Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Elimination of Anger

Ven. K. Piyatissa Thera edited by  Amber Larson, CC Liu (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly; Gaia (GaiamTV); Centerpointe Holosync Meditation, "If Your Brain Could Talk" (CenterpointeVideo)
Golden Buddha statue towers over Thailand, Southeast Asia (Hatoriz/flickr/com)

The Elimination of Anger, with two stories retold from the Buddhist texts
The ultimate goal of Buddhism is the deathless unconditioned element of nirvana, ultimately the only reality. So one who aspires to it is wise to renounce mundane pursuits and attachments, which are ephemeral, for the sake of reality.

But there are very few who are sufficiently mature to develop themselves to achieve it in this very life. So the Buddha does not push the life of renunciation upon anyone who lacks the spiritual capacity and internal motivation to embark upon the higher life to make a final end of suffering.

Instead, one should follow the path of mundane advantage, which is twofold, namely, the advantage obtainable here in this very life and the advantage obtainable in future lives, as steps on the path to the spiritual life and nirvana in the future.
Although one may enjoy many pleasures in life, one still regards one's body as an instrument with which to practice virtue for one's own and others' benefit; in brief, one lives usefully with moral integrity, a life of simplicity and few wants. So one gains ease now and progress in the future.

As regards the acquisition of wealth, the Buddha said: "One must be diligent and energetic," and as regards the safeguarding of wealth, "one must be mindful and economical."
It is possible that even the life of such a person may be somehow or other disturbed and harassed as a result of the actions (karma) of "unskillful" people. Although this might induce one to abandon the chosen path, it is at such times that one must remember the steps to be taken for the purpose of establishing peace.

According to the Buddha's teaching this includes the reflection: "Others may be harmful, but I shall be harmless; thus will I train myself." We must remember that the whole spirit of Buddhism is one of pacification (and purification of heart and mind). In the calm and placid atmosphere of the Buddha's teaching there is every chance, every possibility, of removing greed, hatred, and delusion that surface from the mind in many ways as lust, jealousy, annoyance, violence, and confusion.
It is no wonder if we, at times, in our everyday life, feel angry with somebody about something. But we should not allow this feeling to reside in our heart/mind. We curb it at the very moment it has arisen and prod it out, replace it with its opposite or give our attention to other things.

How to handle anger
Generally, there are eight ways to curb and control our anger.
1. The first method is to recollect the teachings of the Buddha. On many occasions the Buddha explained the disadvantages of an angry temper. Here is one of his admonitions:
"Suppose some bandits catch one of you and sever this body limb from limb with a two-handled saw; if one should feel angry even on that account, one is no follower of this teaching." — Kakacupama Sutra (MN 21)

"As a log from a [cremation] pyre, burned at both ends and fouled [by bodily ooze] in the middle, serves neither for firewood in the village nor for timber in the forest, so is such a wrathful person. — AN II, 95

Further, we may consider the Buddha's advice found in the Dhammapada:

"He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me of my property! Whosoever harbors such thoughts will never be able to still his or her enmity."

"Never indeed is hatred stilled by hatred; it will only be stilled by non-hatred — this is a timeless truth." — Dhp., vv. 4-5
"Do not speak harshly to anyone. Those who are harshly spoken to might retaliate against you. Angry words hurt other's feelings, even blows may overtake you in return." — Dhp., v. 133
"Forbearance is the highest observance. Patience is the highest virtue. So the Buddhas say." — Dhp., v. 184

"Let one remove anger. Let one root out pride. Let one overcome all the fetters of the passions. No suffering overtakes one who neither clings to mind-and-body nor claims anything of this world." — Dhp., v. 221
"Conquer anger by non-anger. Conquer harm by good. Conquer greed by generosity. Conquer a liar by truthfulness." — Dhp., v. 223
"Guard mind against an outburst of ill feelings. Keep mind controlled. Renouncing harmful thoughts, develop purity of mind." — Dhp., v. 233
If by repeatedly reflecting on the Buddha's advice in this way one cannot curb anger, then try the second method.

2. Naturally, any "bad" person may also possess some good quality. Some people are bad in mind but speak well or perform their actions well. Some are coarse in words, in language, but not in mind or deeds. Some are coarse and cruel in deeds but their speech is sweet or their mind. Some are good in all three ways.
When we feel angry with anyone, we can usually find some good in the person, and by focusing on that good, anger subsides, There are, of course, some people bad in all three ways. In that case, reflect how this person will fare in the future with such karma, and compassion will spring up. In the case of someone who is good in all three, a rare individual, focus on any quality.

While we think thus, our mind will soften. We may even feel kindly towards the person. If we develop this way of thinking toward all (including ourselves), we will be able to curb or eliminate our anger altogether.

3. At times, this method may be unsuccessful, and we can try the third method. This entails reflecting in this way: "That person has done some wrong to me and in so doing has spoiled his or her mind. So why should I spoil or impair my mind because of that person's foolishness?

"Sometimes I decline or ignore support offered by my friends and relatives; sometimes they even shed tears because of my actions. Being a person of such type myself, why should I not therefore ignore that foolish person's deeds?
"That person has done that wrong, being subject to anger. Should I follow that person, making my mind subject to anger? Is it not foolish to imitate that person? One harboring hatred destroys oneself internally. Why should I, on that account, destroy my reputation?

"All things are momentary. Both that person's mind and body are momentary, too. The thoughts and the body with which the wrong was done to me are no longer existing. What I call the same person now are the thoughts and physical aspects which are different from the earlier ones that harmed me although belonging to the same psychophysical process.

"So one thought together with one mass of physical parts did me some wrong and vanished there and then, giving way to succeeding thoughts and material parts. So with which am I getting angry? With the vanished and disappeared thoughts and physical parts or with the thoughts and material parts which did not do me any wrong? Should I get angry with things which are innocent, whereas other things that did me wrong have already vanished?
"The so-called 'I' is not the same for two consecutive moments. At the moment the wrong was done there was another thought and material mass which were regarded as 'I,' whereas what are regarded as 'I' at the present moment are a different thought and material collection, though belonging to the same process.

"Therefore, some other being did wrong to someone else, and another gets angry with someone else about it. Is this not a ridiculous situation?"
If we scrutinize the exact nature of our lives and occurrences in this manner, our anger may subside and vanish there and then.
4. There is another way to eliminate the upsurge of anger. Suppose we think of someone who has done us wrong us. On such occasions we should remember that we suffer harm or loss as a result of our previous karma (the store of intentions willed and carried out through endless previous lives).
Even if others were angry with us, they could not harm us if there were no latent force of past unwholesome karma committed by us which took advantage of this opportunity to arouse our adversary. So it is I who am responsible for this harm or loss and not anybody else [the meeting of the two, someone's actions and our susceptibility brought about by our past actions].

At the same time, while I am suffering the result of past karma, if I on account of this should get angry and do any harm to him, by that do I accumulate much more unwholesome karma which would bring me correspondingly unwholesome results in the future.
If we call to mind this impersonal law of karma, this orderliness of the universe, anger may subside immediately. We can consider such a situation in another way, too. As the followers of the Buddha, we believe that the Bodhisatta (Bodhisattva or "Buddha-to-be") passed through an incalculable number of lives practicing virtues before attaining buddhahood.

Two sutras
The Bodhisatta became the Buddha.
The Buddha related the history of some of these past lives as illustrative examples to teach us how he managed to practice these virtues. The lives of Prince Dhammapala and the ascetic Khantivadi are most illustrative and draw our attention.
At one time the Bodhisatta [before he became the Buddha in a life as Siddhartha] had been born as the son of a king named Mahapatapa. The child was named Culla Dhammapala. One day the queen sat on a chair playing with her child and did not notice the king as he passed by. The king thought the queen was so proud of her child as not to get up from her chair even when she saw that her lord the king passed. So he grew angry and immediately sent for the executioner. When he came the king ordered him to snatch the child from the queen's arms and cut off his hands, feet, and head, which the executioner did instantly.

The child (the Bodhisatta) suffered all that with extreme patience and did not grow ill-tempered or relinquish his impartial love (upekkha-metta) for his cruel father, lamenting mother, or the executioner. So far had he matured in the practice of forbearance and loving-kindness by that time.

At another time, our Bodhisatta was reborn and became an ascetic well-known for the virtue of forbearance and consequently people named him Khantivadi, a "teacher of forbearance." One day he visited Benares (ancient Varanasi) and took his lodgings at the royal pleasure park. The king passed one day with his harem and, seeing the ascetic seated under a tree, asked what virtue he was practicing.

The ascetic replied that of forbearance. The king was a materialist who regarded the practice of virtue foolish and/or fraudulent. So on hearing the words of the ascetic, he sent for the executioner and ordered him to cut off the ascetic's hands and feet. Then he questioned the ascetic as to whether he could hold to forbearance at the severing of his limbs.

The ascetic did not feel ill-tempered but even at that time he lay down extending his loving-kindness and holding forbearance undiminished. He gently spoke to the king in reply to the effect that his forbearance and other virtues were not in his limbs but in his mind.
The king, unsuccessful in his attempts to disturb the ascetic's feelings, grew angrier and kicked him in the stomach with his heel and went away. The king's minister, seeing what had happened, came over, bowed before the dying ascetic, and begged him saying:
"Venerable one, none of us agreed to this cruel act of the king, and we are all sorrowing over what has been done to you by that devilish man. We ask you to curse the king but not us." At this the ascetic said: "May that king who has caused my hands and feet to be cut off, as well as you, live long in happiness. Persons who practice virtues like me never get angry." Saying this, he breathed his last.
Since the Buddha in past lives, while yet imperfect like us, practiced forbearance and loving-kindness to such a high degree, why can we not follow a little of his example?
When we remember and think of similar noble characters or "great souls" (maha atmas), we should be able to bear any harm, unmoved by anger. Or if we consider the nature of the round of rebirths in this beginningless and infinite universe, we may be able to curb the upsurge of anger. For it is said by the Buddha:

"It is not easy to find any being who has not [already]  been one's mother, father, brother, sister, son, or daughter." Hence with regard to the person whom we have now taken to regard as our "enemy," we should think:

"This one now in the past has been my mother who bore me in her womb for ten [lunar] months, gave birth to me, cleansed me of impurities, hid me in her bosom, carried me on her hip, and nourished me. This one was my father in another life and spent time and energy, engaged in some toilsome business with a view to maintaining me, even sacrificing life for my sake," and so on. When we ponder in this way, it is expected that our anger against enemies will subside.
5. Furthermore, we can reflect on the advantages of the development of mind through the practice of extending loving-kindness in all directions to all, beginning with one direction and only to some. For the Buddha has expounded 11 advantages to be looked for from its development. What are the 11? More

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