Teachings on "Healing Anger"*
(* book by His Holiness the Dalai
In light of the events of September 11, 2001
by Venerable Thubten Chodron© , September 18, 2001
This evening, I'll begin to give a commentary
on His Holiness the Dalai Lama's book, "Healing Anger".
In light of last week's attacks at the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon, this is very timely. Many people in our country are upset
and angry about what happened, and some of you may be as well. Please
listen to these teachings and use them to help your own mind so
that you can be a force for peace in our world.
A few weeks ago I was talking about dealing
with a type of suffering to which we usually respond with anger.
One way is to think of the pain of others who are suffering more
than we are. Then our suffering doesn't appear so bad in comparison
with theirs. My mom used to say something similar when I was young,
"Appreciate what you have and stop complaining." This
is true, but I had always taken that remark to mean that I shouldn't
feel what I was feeling, and so I often resented it. Some of the
Buddhist sages give similar advice: By comparing our suffering to
that of beings in unfortunate realms, we won't feel so sorry for
ourselves or so angry about what we are experiencing.
Last week not only did planes crash into the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but my hard disk crashed as
well. I lost all data. Normally, this would make me really upset,
but this time my mind was calm. Without even trying to have such
an awareness, I automatically thought that the suffering of a crashed
hard disk is nothing compared to the suffering of those who died
and those who lost their loved ones in the attack. This gave me
a new way to look at the antidote of comparing my suffering to others
in order to diminish my anger. I didn't resent it at all. Nor did
I see it as telling me not to feel what I was feeling. Rather, it
was a clear acceptance of the truth of the situation.
Anger happens all the time. For example, while
walking here tonight, I saw one man shouting and banging another's
head against a wall. The other man fell to the ground. I went over
to see if he was okay, but somebody else was already helping him
up. I was going to call the police; but then I heard someone on
a cell phone across the street doing just that.
So anger is there and it comes up. We definitely
need some kind of antidote, some kind of remedy so that our anger
doesn't control us and make us act in ways that harm others and
ourselves. The trick is not to wait until the anger gets big, because
then it's difficult to control. For example, once our garden is
taken over by weeds, it's hard to get them out. We have to remove
the weeds when they're still small and few in number. The trick
is to work on our anger each day, step-by-step applying the antidotes
to reform the way we look at situations. When we are familiar with
new ways of looking at situations, anger won't arise in a situation
where it normally would, or if it does, it's much smaller than before.
With awareness of any anger we may hold regarding
September 11, let's do the visualization for taking refuge and generating
the four immeasurables. Visualize the Buddha in the space in front
of us, surrounded by all the bodhisattvas, arhats, and lineage teachers.
Our mother is on our left, our father on our right. In front of
us are Osa bin Laden and all the terrorists. Also there are the
people in our own country calling for violent revenge. Surrounding
us are all sentient beings as far as the eye can see.
Remember that everyone equally wants happiness
and wants to be free from suffering. Recall that, just like us,
people act in harmful ways when they are unhappy. In their attempt
to be happy, they are confused and use wrong methods to achieve
it. They harm others and create vast negative karma that causes
them to experience horrendous suffering in the future. Recall the
suffering and despair of everyone on all sides of the conflict;
be aware of this karmic complexity that we're all caught in together.
And with compassion for all of us, we then turn to the Buddha, Dharma
and Sangha for spiritual direction.
Refuge and Generating the Altruistic Intention
I take refuge until I'm enlightened in the Buddhas,
the Dharma and the Sangha. By the positive potential I create by
listening to the Dharma, may I attain Buddhahood in order to benefit
all sentient beings.
The Four Immeasurables
May all sentient beings have happiness and its
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes.
May all sentient beings not be separated from sorrowless bliss.
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free from bias, attachment,
To generate our motivation for listening to
teachings, remember the preciousness of our human life, which is
hard to attain and doesn't last long. Let's determine to use it
in a meaningful way and not get sidetracked by things that don't
have lasting value or importance. One of the best ways to make our
life meaningful is to cultivate the loving and compassionate heart
of bodhicitta, the strong aspiration to become a fully enlightened
Buddha in order to benefit all beings most effectively.
We'll begin with Geshe Thubten Jinpa's introduction
to the book. He tells the story about a meditator who is practicing
patience. Staying in his high cave, he is very peaceful. Meditating
on patience, he thinks his practice is getting somewhere and his
temper is completely calmed. Then, when he goes down to the village
to get some more food, someone insults him, and he instantly flies
into a rage.
Teachers often use this story to illustrate
a few points. One is: Don't think that because you are meditating
in an isolated retreat place, that you are necessarily holy. Unless
we really work with what's going on in our mind, it doesn't matter
where our body is or what we are doing. Another is: Cultivating
patience is difficult. We shouldn't think that because we don't
get angry for a while that our anger has totally subsided. A third
is: We can intellectually know and even teach others the antidotes
to anger, but it takes a long time to integrate them fully in our
own hearts. Knowing something is different than being able to live
Sometimes, when we meditate to cultivate patience,
we just repeat the words to ourselves, like an intellectual exercise.
We think that because we've recited the words while sitting on our
meditation cushion, that we've understood and actualized patience.
But activating patience is much more than reciting the words; it
involves looking deeply into our own hearts, acknowledging our pain
and the anger it generates. We must also know deeply that our anger
causes suffering and that it apprehends the situation in a mistaken
way. With all this in mind, we can generate the wish to let go of
our anger and train in the methods to do so.
When we first meet the Dharma it seems easier
for us to admit "I'm angry" or "I have a problem
with anger." But then, as we get into Buddhist practice a bit,
we learn that anger is a defilement and something to be abandoned
on the path. We learn that through anger we create so much negative
karma. Then we start "shoulding" ourselves. "I shouldn't
feel angry. If I feel angry, I'm not a good Buddhist. If I show
my anger, everyone will know what a bad practitioner I am."
So then, we stuff our anger and cover it up.
By this time, we've learned a few verses and heard a few antidotes.
We keep our anger inside and in public say, "I'm not angry.
I have compassion for this person." But when we sit on our
meditation cushion, our mind is turbulent, "I'm going to get
that guy!" Or, we're nice to the person in public but then
talk about them behind their back because we're really ticked off.
We don't express our real feelings when we're with our teachers
or Dharma friends because we think it's not nice to do that if you
are a Buddhist.
At that point, it has become more difficult
to acknowledge our anger. At the beginning, when we enter Dharma
practice, we are more honest and say, "Yes, I'm angry. That's
why I'm here. I'm hurting. I want to learn how to work with my emotions"
But later, we try to cram ourselves into our intellectual idea of
what a good practitioner should be and thus don't want to acknowledge
our faults in front of others. The Buddha didn't say that we've
got to be "good Buddhists." But we say it to ourselves,
because we always wanted to be good little whatevers when we were
kids. We want to be good little whatevers now that we are big. This
makes it harder to acknowledge our anger to ourselves and to our
fellow Dharma practitioners, basically because we don't want to
At this point, we have to look out because
arrogance and pride have become obstacles to our practice. Because
we don't want to lose face by admitting that we are still angry.
In this way, one negative emotion plays into another. It is valuable
for us to try to keep a fresh mind so that we can acknowledge whatever
we are feeling. I call it "being transparent." We aren't
afraid to say, "I blew it," or "My mind was overwhelmed by garbage." But, as long as
we are trying to be good little Buddhists, we will find engaging
in actual Dharma practice difficult. Why? Because when we are trying
to be good little Buddhists, we see Buddhism as "out there"
and feel, "I've got to squeeze myself into being a good Buddhist."
The Buddha didn't teach so that we could become good Buddhists.
He gave us suggestions so that we can bring the teachings into our
hearts and change what's in there. Spiritual
practice isn't for the purpose of pretending that we are something
that we aren't. It's to help us be fearless and acknowledge what's
really going on; it's to help us learn and apply the antidotes to
negative mental states so that we and others will be happier. Thus
being able to acknowledge when we blow it and to keep trying without
getting discouraged is very important.
The Meaning of Patience
I read one part of the introduction with totally
different ears today than I would have two weeks ago. Let me read
this slowly and see how it sounds for you.
"In a situation which would ordinarily
give rise to an outburst of anger, how do we maintain spontaneity
and yet remain calm in our response? It is a challenge each of us
faces as we try to live our lives with a degree of human dignity
and decency. At nearly every turn, we are confronted with situations
that test the limits of our patience and tolerance. Be it with our
family, in the working environment, or simply when interacting with
others" -- and I might add here 'or on the international scene'
-- "often our prejudices are revealed, our beliefs challenged,
and our self-image threatened."
Did this happen to anybody this last week? It
happened to the whole country, didn't it?
"It is in these moments that our inner
resources are the most called upon. All of this, Shantideva would
say, tests our character, revealing how far we have developed our
capacity for patience and tolerance."
Thinking about this passage, has anyone here
not seen prejudice arise in their mind regarding the events of last
Tuesday? Has anyone here not had their beliefs about humanity, or
what human beings are capable of, or confidence in our own government,
challenged? Wasn't the self-image of this country threatened by
one event? We thought we were the one, invincible, worthy-of-respect
superpower in the world, and look what happened to us. Wasn't our
personal self-image and ability to withstand things challenged?
Sometimes we hear teachings on patience and take them in terms of
our interpersonal relationships with other people. But thinking
about what patience means in an international event like this is
a whole different ball game, isn't it?
Thupten Jinpa also went on to comment, and
I completely agree, that patience doesn't mean passivity. It doesn't
mean we don't respond to things. It doesn't mean we just sit there,
let things go by, and brush them off. It doesn't mean we passively
say "It's all right." It doesn't mean we make up excuses
for the other person and say what they did was okay. Nor does patience
mean not responding out of fear for our own well-being.
Patience is a state of mind that enables us
to actively respond to a situation without losing control of our
emotions. Thupten Jinpa gave a working definition of patience: "a
resolute response against adversity stemming from a settled temperament,
unperturbed by either external or internal disturbance where one
has adopted a conscious stance not to retaliate against an actual
or perceived harm."
Patience involves not retaliating or taking
revenge. But it doesn't mean not to respond. When our mind is seeking
revenge, we are not acting freely. We are acting under the control
of our hurt, angry, and upset mind. We know that doing that won't
bring the desired results.
Nevertheless, not taking revenge does not mean
doing nothing. Patience enables us to make a resolute response.
External disturbances can be what other people are saying or doing.
Internal disturbances are our own preconceptions and anger. In other
words, patience involves having a clear and calm mind in confront
of suffering, harm, and all of our beliefs being challenged. Having
that calm mind gives us the opportunity to wisely choose behaviors
that could help in the situation.
Patience doesn't mean cowardliness or passivity.
It means having that internal calm and clarity so that we can actually
be effective. When we are angry and upset, we can't think clearly.
We are pushed by the force of our wish for revenge; we think that
if we can make somebody else suffer, it will lessen our own suffering.
Does it? No.
Anger also makes us think, "If I can harm
somebody else, then I must be powerful. If I can throw my weight
around, look tough, and make others afraid of me, I must be powerful."
Does harming someone else make us powerful? No, it doesn't. Why
do we harm others? Usually because we feel powerless. Anger often
comes as a response to fear and feeling powerless. Feeling our hurt,
feeling our fear, feeling powerless in a situation -- this feels
so uncomfortable that we can't bear it. How do we avoid those feelings?
By getting angry. Physiologically and psychologically, anger makes
us feel powerful. As one prisoner told me, "Anger is intoxicating."
However, when we act according to our anger,
we often make a situation worse and bring about a result opposite
to what we desire. When we act out of anger, there is no wisdom
or compassion in what we do. Thus, in our attempt to correct a situation,
we enflame it even more and do exactly what is going to tick off
the other side even more. For example, both the Palestinians and
the Israelis want to be happy. Neither are. Both are afraid of the
other and feel powerless to stop the other's attacks. So both attack
the other in what each calls "self-defense" but what the
other calls "unprovoked attacks." So, they feed off each
other, inflaming each other's anger and revenge, even though in
their own minds, each thinks their side is right and wants peace.
In July I gave a talk at a prison in North
Carolina. One guy asked about maintaining your cool when somebody
is in your face and you really want to get back at them and punch
them. I told him, "If you get angry, you've done exactly what
they wanted you to do. If you retaliate, you've played right into
their trap. They wanted to provoke you and they succeeded."
We need to think here, so that we can
be active without being reactive; so that we can choose responses
without simply being conditioned by the force of our uncontrolled
emotions. Often, when we can't acknowledge
our negative emotions to ourselves, we wind up investing them with
a philosophy that justifies them. Have
you noticed that whatever position we take, God is on our side?
From the terrorists' viewpoint, God is on their side. They think
they are working for a better world with God's endorsement. From
the viewpoint of the US government, with its saber rattling, God
is on its side. It's interesting that both Osa bin Laden and George
Bush have said that this is a battle between good and evil. But
both feel that their side is the good one, that they are the moral
upright ones who are trying to subdue the forces of evil. Both think
God is on their side. In saying this, I'm not excusing anyone's
harmful actions; I'm simply pointing out how the human works, how
everyone feels their side is right and the other is wrong.
Here's the tricky one: If we get angry at those
in the US who want to drop bombs ASAP, then we're thinking that
God is on our side.
In other words, "God" is whatever
we consider moral, decent and civilized. We -- whoever we are --
hold to a philosophy that justifies why we are moral and right and
others are immoral and evil. We think whatever we do is justified
and beneficent and whatever the enemy does is evil. In this way,
we do not feel that we are vengeful. Rather, we feel we are being
compassionate and working for the good of the world by trying to
destroy the enemy so that they can't harm anybody else.
When we're angry and want to harm others, we
adopt a philosophy that justifies and condones our actions. It can
be a religious philosophy or an economic and social philosophy like
communism or capitalism. The communists killed millions of people
through the belief that their philosophy was right. Capitalists
have also, exploiting people in their own and other countries through
their greed. Everyone develops a philosophy that justifies their
wish to be powerful or to take revenge.
This often happens because we can't acknowledge
what's going on in our mind -- the feelings of powerlessness or
fear, the wish for acknowledgment or respect. So we use all sorts
of ways that don't work to try to remedy the situation, often making
the problem worse. Even if it seems that we get what we want, in
the process of doing that, we create tons of negative karma that
propels us into a painful rebirth in the future.
The point is that we must be vigilant and be
aware of what we're feeling and thinking. We must have the courage
to see what is going on inside of ourselves and to work with it.
We need to be willing to identify and then oppose our own disturbing
attitudes and negative emotions instead of simply blaming others
for the difficulties in the world.. As Buddhists, we shouldn't blindly
fall back on Buddhist jargon to justify our actions.
Patience cannot be developed in isolation from
other people. We can only cultivate it in relationship to others.
Sometimes if our anger arises too strongly in a situation, we have
to leave and separate ourselves from it. But we do this to calm
our mind and develop our meditative abilities and patience so that
we can go back into the situation and handle it in an effective
way. We are not escaping from the situation or the person who bothers
us. The real proof of our patience is when we are able to work out
conflicts we have with others.
Genuine patience is developed only when we
have gained some degree of control over our anger. That patience
is an antidote that prevents anger from arising. In other words,
we don't wait for anger to apply patience. We are trying to familiarize
our minds with a different way of looking at situations altogether,
so that our habitual paradigm changes. Then, even if we start to
fall back into our old ways of looking at things, we can catch ourselves
quickly and reorient our minds to see the situation in a different,
more realistic or beneficial light. Eventually our new perspective
will become so strong that we won't need to reorient the mind because
it is already like that.
For example, when we are in a situation where
we get angry or upset, we are usually seeing it through the viewpoint
of I, me, my, and mine. We have to recognize that we are doing that
and then train our mind to see the situation from the perspective
of the other people involved in it. We can loosen our preconception
that what is appearing to our mind is objective reality, and we
can take in more information so that we understand what others are
thinking and feeling and what their needs and concerns are. As we
train our mind more and more in having a global viewpoint and looking
at a situation from many perspectives, then this way of relating
to things becomes less an antidote that we have to apply, and more
just how we look at things. But in the beginning, when this isn't
how we naturally look at things, we have to deliberately cultivate
that viewpoint. Why? Because we begin to see that our old way of
looking at things is not accurate.
Here is where analytic meditation plays an
important role in cultivating patience. There are many ways of handling
anger. Some people say, "Just watch the mind. Acknowledge when
anger is there and be mindful of the anger when it arises."
I know for myself that, at the beginning of my Dharma practice,
doing that didn't work. I was so locked into the story behind my
anger that I had to realize that the story that I was telling myself
was not reality. The story was how my mind was explaining the situation
from the viewpoint of me, I, my, and mine. I had to realize that
this was not objective reality. It's an interpretation, and it's
wrong. Why is it wrong? Because it's limited to how things appear
to one sentient being in this planet, who just coincidentally happens
to be me.
I need to constantly show myself that the viewpoint
behind my anger is erroneous. I can't just sit and watch the anger
and let it go. As long as I'm locked into that story, I think I'm
right and the other person is wrong, and the only way to stop the
problem is for the other person to change.
This is where I personally find analytic meditation
so helpful. With it, I can look at how I conceive the situation
and show myself that it is erroneous. Once I do that, I can start
to see the situation from a number of different viewpoints.
The Tibetan word "zopa" can be translated
as patience or tolerance. If we translate it as tolerance and think
of the English meaning, not the Buddhist meaning, of that word,
then it sounds strange to say we should be tolerant of terrorists.
In Buddhism, being tolerant or patient doesn't mean saying negative
actions are fine. It means we separate the action and the person,
and while we may condemn the action, we don't condemn the person
because he has Buddha nature.
The word zopa can also mean to endure. The word
"endure" in English is another tricky word, because it
has the connotation of gritting our teeth and steeling ourselves
to go through something we don't like. That's not the meaning of
patience in Buddhism. We cultivate the ability to endure suffering
and hardship not by gritting our teeth and having a stiff upper
lip, but by letting go of our preconceptions that say this shouldn't
be happening and that life should happen according to my ideals
Patience is a letting go that gives space so
that we can endure hardship and suffering and not be overwhelmed
with misery when it occurs. If we grit our teeth and reluctantly
endure something, sooner or later we will lash out because we're
unhappy. It's similar to doing something nice out of obligation.
We may do it and look good externally, but we won't be able to keep
it up because our heart isn't in it. Rather, we want to develop
the patience that is a genuine transformation from inside ourselves.
We want to let go of our "rules of the universe" -- our
preconceptions that people should be a certain way and events should
unfold according to our idea.
I have a good Dharma friend that I often
talk to when I'm upset or angry. He generally responds, "What
do you expect from samsara?"
In other words, samsara or cyclic existence has the nature of suffering,
so why do we expect that things should always turn out the way we
want or the way we think they should? When we're miserable or resentful
because the world is not going according to our conception of how
it should unfold, what are we expecting? If we don't like cyclic
existence, we should free ourselves from it instead of blaming everyone
else for our problems. Cyclic existence depends on our uncontrolled
mind, which is filled with ignorance, anger, attachment, and selfishness.
If we want to be happy, we need to practice the Dharma and subdue
our own mind. Why do we expect others to change if we don't want
"Zopa" has the connotation of being
able to endure difficulties. We can tolerate other people's behavior
and attitudes, without feeling that we have to correct everyone's
wrong ideas and inappropriate behavior. We can sit and listen to
ideas that are different from ours, even if they concern our behavior,
religion, or political ideas. We have some ability to tolerate differences,
to tolerate other people's behavior that we don't agree with or
feel threatened by.
Here tolerating their behavior doesn't mean
we say that their behavior is okay or that we don't try to stop
harm. It is completely legit to say; "This behavior is damaging.
Such action is harmful." If we can't discriminate beneficial
and harmful behavior, we get into a mental mush, thinking "there's
no good and no bad." That leads us to ignore or undervalue
the importance of ethical discipline. Although everything is empty
on the ultimate level, conventionally we have to be able to discern
constructive from destructive actions.
Saying that a certain action is destructive
doesn't mean we hate the person or tear them apart with our judgmental
mind. We need to cultivate the discriminating
wisdom that frees us from critically judging others, but is still
able to discern what causes happiness and what causes suffering.
Patience with others' destructive actions
doesn't mean we "forgive and forget."
Forgive, yes. Forget, no. Some things should not be forgotten. Remembering
some things will help us not do them again. Still, remembering does
not entail holding onto our pain or becoming bitter or judgmental.
We remember so that we can learn from the situation, and we forgive
at the same time.
In English, the word "patience" means
the ability to wait, as in patiently waiting for a bus to arrive.
The Tibetan word "zopa" includes being able to wait without
getting agitated and upset. But it means much more. Patience is
a calmness, a mental stability that gives us the courage to be able
to face situations without fear, hurt, anger, or panic. Anger arises
when we can't accept and face a situation. We don't want what happened
to have happened, so we are angry. It happened already, whether
we wanted it to have happened or not. We need to accept it. Again,
this does not mean saying it's okay, saying it doesn't matter. But
the acceptance of that event as a reality enables us to deal with
the situation instead of skirting around it and falling into depression,
passivity, or vengeful retaliation. Patience makes our mind stable
and courageous, because we can actually accept and face a situation
for what it is.
Getting Back to Work
Regarding the events of last week, I felt
a shift yesterday, the first Monday after the tragedy. On Sunday
the president said America's a great nation and therefore we're
all going to go back to work Monday morning. But I wasn't ready
to go back to work yet. I needed more time to process what had happened.
At the same time, I did need to start doing some other things. My
instant reaction when I heard the president say this was, "Are
you telling me to stop grieving? Are you telling me not to feel
sad when I feel sad? Are you telling me to pretend this didn't happen
and to go back to the way I felt about the world on September 10th?
Does "get back to work as usual" mean that we block September
11th out of our mind and we return to the bubble of American impermeability,
thinking we are the richest country, the only superpower? Does "get
back to normal" mean resume the fantasies we have about ourselves,
even though these fantasies have been shattered? Are we supposed
to deny something happened?
I was of two minds. One felt: I can't shut
this out. It happened. My life is not going to be the same. The
world as we knew it has changed. The other asked: Am I going to
stay in the feelings I had last week -- feeling of lack of control,
fear of the terrorists, and fear of our government and what it's
going to do? Am I going to stay in that kind of state in order to
not block out its reality and pretend it doesn't exist? I can't
stay in that state of grief forever, but I can't block it out either.
I didn't want to go to either of the two extremes of blocking out
the event or dwelling in the grief and fear. I wondered how to look
Today I was reading some teachings of
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and came across a key to bringing balance
to the situation. I thought: Yes, our lives have been irrevocably
changed. I have to look at the situation that happened and acknowledge
impermanence and lack of control. I must acknowledge what the event
has meant to me so far. But at the same time, I have to have the
mental stability that can hold the tragedy, grief, and fear and
go forward in life. His Holiness quoted Shantideva's verse "As
long as space endures and as long as sentient beings remain, so
too may I abide to dispel the misery of the world." I thought, that's it! This verse
means that a bodhisattva is able to face everything without either
staying stuck in confused emotions or blocking out reality. We face
what happened -- that is, accept it in our gut -- but our purpose
in life remains clear, strong, and stable, and we go forward.
Now, we can have some discussion on this and
Student: When my twelve-year-old nephew died, I watched
my brother and his wife struggle with acknowledging his death and
seeing how things had changed, and not wanting to get stuck in their
grief. They're having a hard time with that. Most people around
them want them to be back on track, but they aren't completely ready
to. They need a lot of compassion and understanding.
VTC: Yes, it's very hard. When something occurs that
wasn't part of our version of how the universe should be, how do
we recover from it? Do you block it out and pretend your child didn't
die, or do you cry every morning? Neither of these will get you
anywhere. You need to get to the space of being able to say, "It
happened. I accept it. There's something valuable for me to learn
from this situation to be able to go forward in my life with meaning,
purpose, and kindness." This takes a lot of internal work.
Knowing the Dharma helps tremendously.
Student: In the last week, I saw myself grieving out
of honor, as if it were my duty to grieve because the country had
been attacked. Then I realized I was being rather selfish, wallowing
in the grief without deriving any positive lessons from it.
VTC: You're saying that you thought you should feel
a certain way and got stuck in that? There are different kinds of
grieving. In one kind, we spin around and get stuck in our loss.
Sometimes we feel that this is what we should do if we grieve. But
in fact, grief is the natural process of acknowledging that a change
has happened and adapting to that change. Unhealthy grief is being
filled with sorrow and getting stuck there. Healthy grief is the
process of adjusting to a major change. With this grief, we re-evaluate
things and adjust to new circumstances. This opens a space so we
don't get stuck in the sadness, guilt, anger, or other emotions.
Student: I interpreted the president's advice to get
back to work to mean "We're not going to be paralyzed by the
fear of what might happen. We're not going to remain shocked that
this happened because it has."
I've been saying the bodhisattva prayer "For
as long as space endures
" for a long time. Now I'm realizing
that I haven't really understood it well. I have a lot of respect
for His Holiness and the Tibetan people and what they have been
through. In spite of what His Holiness has experienced, he still
recites this prayer.
In comparison, I've had a very privileged
life and have thought that the meaning of that prayer was fairly
easy. But after September 11, I have an intense sadness regarding
cyclic existence. And now, I have a hard time saying that prayer.
I don't know how I can wish to stay around all this pain and suffering
for eons in order to benefit others. I'm having a lot of doubts.
VTC: I think that shows that the Dharma is sinking
in and that you're making a big step forward in your practice. Dharma
practice can seem easy at the beginning. The ideals of Buddhism
are so wonderful and we feel so inspired to say prayers and make
aspirations. But at some point when we begin to really think about
what the prayers and aspirations mean, we come up against the reality
of the situation. We begin to see what our own mind is like at present,
and we begin to understand the depth of change that must occur for
us to even begin to actualize the meaning of our aspirations. At
that point, the prayers are not just nice, beautiful ideals. They
become something to practice. Then, you're right, saying those prayers
becomes harder because we know we are making a commitment. When
Dharma begins to challenge our comfort level, that's when some practice
I had to face something similar in myself. Before
all of this started, I was scheduled to go to Israel. Just a couple
of weeks ago, I made the decision not to go because of the terrorism
and danger there. Some of my Israeli students were not very happy,
and I believe they saw me as a bit of a coward. They didn't think
that my concern for personal safety was a good enough reason for
not going. They live there, that's their reality, and they couldn't
figure out why I was hesitant to go.
In "The Guru Puja" there's a verse
about the far-reaching attitude of effort. It says, "Even if
we must remain for an ocean of eons in the fiery hells even for
the sake of one sentient being, inspire us to complete the perfection
of joyous effort to strive with compassion for supreme enlightenment
and not to be discouraged." I say this verse every morning
and feel, "Sure, I'm willing to go to the hell realm for the
benefit of one sentient being. I can build up my courage to do that."
Then I had to face that I couldn't even go to Israel for the benefit
of a group of people. I have to accept where I'm at. I say this
verse every morning and I'm nowhere close. In fact, forget going
to the hell realm for one sentient being, forget going to Israel
for many sentient beings. I don't want to endure even stubbing my
toe. I don't want to go through hardship for myself, even. It's
hard to say the bodhisattva aspirational prayers when we really
think about what they mean.
Having to face this in myself has happened many
times in my practice, so I've come to realize that when it becomes
hard to say a prayer that means I'm taking the Dharma more seriously,
I'm understanding it more deeply. It means that I'm beginning to
get more of an inkling of what a verse means.
Generating bodhicitta is incredibly difficult.
We come into the Dharma and hear the bodhicitta teachings. We do
the meditations, and they are so wonderful; we feel so uplifted.
"I have love for everybody; this really is possible."
Then we hear His Holiness say that, in his late
twenties and early thirties, he meditated a lot on emptiness. He
began to feel like he was getting a handle on it. But whenever he
thought of bodhicitta, he thought, "How in the world can I
practice this?" We think, "What a funny thing to say.
Bodhicitta is so wonderful and is so easy to understand. But emptiness!
.non-affirming negation, the negated object, inference
and valid cognizers, and the four philosophical systems. Who understands
that? But bodhicitta is easy. Why does His Holiness say it's the
other way around?"
That's how we feel at the beginning of our
practice. Once we begin to get a teeny inkling of what bodhicitta
means, then we can see why His Holiness said, "I have some
understanding of emptiness but, can I practice bodhicitta? It's
wonderful and it's marvelous but can I do that?!"
Just getting to the point where we ourselves
ask that question indicates that we've taken a step. At the beginning,
we say, "I don't want to keep hearing teachings on bodhicitta.
That's easy. I want to hear Mahamudra and Dzogchen! I want to hear
completion stage of Tantra! I'm ready for that. Bodhicitta, love,
compassion, they're a cinch!"
Some Westerners are eager to take bodhisattva
and tantric vows, but they don't even want to take the five precepts.
Stop killing, stealing, unwise sexual behavior, lying, and intoxicants.
We think, "I don't want to stop doing those things! But bodhisattva
vows, tantric vows, I can handle those, no problem."
That shows we haven't understood very much,
doesn't it? When we get to the point where the five precepts seem
like a big challenge, that's when we really are beginning to practice
the Dharma. Stop lying!? That's not so easy to do, let alone stop
the four others.
What I'm getting at is, when the things that
you thought were easy to recite or easy to do become difficult,
it means you are making progress.
Student: I have a question about being pacifist. Today
I read some things on-line about non-violence and the reaction to
terrorism by one of Gandhi's relatives, who runs a center in Memphis.
I'm wondering: If we aren't going to be passive but are non-violent
and practice compassion, how do we say that what happened is wrong?
VTC: I think we can quite clearly say, "This
is a harmful action." Having compassion for someone doesn't
mean thinking that everything he does is fine. We have compassion
for them because their minds are uncontrolled. We intervene to try
to correct or to help in a situation in order to protect everyone
involved. We want to protect the victims from experiencing suffering
now and the perpetrators from experiencing suffering later because
they have created negative karma.
Being compassionate doesn't mean being passive.
It's important to reveal where terrorist cells are and to stop people
from harming themselves and others. We can imprison such people
without having the motivation to punish them.
However, I think that bombing an impoverished
country like Afghanistan makes us look foolish. Forget Dharma; just
be practical. Throwing our weight around makes us look foolish and
ineffective. It doesn't do anything but feed the image that America
is a big bully. It makes the terrorists see us as more of an enemy
and may sway moderate people to see us as such as well. And, if
we don't succeed militarily -- like Vietnam, Afghanistan is not
a familiar or easy territory on which to conduct a war -- America
will look more foolish.
Compassion involves deeply looking into the
situation. For example, brushing people off as religious fanatics
is too simplistic. How does somebody get to the point of misconstruing
their own religion? What is going on in their minds and lives that
they do this?
Compassion also means we ask how our behavior
contributed to their perception of America. What are we doing that
is invoking this kind of perception of and reaction to us? This
is an opportunity to start looking at ourselves and others more
deeply. We need to correct those things in our own society, in our
own heart, and in our own foreign policy.
Student: I tried to explain to someone at work that massive
bombing isn't the way. They said, "We can't just roll over.
If we do, the terrorists will start to do even worse actions."
I think they hatch other plots anyway.
VTC: We're not advocating rolling over. We want a
measured, thoughtful response. People are angry now and just want
to strike out. We want people to think of an effective response.
You may remember I told you about one of the
prisoners asking me, "What can I do when someone is in my face,
deliberately provoking me?" I said, "If you get upset
and slug him, you're playing into his trip. That's what he wants
you to do."
Student: I've been thinking that we've been very self-focused.
Why don't we have the same kind of media coverage for the horrible
things happening in other parts of the world? If we heard stories
of individual tragedies and heroism elsewhere, maybe we could respond
to the rest of the world with the same outpouring of care and generosity
that we are having for other Americans right now.
VTC: Think about the earthquakes in Turkey and Armenia.
We could see people sobbing, but we couldn't understand their language.
When we hear people speaking in English with an accent that is our
own, then what they're experiencing hits us much stronger because
they seem more like us. We know how we would feel in such a circumstance.
Also, the media coverage here is much better
than in Turkey and Armenia. It does lead to a certain amount of
self-focus. In one way, it can be good because we can take this
and recognize, "Look how much we hurt when this happens! Others
hurt to the same extent when they experience tragedy. Let's do more
to extend a generous hand to them when they're hurting." That
can be good; it can wake us up a lot. But if we just get stuck in
our own self-focus, then we are doing more of the same.
Student: I read that article by Saddam Hussein in the
newspaper in which he said, "Now you might understand what
it's like to see my cities decimated." That shook up my idea
about what a monster he is. From his side, he's experienced what
we are experiencing.
Student: I read an article by a Canadian in the paper.
He said that he was tired of the US getting the bad rap and we are
in there to rescue the other countries and they end up not appreciating
it. I think the US goes in and helps war-torn people more than any
VTC: We have a responsibility to help because we
have more ability and more wealth. But, we also help to create the
wars because we are the biggest seller of military weapons. What
if we exported as much to repair war-torn countries as we do to
give them the weapons to destroy each other? Our country can be
extremely generous when we want, but we can also be very blind.
Let's dedicate the positive potential we've
created this evening specifically for peace in our world, among
people, and within each individual.
Due to this merit may we soon
Attain the enlightened state of guru-Buddha
That we may be able to liberate
All sentient beings from their suffering.
May the precious bodhi mind
Not yet born arise and grow
May that born have no decline
But increase forever more.