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.

New Year’s for a Kadampa

New Year’s Day is of course preceded by New Year’s Eve.  The evening before is usually when friends get together to celebrate the coming of the new year.  Sometimes Kadampas become a social cynic, looking down on parties like this, finding them meaningless and inherently samsaric.  They mistakenly think it is somehow a fault to enjoy life and enjoy cultural traditions.  This is wrong.

If we are invited to a New Year’s party, we should go without thinking it is inherently meaningless.  Geshe-la wants us to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life.  New Year’s Eve parties are part of modern life, so our job is to bring the Dharma into them.  Venerable Tharchin said that our ability to help others depends upon two things:  the depth of our Dharma realizations and the strength of our karmic connections with living beings.  Doing things with friends as friends helps build those karmic bonds.  Even if we are unable to discuss any Dharma, at the very least, we can view such evenings as the time to cultivate our close karmic bonds with people.  Later, in dependence upon these bonds, we will be able to help them.

One question that often comes up at most New Year’s Eve parties is what to do about the fact that most everyone else is drinking or consuming other intoxicants.  Most of us have Pratimoksha vows, so this can create a problem or some awkward moments for ourself or for the person who is throwing the party.  Best, of course, is if you have an open and accepting relationship with your friends where you can say, “you can do whatever you want, but I am not going to.”  It’s important that we don’t adopt a judgmental attitude towards others who might drink, etc.  We each make our own choices and it is not up to us to judge anyone else.  We might even make ourselves the annual “designated driver.”  Somebody has to be, might as well be the Buddhist!

If we are at a party where we can’t be open about being a Buddhist, which can happen depending upon our karmic circumstance, what I usually do is drink orange juice or coke for most of the night, but then at midnight when they pass around the glasses of Champagne I just take one, and without a fuss when it comes time, I just put it to my lips like I am drinking but I am not actually doing so.  If we don’t make an issue out of it, nobody will notice.  Why is this important?  Because when we say we don’t drink, they will ask why.  Then we say because we are a Buddhist.  Implicitly, others can take our answer to mean we are saying we think it is immoral to drink, so others might feel judged. When they do, they then reject Buddhism, and create the karma of doing so. We may feel “right,” but we have in fact harmed those around us. What is the most moral thing to do depends largely upon our circumstance. It goes without saying that others are far more likely to feel judged by us if in fact we are judging everyone around us! We all need to get off our high horse and just love others with an accepting attitude.

Fortunately, most Kadampa centers now host a New Year’s Eve party.  This is ideal.  If our center doesn’t, then ask to host one yourself at the center.  This gives our Sangha friends an alternative to the usual New Year’s parties.  We can get together at the center, have a meal together, do a puja together and just hang out together as friends.  We are people too, not just Dharma practitioners, so it is important to be “exactly as normal.”  If our New Year’s party is a lot of fun, then people will want to come again and again; and perhaps even invite their friends along.  It is not uncommon to do either a Tara practice or an Amitayus practice.   Sometimes centers organize a retreat weekend course over New Year’s weekend.  For several years in Geneva, we would do Tara practice in six sessions at the house of a Sangha member.  The point is, try make it time together with your Sangha family.  Christmas is often with our regular family, New Year’s can be with our spiritual family.

What I used to do (and really should start doing again), is around New Years I would take the time to go through all the 250+ vows and commitments of Kadampa Buddhism and reflect upon how I was doing.  I would try look back on the past year and identify the different ways I broke each vow, and I would try make plans for doing better next year.  If you are really enthusiastic about this, you can make a chart in Excel where you rank on a scale of 1 to 10 how well you did on each vow, and then keep track of this over the years.  Geshe-la advises that we work gradually with our vows over a long period of time, slowly improving the quality with which we keep them.  Keeping track with a self-graded score is a very effective way of doing this.  New Years is a perfect time for reflecting on this.

Ultimately, New Year’s Day itself is no different than any other.  It is very easy to see how its meaning is merely imputed by mind.  But that doesn’t mean it is not meaningful, ultimately everything is imputed by mind.  The good thing about New Year’s Day is everyone agrees it marks the possibility for a new beginning.  It is customary for people to make New Year’s Resolutions, things they plan on doing differently in the coming year.  Unfortunately, it is also quite common for people’s New Year’s Resolutions to not last very long.

But at Kadampas, we can be different.  The teachings on impermanence remind us that “nothing remains for even a moment” and that the entire world is completely recreated anew every moment.  New Year’s Day is a good day for recalling impermanence.  Everything that happened in the previous year, we can just let it go and realize we are moving into a new year and a new beginning.  We should make New Year’s resolutions spiritual ones.  It is best, though, to make small changes that you make a real effort to keep than large ones that you know won’t last long.  Pick one or two things you are going to do differently this year.  Make it concrete and make sure it is doable.  A former student of mine would pick one thing that she said she was going to make her priority for the coming year, and then throughout the year she would focus on that practice. I think this is perfect. Another Sangha friend of mine would every year ask for special advice about what they should work on in the coming year. This is also perfect.

When you make a determination, make sure you know why you are doing it and the wisdom reasons in favor of the change are solid in your mind.  On that basis, you will be able to keep them.  Making promises that you later break creates terrible karma for ourselves which makes it harder and harder to make promises in the future. We create the habit of never following through, and that makes the practice of moral discipline harder and harder.

Just because we are a Kadampa does not mean we can’t have fun like everyone else on New Year’s Eve.  It is an opportunity to build close karmic bonds with others, especially our spiritual family.  We can reflect upon our behavior over the previous year and make determinations about how we will do better in the year to come.

I pray that all of your pure wishes in the coming year be fulfilled, and that all of the suffering you experience become a powerful cause of your enlightenment.  I pray that all beings may find a qualified spiritual path and thereby find meaning in their life.  I also pray that nobody die tonight from drunk driving, but everyone makes it home safe.  Since that is unlikely to come true, I pray that Avalokiteshvara swiftly take all those who die to the pure land where they may enjoy everlasting joy.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  There is no evil greater than anger

Overcoming delusions is not complicated.  First, we need to identify what they are.  Then, we need to break our identification with them – they are thoughts passing through our mind, they are not us.  Then, we contemplate the faults of the delusions and the benefits of the opponents.  On the basis of that contemplation, we choose to not believe the lies of the delusions and we choose to try think differently in accordance with the opponent.  We then continue this process until we develop new mental habits, where virtue and wisdom come naturally.  Among delusions, anger is the most harmful of them all.

(6.1) All the virtuous deeds and merit,
Such as giving and making offerings,
That we have accumulated over thousands of aeons
Can be destroyed by just one moment of anger.

This is quite a striking introduction to the chapter. Shantideva is pointing out straightaway the faults of an angry mind.  There are many ways in which we can understand anger as being destructive, and from a spiritual point of view it is most destructive in that it takes away the merit that we’re working so hard to accumulate every day of our life.  As spiritual practitioners, we have been given a very special opportunity to create every day of our life an enormous amount of merit. Yet that merit is taken away from us each time we become angry, and it doesn’t have to be full-blown anger to destroy that merit in our mind.

From a worldly perspective, merit is the principal cause of wish-fulfillment.  If you have merit, things will go your way; if things don’t go your way, it is because you lack merit.  So if you have no merit, everything will be difficult and good things will not happen.  From a spiritual perspective, merit is the fuel for our spiritual progress.  It is the fertile ground for a crop of inner realizations.  Without merit, we can make no progress on the spiritual path, and therefore never find the happiness we seek.

For most people the prospect that anger destroys our merit may not seem like a big deal, but for pure spiritual practitioners it is the most terrifying danger.  Pure spiritual practitioner and old people nearing death understand that the only thing that matters is the causes that we create, because they are the only things we can take with us into our future lives.  Everything else is meaningless.  We don’t want to go into our future lives empty handed.  We have worked very hard and endured considerable difficulties to create the good causes we have created for ourselves.  All of our effort becomes a total waste if its fruit all gets burnt in the fire of our anger.  It is like we have been saving up our money our whole life for our retirement, and then on the day of our retirement we take it all out in cash and our house burns down so it is completely gone.  All that wasted work.  Or when we have worked hard on a document for a long time and it gets deleted because the computer crashed.

Perhaps one reason we find it still difficult to fulfill our wishes, and we find ourselves making little progress along that path to Bodhisattva-hood and Buddhahood is because much of the merit we are creating is being destroyed by our anger.  Dedication functions to protect our merit, but if we’re honest we’re not exactly perfect at dedicating our merit.  How often do we dedicate, and when we dedicate, how well do we do so?  We should see anger as a thief stealing our spiritual life.  It makes it as if you never did all the hard work we have done.

 (6.2) There is no evil greater than anger,
And no virtue greater than patience.
Therefore, I should strive in various ways
To become familiar with the practice of patience.

Anger is the worst of all delusions, therefore patience is the greatest of all practices.  Every moment of anger not only destroys our merit but it creates the cause for us to fall into the lower realms.  Shantideva is not saying we need to be attached to the result of not being angry, he is saying the conclusion is we need to apply ourselves fully to trying to practice patience.  The name of the game is trying, even if we don’t succeed, it doesn’t matter because we create causes.  To understand this we need to make a distinction between what tendencies are ripening and what new minds we are generating.  If the tendency to get angry at somebody arises within our mind, this only becomes a new delusion if we assent to that tendency – in other words, we believe it to be true and start thinking that way.  If instead, when the tendency arises, we recognize it as the delusion of anger, realize that it is self-defeating to think in this way, and then choose to try be patient instead, we are not generating the delusion of anger, rather we are practicing the moral discipline of restraint.  Not only does moral discipline create the cause for higher rebirth, each time we train in this way we create the karma for new tendencies of patient acceptance in the future.  With time, we will experience results, it is guaranteed.

Christmas for a Kadampa

For those of us who live in the West, or come from Western families, Christmas is often considered the biggest holiday of the year.  Ostensibly, Christmas is about the birth of Christ, and for some it is.  For most, however, it is about exchanging gifts, spending time with family and watching football.  Or it’s just about out of control consumerism, depending on your view.  Kadampas can sometimes feel a bit confused during Christmas time.  It used to be our favorite holiday as kids, but now we are Buddhists, so how are we supposed to relate to it?

It’s true, Christmas time has degenerated into a frenzy of buying things we don’t need.  It is easy to criticize Christmas on such grounds.  Of course, as Kadampas, we can be aware of this and realize its meaninglessness.  We can correctly identify the attachment and realize it’s wrong.  But certainly being a Kadampa means more than being a cynic and a scrooge.  Instead, we should rejoice in all the acts of giving.  Giving is a virtue, even if what people are giving is not very meaningful.  There is more giving that occurs in the Christmas season than any other time of the year.  Yes, the motivations for giving might be mixed with worldly concerns, but we can still rejoice in the giving part.  Rejoice in all of it, don’t be a cynic.

Likewise, I think we should celebrate with all our heart the birth of Christ into this world.  Why not?  Our heart commitment is to follow one tradition purely while appreciating and respecting all other traditions.  Instead of getting on our arrogant high horse mocking those who believe in an inherently existent God, why don’t we celebrate the birth of arguably the greatest practitioner of taking and giving to have ever walked the face of the earth?  The entire basis of Christianity is Christ took on all of the sins of all living beings, and generating faith in him, believing he did so to save us, functions to open our mind to receive his special blessings which function to take our sins upon him.  He is, in this respect, quite similar to a Buddha of purification.  By generating faith in him, his followers can purify all of their negative karma.

Further, he is a doorway to heaven (his pure land).  If his followers remember him with faith at the time of their death, they will receive his powerful blessings and be transported to the pure land.  In this sense, he is very similar to Avalokiteshvara.  Christ taught extensively on being humble, working for the sake of the poor, and reaching out to those in the greatest of need.  Think of all the people he has inspired with his example.  Sure, there are some people who distort his teachings for political purposes, but that doesn’t make his original intent and meaning wrong.  In many ways, one can say he gave tantric teachings on maintaining pure view, and bringing the Kingdom of Heaven into this world.  Who can read the Sermon on the Mount and not be moved?  Who can read the prayers of his later followers, such as Saint Francis of Assisi, and not be inspired?  Think of Pope Francis.  You don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate his positive effect on this world and the church.  All of these things we can rejoice in and be inspired by.  A Bodhisattva seeks to practice all virtue, and there is much in Jesus’ example worth emulating.  Trying to be more “Christ-like” in our behavior is not mixing.  If we can see somebody in our daily lives engaging in virtue and be inspired to be more like them, then why can we not also do so for one of the greatest Saints in the history of the world?  Rejoicing in and copying virtue is an essential component of the Kadampa path.

Geshe-la has said on many occasions that Buddhas appear in this world in Buddhist and non-Buddhist form.  Is it that hard to imagine that Christ too was a Buddha who appeared in a particular form in a particular place in human history for the sake of billions?  Surely all the holy beings get along just fine with one another, since they are ultimately of one nature.  It is only humans who create divisions and problems.  Geshe-la said we do believe in “God,” it is just different people have a different understanding of what that means.  Christians have their understanding, we have ours, but we can all respect and appreciate one another.

Besides celebrating Christ, Christmas is an excellent time for ourself to practice virtue.  Not just giving, but also patience with our loved ones, cherishing others, training in love and so forth.  It is not always easy to spend time with our families.  The members of our family have their fair share of delusions, and it is easy to develop judgmental attitudes towards them for it.  It is not uncommon for some of the worst family fights to happen during the holiday season.  Christmas time gives us an opportunity to counter all of these delusions and bad attitudes, and learn to accept and love everyone just as they are.

When I was a boy, Christmas was both my favorite time of year and my worst time of year.  My favorite time of year because I loved the lights, the songs and of course the presents.  It was the worst time of the year because my mother had an unrealistic expectation that just because it was Christmas, everything was supposed to work out and nothing was supposed to go wrong.  This created tremendous pressure on everyone in the house, and when the slightest thing would go wrong, she would become very upset and ruin the day for everyone.  This is not uncommon at all.  People’s expectations shoot through the roof during the Christmas season, and especially on Christmas day.  These higher expectations then cause us to be more judgmental, to more easily feel slighted, and to be quicker to anger.  We can view this time as an excellent opportunity to understand the nature of samsara is for things to go wrong, and the best answer to that fact is patient acceptance and a good laugh.

As I have grown older, Christmas has given rise to new delusions for me to overcome.  When I was little, I used to get lots of presents.  Now, I get a tie.  Not the same, and it always leaves me feeling a bit let down.  I give presents to everyone, yet nobody seems to give me any.  As a parent, I cannot help but have hopes and expectations that my kids will like their presents, but then when they don’t I realize my attachment to gratitude and recognition.  During Christmas, even though I am supposed to be giving, I find myself worrying about money and feeling miserly.  I find myself quick to judge my in-laws or other members of my family if they don’t act in the way I want them to.  Since I live abroad, far away from any family, I start to feel jealous of the pictures I see on Facebook of my other family members all together and seeming to have a good time while we are alone and forgotten on the other side of the planet.  When kids open presents, they are often like rabid dogs, going from one thing to the next without appreciating anything and I can’t help but feel I have failed as a parent.  Trying to get good pictures is always a nightmare, and getting the kids to express gratitude to the aunts and grandmas is always a struggle.  The more time we spend with our family, the more we become frustrated with them and secretly we can’t wait until school starts again and we can go back to work.  None of these are uncommon reactions, and these sorts of situations give rise to a pantheon of delusions.  But all of them give us a chance to practice training our mind and cultivating new, more virtuous, habits of mind.

Christmas is also a time in which we can reach out to those who are alone.  Suicide and depression rates are the highest during the holiday season.  People see everyone else happy, but they find themselves alone and unloved.  Why can we not invite these people to our home and let them know we care?  Make them feel part of our family.  There are also plenty of opportunities to volunteer to help out the poor and the needy, such as giving our time at or clothes to homeless shelters.  People in hospitals, especially the old and dying, suffer from great loneliness and sadness during the Christmas season.  We can go spend time with them, hear their stories, and give them our love.

Culturally, many of us are Christian.  People in the West, by and large, live in a Christian culture.  Geshe-la has gone to great lengths to present the Dharma in such a way that we do not have to abandon our culture to understand the Dharma.  Externally, culturally, we can remain Christian; while internally, spiritually we are 100% Kadampa.  There is no contradiction between these two.  On the whole, Christmas time gives us ample opportunities to create virtue, rejoice in goodness and battle our delusions.  For a Kadampa, this is perfect.