things to go well, and when they don’t we become unhappy.  If instead we expect nothing from anybody or anything, and we expect things to always go wrong (but be at peace with that possibility), then if things go wrong we are not unhappy because we didn’t expect anything different.  If things go better than terrible, we are then pleasantly surprised that things turned out better than we expected.  Seen in this way, the teachings on renunciation are, in fact, a giant exercise in expectations management.

The key here is to be able to be at peace with the possibility that everything will always go wrong.  What enables us to be at peace with this possibility?  We know how to “accept” things going wrong as perfect for our spiritual progress.  In other words, we know how to use our suffering.  Since what we want is to make spiritual progress and our suffering helps us to do that, it is no longer a problem for us.  We can “accept it.”  In Transform Your Life, Geshe-la describes patient acceptance as “welcoming wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are.”  In other words we must try to accept fully the situation as it is. Try to accept fully the person as they are. The situation is just how it is. This person is how they are, that’s how they are.

Again we’ll find resistance, thinking, “it’s just not right that the situation is like this, the person is like this.” What’s not right?  What’s actually wrong?  We’re in samsara.  It’s perfectly right and normal for samsara. That’s what things are like in samsara, that’s how people behave.  What do we expect within samsara? Everything to be right?  What’s actually wrong is our mind, because if we put our mind right, everything else will be too. Nothing goes wrong in Geshe-la’s mind, because Geshe-la’s out of samsara.

If we check closely, if we feel that there’s something wrong, it’s an indication that there’s something wrong in our mind.  What are we actually becoming unhappy about?  The problem actually, as Geshe-la has told us so many times, the problem is in our mind.  If we feel that there’s not a problem, with a person, a situation, with the way they’re behaving, then we won’t become unhappy.  We become angry when we’re not accepting the situation for what it is, we’re not accepting the person for what they’re doing.

What would the correct approach be to someone whom we know to be engaging in harmful action, for example?  What we tend to feel is if we are fully accepting of the situation as it is, the person and how they’re behaving, we’ve gone to an extreme.  Are we simply to let be, or not? To let be. This is how it is. This is what they’re like. This is what they’re saying, this is what they’re doing.  Complete acceptance.  Of course we won’t become unhappy; we’ll have a very, very peaceful mind.  Have we gone to an extreme?  What happens when something appears to be wrong, what do we do? We go straight in, make changes straightaway. What is the middle way?  The answer is found in the previous verse:  if we can do something about it, do it; if we can’t, accept it.


Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  If you can do something about it, do it

(6.10) If something can be remedied
Why be unhappy about it?
And if there is no remedy for it,
There is still no point in being unhappy.

We must try to stop ourself becoming unhappy.  Why? Because the anger that may well follow will disturb my peace of mind, it will prevent me from fulfilling my spiritual wishes, it will cause my practice of virtue to decline.

We stop becoming unhappy by training in patient acceptance.  We will talk about this a lot over the next several months of posts.  But this verse is particularly important in this regard.  If there was one verse from the entire chapter we should memorize, this would be it.  The logic here is so simple:  for any situation there are two possibilities:  we can do something about it or we can’t.  If we can do something about it, we should do it.  So there no reason to be unhappy.  If we can’t do something about it, we should just accept it.  Our being unhappy about it won’t improve the situation in any way, in fact it will just make us more miserable as we experience it.  So there is never a point in being unhappy or worrying.

This verse explains when we should practice patient acceptance.  Geshe-la gives the example of having a headache.  If we have a headache, there is something we can do about it, namely take an aspirin.  So we should take the aspirin.  But the medicine usually takes about 20 minutes before it kicks in.  There is nothing we can do about this discomfort, so we should patiently accept it.  The same is true for any and all suffering.

In addition to showing how we practice patient acceptance, this example also helps us avoid extreme attitudes towards taking medicines.  Ultimately, of course, the supreme medicine is Dharma.  This should be our ultimate refuge.  If we change our mind towards our sickness, no longer viewing it as a problem, then we will not suffer even if we become terribly sick.  Every few years or so, there is a strand of incorrect thinking which pulses through the Kadampa world where people mistakenly view taking medicine as some fault.  The thinking goes, “by taking medicine we prevent ourselves from learning how to transform our suffering by changing our mind, so therefore it is wrong to take medicine.”  This sort of thinking once rose all the way to the Deputy Spiritual Director and was taught at the ITTP.  But at Geshe-la has clarified again and again, this way of thinking is completely wrong.

First, just as we have created the karma to experience sickness, so too we have created the karma to have medicines.  If one is our karma, then so is the other.  Second, Geshe-la has never once said we shouldn’t take medicine, in fact again and again he has said our attitude towards medicine should be “exactly as normal.”  Third, this logic runs exactly counter to this verse which says if there is something we can do about it, we should do it.  If we shouldn’t take medicine, why should we work to make money, put on clothes to avoid the cold, eat or even breathe.  What really is the difference between taking medicine and putting on clothes or the heater?  Fourth, this advice to not take medicine is hurtful to those who could otherwise enjoy relief from the medicine.  At a minimum, if people don’t take their medicine they will experience more pain; at worst, their sickness might become worse and worse and they never recover.  Sure, it sounds all heroic to hear of stories of people who forewent medicine, but unseen are the thousands of others who suffered more unnecessarily due to this wrong advice.  Fifth, this sort of advice can bring the Dharma into disrepute.  Other people will hear that Kadampas avoid taking medicine, and then people will criticize us as being extreme fanatics, causing fewer people to enter into the Dharma.  If an individual practitioner, as a personal decision, feels it is more beneficial for their practice to forego medicine, that is their individual choice.  But such a thing should not be publicized nor publicly praised for all the reasons just explained.  Our job is to “remain natural while changing our aspiration.”  It is normal to take medicine, Kadampas should too.

In particular, I want to say a few words about taking psychiatric medicines.  People might say, “OK, I agree, we should take our aspirin, cholesterol medicine and even our chemotherapy, but surely taking psychiatric medicines is wrong.  Mental problems require mental solutions.”  This sort of thinking fails to grasp that most psychiatric problems are physical in nature arising from chemical imbalances in the brain.  Physical problems need physical solutions.  Further, sometimes psychiatric illness is so extreme that the person is unable to handle the issue on their own without the medicines, no matter how hard they try.  The mental sickness so incapacitates them that they are incapable of getting better on their own.  The medicines put the person back in the zone where the person’s mental efforts can take the person across the finish line.  I have had a karma in my to know many Dharma practitioners with psychiatric problems.  In each case, telling them to not take medicine was wrong advice and telling them to take their meds was the correct advice.

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.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Understanding the cause of anger

(6.6) Although the enemy of anger
Creates sufferings such as these,
Whoever works hard to overcome it
Will find only happiness in this and future lives.

It is said that after the era of Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings come to a close, the world will enter into what is known as the “age of weapons.”  During this time, the minds of living beings are so filled with anger that they develop a special “wisdom” which enables them to see how every object can be used as a weapon to harm others.  It is important to note, the transition from one age to another is not a night and day sort of transition, but rather a gradual transition where parts of the world enter this age before others.  I believe we are already seeing the beginnings of this age.  If we look to wars like Syria or Bosnia before that, if we look to terrorism leaving the battlefields of the Middle East and entering into our discotheques, if we look at the increasing violence between police and minority communities in the United States, if we look at the vitriol thrown around casually in on-line discussion forums and our politics, we can see the beginnings of the age of weapons already taking place.  Observing these things can sometimes lead to great despair.

But the truth is this:  the whole world is created by our own mind, and as long as we can keep the minds of love and patience manifest within our mind, the longer we hold back the tide of anger in our world.  In a world that is drowning, some people need to strive to swim to the surface.  If we never give up our practice of patience, we will, one day, overcome our anger.  Anger is not an intrinsic part of us, rather it is just a bad habit of mind.  Like all habits, they can be broken.  Venerable Tharchin said for every step we take towards enlightenment, we bring all living beings with us in proportion to their karmic relationship with us.  Overcoming our own anger is not just an issue of survival of our own mind, but rather it is the very means by which we can prevent this world from sinking into the abyss.  When my wife taught primary school, she had a banner in her classroom that said, “peace beings with you.”  More deeply, peace begins with cultivating the mind of patience.

(6.7) Through having to do what I do not want to do
Or being prevented from doing what I want to do,
I develop mental unhappiness, which becomes the fuel
That causes anger to grow and destroy me.

Why do we become angry?  All of our actions are in fact motivated by our basic wish to be happy all the time and be free from all suffering.  We become angry because we mistakenly think the cause of our suffering is something external, so the mind of anger seeks to destroy this cause.  It looks like it works. We become angry and change takes place. Where there was a problem, we feel that through an action motivated by anger, the problem goes.  It looks like we’ve destroyed the cause of our problem.  But we are not understanding that anger itself is a cause of our problem.  Anger itself is a cause of our suffering.  Because if we were to remove anger from our mind, we would experience freedom.  It’s what we want – freedom from our problem, freedom from suffering.  Take anger out of our mind, that’s the result.

Quite simply, anger develops in two stages:  Things don’t go the way we want them to go, and then we develop mental unhappiness.  Essentially things don’t live up to our expectations of how things “should” be or how we want them to go.  Because we think our happiness depends on things going that way, when they do not, we become unhappy.  We then look for something to blame for this mental unhappiness so we can end it.  We look at our external situation and think that it is the problem, so we seek to destroy whatever we consider to be causing our mental unhappiness with the wish that it goes away.  This is anger.  It is not that this process occurs as some rational calculation, but these are the internal steps that happen.

We can look at this from the perspective of substantial and circumstantial causes of our anger.  The circumstantial causes are undeniably the way the situation is going externally.  But the substantial cause of the problem is our expectation and attachment to things going differently.  The problem is not how things go, rather our mental expectation/attachment that they go differently.  When this attachment is thwarted we become unhappy.

Understanding this, there are two ways to overcome anger.  First, try manipulate and control all possible circumstantial conditions so that nothing ever happens that we don’t want.  The problem is the more fixed we become on having things go a particular way, the more angry we get and this is impossible.  Second, change our own mind.  This has two parts:  First, set our expectations at absolute zero for everyone and everything samsaric.  Expect things to go wrong, then if it goes anything better than completely wrong we are happy.  If we didn’t have this expectation/attachment then we wouldn’t become unhappy and there would be no basis for anger to develop.  Second, change what we want.  If the only thing we want from a situation is an opportunity to work on our mind and grow spiritually, then every situation will be perfect for us.  We will be happy with everything.  How can we change what we want?  Through a systematic practice of Lamrim.  The main function of Lamrim is to change what we want from worldly wishes to spiritual ones.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  There is no one who can live happily with anger

(6.5) Anger causes friends and relatives to grow weary of me
And, even if I try to attract them with generosity, they will not trust me.
In short, there is no one
Who can live happily with anger.

If we are honest, the primary emotion we show towards others is frustration.  When we communicate to others that they frustrate us it makes them think they are a bad person, and so they start to identify with that and it brings out that very behavior.  It also just makes them feel very bad.  When somebody gets angry with us, we dwell with it for a very long time and we feel really bad about it.  For the most part, people need to feel like they are loved and supported for them to have confidence to go out and grow.  When we get angry with somebody, we betray that love.  It is like emotionally raping them.  Sometimes when our parents or someone we deeply respect becomes angry with us, it can scar us for life.  Our trust and confidence are violated and it takes an enormous amount to earn it back.  The same is true of others who are the victims of our anger.

When we are young, we have a certain ability to absorb and bounce back relatively easy, but over time we store up so much anger that our tank fills up and then we become an angry and bitter person or depressed.  We don’t know where the tipping point is for somebody, but it could very well be that our next bout of anger is the one that fills it up and pushes them over the brink.  This is why it is so important to apologize often every time we get angry because this helps those we got angry with let go of their hurt and their own anger.  We really need to take this seriously, it is so important.

Nobody wants to be with angry people.  We just don’t want to be around them, and so it is no surprise that over time angry people find themselves all alone.  It is inevitable that this will happen as long as we are angry.  Sometimes people feel trapped with angry people and they don’t know how to get out.  This causes them to generate a lot of resentment towards the other person and they sit internally with their anger, day by day creating countless causes to fall into the lower realms.  Usually what happens is once the power balance shifts in the relationship, such as the angry person becomes the weaker one in some way, then all this anger and resentment comes out creating incredible misery for the angry person and terrible causes for the person who lets it all out.

As bodhisattvas, we need strive to maintain good and harmonious relationships with everybody.  It is through our relationships that we can help people.  Somebody can be a Buddha, and have incredibly precious advice to give, but if they don’t have the karma of having good relationships they can’t do anything to help.  We need to try to get on good terms with everybody.  It doesn’t take much effort to do so, we just need to try and be willing to apologize for our mistakes.  We need to start viewing others as our future spiritual responsibility, and start to cultivate our relationship in that direction right now.  The most important thing we need to do is overcome our anger with them.

Especially for people who are teachers or Sangha, there is nothing more devastating to our fellow practitioners than them thinking we are angry with them or do not accept them or that they bother us.  This destroys everything about their spiritual life, and prevents them from being able to trust us.  If they do not trust us, there is nothing we can do help them.  Even if we’re controlled enough not to say or do anything out of anger, our students or the other people in the Sangha may sense the impatience, irritation or anger we have in our mind towards them.  When they become aware of it they will not trust us and sometimes not trust the Dharma as a result.  They will judge the Dharma as being faulty when in reality it is us who is faulty.  How can we expect our students and fellow Sangha to develop open hearts towards us, to rely upon us, to draw close to us, if we become angry with them?

What will happen is they will keep some distance from us, and their mind will be closed. They will not be open to receiving whatever good things we have to offer, even during teachings.  If their mind is closed as a result of experiencing our anger towards them, they will not fully take the teachings  to heart, just a memory of a time we became angry or impatient with them.  We know, if we’re honest, we know that we have become impatient with our students or fellow Sangha, we have become angry with our students and fellow Sangha. We have to stop, because what is most important is our improving our relationships with our students and spiritual friends.  When we become impatient or angry with them our relationship is damaged. To that extent we are responsible for hindering spiritual progress and creating divisions within the Sangha.

Sometimes we feel we’re being wrathful: something needs to be said in a strong way. We think, “I need to be wrathful with this person.”  But we need to check very, very closely in our mind, to see if there’s this enemy, poison of anger, still influencing our thoughts.  Even if our mind is at peace, those we are wrathful with may still perceive us as getting angry. Our relationship needs to be a particularly good one.  Will the other person perceive an angry action instead of a wrathful one? We do need to be careful.


Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Anger harms ourselves first and foremost

While anger can also be nothing more than a mild frustration, wishing things were different than they are; usually anger is the wish to inflict harm on others because they hurt us in some way.  Anger always feels like it is “justified.”  The other person is wrong, they have treated us unfairly, they have hurt us deeply and when we think of them we feel nothing but rage.  We want to say things to them which we know will hurt them so that they realize the hurt they have caused us.  But the truth of the matter is anger hurts the person who is angry far more than it hurts the person we are angry with.  We are harming ourselves.

(6.3) If I harbour painful thoughts of anger,
I shall not experience mental peace,
I shall find no joy or happiness,
And I shall be unsettled and unable to sleep.

Usually we justify our anger in our mind by thinking at least by getting angry we will get what we want.  But even if we get what we want, we are not able to enjoy it because our mind is not at peace, and inner peace is the essential condition for mental happiness.  Mental unhappiness leads to anger, and since there is no inner peace we will be increasingly unhappy and we will look for something to blame.  This then leads to yet more anger.

A few years ago, for about an 18 month period, my mind was consumed with anger – even rage – about a situation that transpired with my father.  Because I couldn’t let go of my anger towards him (despite trying every day to do so), I became an angry person.  This anger pervaded every aspect of my life, clouding my enjoyment of anything.  During the day, I couldn’t stop thinking about my hurt and how wrong he was for inflicting it on me.  I would awake in the middle of the night and not be able to fall back asleep because my mind would resume its anger towards my father.  Even from an ordinary point of view, anger makes us miserable.  I was torturing myself.

We need to make a complete distinction between what we are experiencing now and what causes we are creating.  All of the effects we are experiencing right now have nothing to do with right now, but are the ripening of karma from previous lives.  What we will experience in the future is determined by what causes we create right now in our response to our situation.   Knowing this, we can realize that the only thing that matters is what causes we create now, not what effects we are experiencing.

We all have countless negative seeds on our mind, some ripening, others not.  We are all the same in this regard.  Where people differ is how they RESPOND.  If we respond with Dharma, happily accepting our situation as purification, then no matter how uncomfortable the situation may be, we will be doing what matters.  Good causes, good future, guaranteed; bad causes, bad future, guaranteed.  We realize that nothing we do in this life will really make a big difference in this life, so we stop worrying about what happens in this life and instead focus our attention on collecting our spiritual pennies for future lives.  Then we become a pure practitioner and develop a genuine equanimity towards the inevitable tides of samsaric life.

(6.4) Overcome by a fit of anger,
I might even kill a benefactor
Upon whose kindness I depend
For my wealth or reputation.

Anger is at the root of most negative actions.  Anger itself is a negative mental action, and so just the thought creates negative karma.  But it also leads to us engaging in all sorts of negative actions such as speaking harshly, speaking divisively, harming others, covetousness, malice, etc.  Anger always makes the situation worse because when we get angry with people they no longer want to help us, and if they do so it is only grudgingly, so in the long run it makes things worse.  This makes it almost impossible even to accomplish our worldly goals.

If we look at the arc of human history and the story of our own lives, the most destructive and harmful acts are almost always driven by anger.  Once we hit “send” on that angry email, there is no pulling it back; and sometimes the consequences of it echo for years to come.  One moment of anger can destroy a lifetime of friendship.  By getting mad at our family, our employers, our friends, we create problems and destroy our relationships.  It makes “sense” to us to do senseless things.  We need merely check our own life and that of those we know to come up with endless examples of the harm anger leaves in its wake.