The Urban Dharma Newsletter - January 18, 2006
In This Issue: Buddhism and Anger
1. Anger - About.com
2. Anger Management --Buddhist Style -- Jeffrey Po
3. Anger & Relationships - Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
4. Preliminary Discussion on Anger - Dharma Master Thich Thien Tam
1. Anger - About.com
William Blake's poem 'A Poison Tree' opens:
I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe;
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
What the poem explores is the feeling of anger and what we do with it. The first two lines suggest that one way of dealing with anger is to simply express it and, in the context of friendship, no harm appears to be done. In the final two lines of this stanza, however, the failure to express anger (with an 'enemy') only feeds the anger. And whilst this anger is growing, the speaker puts on a false face of smiles and 'soft deceitful wiles'. This internalized anger is likened to a tree that eventually produces a poisoned apple that proves fatal:
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretch'd beneath the tree.
It seems that the expression of anger, according to Blake, is far less dangerous than concealing it.
A Destructive Emotion
So what does Buddhism teach us about anger? First and foremost, it is seen as a destructive emotion, one that leads to one's own suffering but also the suffering of others. The Buddha urged his followers to 'give up anger', to 'conquer anger with love, to 'speak not harshly to anyone'. This does not mean that one shouldn't be able to express how one feels but if it is done with anger then it is unlikely that anything productive will come of it. What anger breeds is fear, anxiety, and underlying resentment. How often have we been carried away by our anger, regretting it later, and feeling that we have gone too far or we have done more harm than good?
It is inevitable that we will often feel injured and hurt by what others say or do to us. The Buddha said that nobody is above praise or blame. There are a number of ways we can react to the feeling of anger when it rises up within us. One is to retaliate - which for Buddhism would not be seen as very productive. Two, we could express our feelings but try to do it in a calm and reasoned way, speaking truthfully and honestly. The third option might be that speaking openly and honestly will still not resolve the situation, or could make it worse. If this is the case we must not, as in Blake's poem, let the anger ferment, grow and develop. We mustn't let it gnaw away at us, making us bitter and twisted. Here, it is important to 'let go'. Basically, place the emotions surrounding one's anger in a little box and - mentally - throw it away. Don't allow the mind to dwell on it. Although Buddhism urges restraint with regard to anger, it doesn't see that the suppression of it is productive either.
Meditation and Anger
There are two meditation methods that may be helpful in managing anger. One is the insight or vipassana method. This involves simply noting the feeling of anger when it arises ('anger,anger'), to view it dispassionately as an observer and in this way avoiding reacting to it.
Another method, which might be better for more deep-rooted feelings of anger and resentment, is loving-kindness or metta meditation. Here one develops feelings of loving-kindness for oneself and then extends it outwards in order to a loved one, a friend, a neutral person and finally to someone you feel hostility towards.
The Buddha knew that anger is a powerful emotion and can lead to great suffering for those who unleash it. Consequently, it has to be dealt with but we have to lead it by the nose rather than be led by it.
2. Anger Management --Buddhist Style -- Jeffrey Po
Like other human emotions of love, patience, hatred, jealousy, anxiety and so on, anger is a normal emotional experience also. It is described as an intense feeling of irritation, displeasure or dissatisfaction. Anger by itself is not something to be feared about but the way and manner it is expressed can affect others and us. This is something that we ought to be concerned about.
The Lord Buddha Gotama, recognized the emotions of anger in humans and He had made remarks in this direction:
"There are three types of people in the world. What three? One who is like carving on a rock, one who is like scratching on the ground and one who is like writing on the water. What sort of person is like carving on the rock? Imagine a certain person who is always getting angry and his anger lasts long, jut as carving on a rock is not soon worn off by wind, water or lapse of time. What sort of person is like scratching on the ground? Imagine a certain person who is always getting angry but his anger does not last long, just as scratching on the ground is soon worn off by wind, water and lapse of time. And what sort of person is like writing on the water? Imagine a certain person who, even though spoken to harshly, sharply, roughly, is easily reconciled and becomes agreeable and friendly, just as writing on the water soon disappears". --Anguttara Nikaya I/283
Anger is therefore inherent in humans. Though a natural expression of emotion, Buddhists consider it as "akusala" (unwholesome, unskillful) action. Buddhists do not subscribe to notions such as "righteous anger" or "justifiable anger". Anger lasts for a period of time and with varying depths and intensities. Anger when directed at others shows up as aggression and when turned inwards towards us leads to frustration, irritation, and anxiety and eventually to depression. Both situations are surely "dukkha" (unsatisfactory). It is therefore looked upon a destructive emotional expressions.
Anger originates from the mind and often gives rise to other unwholesome (akusala) tendencies such as malice, hatred (dosa), ill will (vyapada), revenge. In Buddhism, anger is taken to be synonymous to hatred (dosa) which is one of the three unwholesome roots (mulas) that has to be eradicated if one wishes to attain the state of Nibbanic bliss. It is a defilement (kilesa) of the mental faculties. Its long-term effects are usually detrimental to oneself and others. As a mind-force, anger arises from two sources - external and internal to the person. External situations and issues (arammana) such as those from the speeches, behaviors and body languages of others, received through the 5 sense-doors (panca dvara) stimulate the arising of the anger emotions. Internal stimulations of anger can arise from thinking and ideations about those situations and issues be they from the present, the past or even the future. From whatever way(s) anger arises and in whatever form, it is mostly destructive and seldom constructive in consequences.
Since anger originates from the mind, it can also be removed if the mind can be trained in methods to firstly manage it and finally to remove it. In psychology, the usual counselling technique employed is the Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) or Cognitive Therapy. This involves the slow process of modifying and altering the mindset, attitude and worldview of the person. It means redrawing the mind map so that judgments passed and decisions derived at, do not cause the stimulation of anger. It also means correcting any cognitive distortions that are held.
To assist the redrawing of the mind map the following pointers can be helpful:
Select a Role-model:
For Buddhists the excellent role-model is the Lord Buddha Gotama. Just be familiar with His life story and His constant admonishment for peace, calmness and tranquility. Read the Jataka stories concerning His past births - for instance when as the Bodhisatta, born as Samkhapala, a serpent, maintained perfect peace and tranquility of mind though He was beaten and pierced with sharp instruments (Jataka story 524). Again, inspite of the many attempts by Devadatta to create a schism within the Sangha, He did not harbor any thoughts of malice and ill-will against the former. If this selection is uncomfortable then a choice of a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni or any other that one has affinity with is helpful.
That the Lord Buddha Gotama is the perfect role-model is undeniable. The Dhammapada verse 387 shares:
"The sun glows by the day; the moon shines by the night: in his amour the warrior glows.
In meditation shines the Brahman.
But all day and night, shines with radiance the Awakened One"
Most times anger arises unconsciously and instinctively. It simply flares up. The cultivation of the state of mindfulness (sati) is considered as the best guard against anger and all other unwholesome states of the mind. Mindfulness (sati) is "pure awareness"; the presence of mind; realizing and knowing clearly any happenings at that moment of time. Usually one is unaware that anger has arisen until after a period of time. By then the angry person is all red in the face; feeling hot; lousy; huffing and puffing and the mind is speeding like a run-away train. Persistent meditative practices to note the arising of anger can eventually lead one to detect the arising of anger before it arises (and erupts). The moment anger arises one need to quickly recognize it and perhaps say to oneself, "Aha - anger, anger". Also it is worthwhile to note that Right Effort (Samma Vayama), the sixth factor in the Noble Eightfold Path states:
"What now, O Monks, is Right Effort?
If the disciple rouses his will to avoid evil,
demeritorous things that have not yet arisen...
If the disciple rouses his will to overcome evil,
demeritorous things that have already arisen...
...and so forth..."
This clearly shows that with mindfulness, one can really detect any sort of unwanted or unwholesome thinking that is about to arise and through sheer training, curb it.
The mind can be trained to substitute emotional expressions. Constant recitation of short "catch phrases" is embedded in the mind. Habit eventually forms to become instinctive responses. Here the Buddhist concept of Loving-kindness (metta) comes handy. Short phrases connected to it are useful substitute. Whenever anger is about to arise, those phrases spring instinctively to the mind and replace the anger expressions. The recommended stanza is:
"May all beings be free from harm and danger
May all beings be free from mental sufferings
May all beings be free from physical sufferings
May all beings take care of themselves happily".
Or one might simply recite again and again to oneself:
"May all beings be well and happy".
Looking into ourselves:
As one saying goes, "It takes two hands to clap". Anger situations are usually provoked, though on most occasions parties are unaware of those provocations. As much as others are blamed, sometimes upon reflection we share some blame also. According to the Lord Buddha Gotama, no one is blameless.
"This, O Atula, is an old saying;
it is not one of today only:
they blame those who sit silent,
they blame those who speak too much.
Those speaking little too they blame.
There never was, there never will be, nor does there exist now, a person who is wholly blamed or wholly praised" --Dhammapada verse 227/228
Think of Harmful effects on yourself:
Undeniable, expressions of anger affect everyone. They are unpleasant, distasteful and wretched. So, before an outburst, just consider the aftermath. Why get into it the first place? The Ven. Buddhaghosa reasons:
"Suppose an enemy has hurt you in his own domain, why should you annoy yourself and hurt your mind in your own domain?
Suppose someone, to annoy, provokes you to do some evil act, why allow anger to arise and thus do exactly as he wants you to do?" --Visuddhi Magga
Live and Let live:
Think of death. Consider that one day all will die. Life is short. Why go walking around with thunder and lightning above our heads? Would it not be better and beneficial for all if more congeniality and pleasantness ensues? Thinking is this manner one could perhaps cool down and decide against getting angry. The Lord Buddha Gotama reminds:
"Life in the world is unpredictable and uncertain.
Life is difficult, short and fraught with suffering."
"When the fruit is ripe, it may drop early in the morning.
In the same way, one who is born may die at any moment". --Sutta Nipata 574/576
Adopt Forgiving Nature:
Hate is the end product of anger. To stop hating, the expression of love is the substitute. To love is to forgive. Ignore the faults and mistakes of others. Do not look for motives to justify one's anger. Just forgive and be relieved from the situation. The very act strengthens both the spiritual and moral character of the forgiver. Once again the Lord Buddha Gotama remarks:
"By three things the wise person may be known. What three? He sees a shortcoming as it is. When he sees it, he tries to correct it. And when another acknowledges a shortcoming, the wise one forgive it as he should". --Anguttara Nikaya I - 103
The Law of Kamma:
Buddhists are familiar with the workings of the Law of Kamma. It is one of the 5 Niyamas (natural laws). As such it is worthwhile to remember that one is the owner and heir of one's deeds. They will surely ripen one day either in this life or in future lives. Therefore be wary of one's actions and be wise to remember:
"Not to do any evil, to cultivate good, to purify one's mind, this is the teaching of the Buddhas". --Dhammapada verse 183
Having said thus far, would it mean that all expressions of anger are to be entirely removed and forever eradicated from one's nature and personality? Living in the modern society such directions may backfire and result in stress and anxiety for the individual instead. Today, it is recognized that "anger" consciously deployed to reinforce another emotional expression such as being stern (mother chiding her child) or to discipline (instructor bellowing at recruits) is healthy as it reveals the emotions of the "angry person". The other party is able to follow-up the cue. The episode ends. However uncontrollable and prolonged outbursts; fuming inside; unreasonable yelling and shouting; challenging others (or oneself); instinctive flaring up - they constitute "angry" emotional responses and expressions that are considered unhealthy mental stances that ought to be recognized, restrained and finally removed.
3. Anger & Relationships - Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
Anger is particularly destructive in relationships. When we live in close contact with someone, our personalities, priorities, interests, and ways of doing things frequently clash. Since we spend so much time together, and since we know the other person's shortcomings so well, it is very easy for us to become critical and short-tempered with our partner and to blame him or her for making our life uncomfortable. Unless we make a continuous effort to deal with this anger as it arises, our relationship will suffer. A couple may genuinely love one another, but if they frequently get angry with each other the times when they are happy together will become fewer and further between. Eventually there will come a point when before they have recovered from one row the next has already begun. Like a flower choked by weeds, love cannot survive in such circumstances.
In a close relationship, opportunities to get angry arise many times a day, so to prevent the build-up of bad feelings we need to deal with anger as soon as it begins to arise in our mind. We clear away the dishes after every meal rather than waiting until the end of the month, because we do not want to live in a dirty house nor be faced with a huge, unpleasant job. In the same way, we need to make the effort to clear away the mess in our mind as soon as it appears, for if we allow it to accumulate it will become more and more difficult to deal with, and will endanger our relationship. We should remember that every opportunity to develop anger is also an opportunity to develop patience. A relationship in which there is a lot of friction and conflict of interests is also an unrivalled opportunity to erode away our self-cherishing and self-grasping, which are the real sources of all our problems. By practising the instructions on patience explained here, we can transform our relationships into opportunities for spiritual growth.
It is through our anger and hatred that we transform people into enemies. We generally assume that anger arises when we encounter a disagreeable person, but actually it is the anger already within us that transforms the person we meet into our imagined foe. Someone controlled by their anger lives within a paranoid view of the world, surrounded by enemies of his or her own creation. The false belief that everyone hates him can become so overwhelming that he might even go insane, the victim of his own delusion
4. Preliminary Discussion on Anger - Dharma Master Thich Thien Tam
How to Combat and Subdue Anger / How to Do Away with the Judgemental Mind First principle Second principle Third principle / Some advice on Fault-Finding
How to Combat and Subdue Anger
Among the various afflictions, only anger manifests itself in a very crude manner, destroying the practitioner in a most effective way. Therefore the ancients said:
When we allow an angry thought to arise, we open the door to millions of obstructions.
For example, while reciting the Buddha's name, a practitioner may suddenly think of a wicked, ungrateful, stern and evil person who has treated him cruelly; or, he may remember close relatives who are troublesome and unreliable and have caused him grief. He therefore becomes sad and angry, fidgety and uneasy. In that state of mind, his mouth recites the Buddha's name while his mind is saddened and full of delusive thoughts. Some practitioners drop their rosaries and stop reciting; lying down, they put their arms on their foreheads and let their minds wander aimlessly. Others are so afflicted and saddened that they forget about eating and sleeping in their desire to confront the culprit and shout at him; or they look for ways to take revenge and get even. The angry mind can harm the practitioner to that extent.
To combat and subdue anger and resentment, we must develop a compassionate mind. The Lotus Sutra teaches:
We should take the mind of great compassion as our house, forbearance as our armor, the Truth of Emptiness as our throne.
We should think: we ourselves and all other sentient beings are common mortals drowning in the sea of Birth and Death, all because of karma and afflictions. However, afflictions by their very nature are illusory and unreal. For example, where does an angry thought come from before it arises? Where does it return to when it dissipates? When we are angry and resentful, we are the first to suffer, because we have ignited the fire of afflictions, which will consume us. Anger, moreover, can neither convert nor bring a single benefit to anyone. Is it not then a useless case of delusion?
We should think further: those who have harmed us by their wrongful actions have, through delusion, planted evil seeds; they will necessarily suffer retribution. They should therefore be the objects of pity, not anger. This is because, if they were clear-minded and understood the causes of merit and retribution, they would never dare do such things. We are offspring of the Buddhas and should apply their teachings to dissolve our own afflictions -- because the goal of cultivation is to seek liberation and happiness, not to descend upon the path of suffering. We should feel compassionate and forgiving of injurious actions and practice forbearance, understanding that everything is illusory and void. We should remember the words of the ancient masters:
The fire of the three poisons, greed, anger and delusion, Burns up all the forests of virtue; Those who would tread the Bodhisattva Path, should be forbearing in mind and body.
Compassion is the pure and refreshing water that can extinguish the fire of afflictions; forbearance is the enduring armor that can block all poisoned arrows; the Dharma of the Void is the light that can completely destroy the somber smoke of delusion. Knowing these three things and relying on them to rid ourselves of anger and resentment is to have "entered the house of the Buddhas, worn the armor of the Buddhas and sat on the Buddhas' throne."
How to Do Away with the Judgemental Mind
We ordinary people, not having attained the mind of true equanimity, and still making the distinction between ourselves and others, count life's successes and failures, rights and wrongs, praise and blame, in the tens of millions; no one can escape this condition. Even the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, who in their compassion appear in this world to save sentient beings, must endure criticism, affection and distaste.
The ancients have said:
No one is immune from criticism and blame, it is just that people refrain from speaking openly. This is an accurate observation born out of experience.
If the practitioner is not clear-minded and calm, criticism can sometimes upset him, giving rise to afflictions, and greatly obstructing his cultivation. I therefore raise this question in an attempt to find a cure.
To avoid being judgemental, we should follow three principles.
First principle: we should examine and correct our own mistakes, not watch or discuss the transgressions of others. Take the case of a black buffalo which allows a white heron to perch on his back, but uses his horns to chase away a crow trying to do the same. Little does the buffalo realize that it is much darker than the crow!
Ordinary people, too, are similar, fond of praise, loathing criticism, delighting in exposing other people's mistakes while not realizing that they themselves have many more failings and are nothing to be proud of! For this reason, the main principle followed by practitioners is to reverse the light, observing and correcting themselves, not watching or discussing other people's transgressions. Examining and correcting our own mistakes will develop our wisdom, while watching and discussing the failings of others will certainly create karmic debts and injustice.
Second principle: When we are the object of slander or blame, we should remain calm and forbearing and not necessarily seek ways to justify ourselves. For example, if a sheet of white paper is stained by a spot of black ink, left alone it will be smudged in only one place and the spot will gradually fade away. If, on the other hand, we try to erase the blot, the whole sheet can become dirty.
A well-known commentary states:
Being the object of injustice, do not always seek to justify yourself, because to do so will create more rancor .
This is because when someone has set his mind upon speaking ill of another, if the latter tries to justify himself, he is in effect saying that the speaker is wrong. Naturally, this leads to hatred, resentment and conflict, and unintentionally makes the dispute known to everyone around, who then begin to harbor doubts about the very person attempting to justify himself.
In general, those who have just begun to cultivate see themselves in the right and others in the wrong. Those who have cultivated for a while see themselves and others as sometimes right and sometimes wrong. Seasoned cultivators only see themselves as being in the wrong. Why is this so? It is because, if those of us who are the object of slander are not wrong in this life, we may have committed transgressions in a previous life for which we must now endure retribution. Even if we have not created "personal karma" by directly committing a transgression, it must have been due to "common karma" that we were born in this world of the Five Turbidities.
Having created adverse karma, let us not blame Heaven for being near or far.
These words by the well-known Vietnamese poet Nguyen-Du are indeed quietly consonant with the teaching of the Way.
Third principle: The practitioner should be steadfast in his determination, believe firmly in the law of cause and effect, and not be moved by words of praise and blame from outside. The Dhammapada Sutra teaches:
A high mountain stands immovable in the midst of a raging storm. The upright man is calm and at peace within the swirl of criticism and gossip.
No amount of praise or ridicule from outside can make us good or bad, free from suffering or mired in suffering; everything depends on ourselves. If we create good karma, even though we are despised as evil and full of transgressions, we will still be reborn in the higher realms. On the other hand, if we create bad karma, although we may be honored and praised, we will still be reborn in the lower realms.
A Vietnamese Zen Master once wrote a refreshing stanza along these lines:
Let us not concern ourselves with fame or fortune, right or wrong; Let them drop with the morning flowers, freeze with the midnight rain and gradually fade away. There, a bird's song, springtime has passed. Why not concentrate on practicing the Way?
Some advice on Fault-Finding
An ancient proverb states:
If even what we see before our eyes is sometimes untrue, how can we possibly believe what is said behind people's backs? Therefore, while our ears may hear talk of right and wrong, our mouths should not repeat it.
Criticism and issues of right and wrong often originate in unfounded doubts, misunderstanding and misinterpretation. What in the house is merely a mouse, past the gate takes the shape of a goat, and outside in the street is transformed into a buffalo. While originally there may have been very little substance to a rumor, by the time it reaches the tenth person, even the one who actually started it may receive quite a shock!
Frequently, disparaging words spring from a contentious or jealous frame of mind, the determination to settle accounts, or the desire to denigrate those who have more advantages or qualities than ourselves. Women, and many men as well, seem prone to this habit of gossip, jealousy and criticism. When they like and respect someone, he is depicted as an Immortal or a Buddha; when they despise or resent him, he easily becomes a demon or a ghost. A respected master once observed, "women tend to have stronger faith than men and are usually diligent and assiduous in their practice. However, the virtues they reap from cultivation often go up in smoke because of their mouths!"
To avoid such mistakes and ensure that virtues are not lost, I will relate, for our common edification, the teachings of the Patriarchs and Buddha Sakyamuni Himself.
One leisurely evening, a king asked a certain courtier, "You appear to be a man of integrity. Why is it that you are the target of so much criticism, slander and hatred?" The official replied, "Your Majesty, when the torrential rains of spring arrive, farmers are elated because their fields are well-irrigated. Pedestrians, on the other hand, are unhappy because the streets are muddy and slippery. When the summer moon is as clear and bright as a mirror, poets and writers rejoice at the opportunity to travel and compose couplets and poems, while thieves and felons are distressed at the brightness of the moonlight! If even the impartial heaven and earth are the object of blame and resentment, love and hate, how can this subject of yours, imperfect and full of blemishes, escape denigration and criticism?
"Thus, I venture to think, we should remain calm in the face of praise or criticism, think it over, and not rush to believe it. If a king believes gossip, his subjects lose their lives; if parents believe gossip, their children are hurt; if brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, believe words of gossip, they experience separation; if relatives, friends and neighbors believe gossip, they sever relations with one another. Fault-finding is really more noxious that snakes and serpents, sharper than swords and knives, killing without spilling a single drop of blood."
According to the judgement of history, this courtier was a disloyal official; however, his answer was sound and reasonable, and a worthy example for later generations. It is therefore still quoted today.
The Lotus Sutra states:
Then the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue said to the Buddha [Sakyamuni]: "World Honored One! In the latter five hundred years of the corrupt and evil age, whoever receives and keeps this sutra, I will guard and protect him, eliminate his anxieties and give him ease of mind ... If anyone sees those who receive and keep this sutra and proclaims their errors and sins , whether true or false, such a person [will receive all kinds of evil karma]." (Bunno Kato, et.al., tr. The Three-fold Lotus Sutra, p. 340-343.)
As Buddha Sakyamuni said, slandering and harming those who recite the Lotus Sutra constitutes a heavy transgression. So does slandering and harming those who recite the Buddha's name, mantras and other Mahayana texts.
As stated also in the Brahma Net Sutra:
A disciple of the Buddha[s] must not himself discuss the offenses of any Bodhisattva sanghan, Bodhisattva lay person, bhikshu, bhikshuni, nor may he encourage others to do so, or involve himself in the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of speaking of the offenses of the Four Assemblies ... If instead, a Bodhisattva discusses the faults of those within the Buddha Dharma, he thereby commits a Bodhisattva Parajika [major] offense.
A disciple of the Buddha[s] must not praise himself and disparage others, encourage others to do so, or involve himself in the causes, conditions, methods or karma of praising himself and disparaging others ... Otherwise, he commits a Bodhisattva Parajika [major] offense. (Hui Seng, Brahma Net Sutra. Part I, p. 97 and 100, respectively.)
Buddha Sakyamuni, in his compassion, clearly indicated the paths of transgression and merit, but we Buddhists are so deluded that many of us have forgotten all about them. Because of our minds filled with jealousy and criticism, we create immeasurable evil karma of speech!
In the Great Heap Sutra, Buddha Sakyamuni said:
If kings and officials beat and scold monks and nuns, whether the latter keep the precepts or not, the bad karma of the kings and officials is as great as if they had shed the blood of millions of Buddhas. If we see someone wearing the yellow robe, whether he keeps the precepts or not, we should consider him a Buddha.
As the Great Heap Sutra clearly teaches, if monks, nuns or laymen have committed transgressions, they will suffer retribution. We should feel only compassion for them, rather than disdain or scorn. Respectful and compassionate thoughts increase our good karma; scornful and deprecating thoughts, and looking for the failings of others, can only reduce our stock of merit and virtue, bringing suffering and tears! For this reason, the true cultivator is always concerned with self-examination and self-improvement. On the other hand, if we still have many faults but do not examine ourselves, spending our time unmasking and denigrating others, we cannot be said to have a true understanding of cultivation.
The ancients used to say:
Harming others brings misfortune; to be harmed is to receive merit.
When the cultivator is subjected to criticism and slander, he should think: "that person is bringing me merit." Why is this so? It is because, from time immemorial, we have committed obstructive transgressions. If we are the object of one word of scorn and belittlement, our bad karma has been lightened by one part. Are we not then receiving merit and benefit? Those who engage in scornful speech and slander will certainly suffer retribution; through delusion, they bring calamity upon themselves.
In order to demonstrate clearly what true cultivation and the personality of the true cultivator are, I will quote a passage from the No-Mark Stanza of the Platform Sutra, by the Sixth Patriarch:
He who treads the Path in earnest Sees not the mistakes of the world;
If we find fault with others
We ourselves are also in the wrong.
When other people are in the wrong, we should ignore it,
For it is wrong for us to find fault.
By getting rid of the habit of fault-finding
We cut off a source of defilement.
When neither hatred nor love disturbs our mind
Serenely we sleep.
(Wong Mou-Lam, tr. "The Sutra of Hui Neng," p. 34.in The Diamond Sutra & The Sutra of Hui Neng.)
Buddhist adherents, whether clergy or laymen, all consider themselves cultivators, concerned with the Way. However, how can we tell the genuine from the sham cultivator? On this issue, the Sixth Patriarch has advanced a simple criterion. He said:
He who treads the Path in earnest sees not the mistakes of the world.
In effect, the genuine cultivator always looks at himself to correct his own mistakes and dwells in empty, still meditation. Having severed the mind of discrimination between himself and others, how can he think about the good and bad points of others? With the sham cultivator on the other hand, the mind of self and others, right and wrong, jealousy and hate runs rampant; as soon as he opens his mouth, he criticizes others and speaks of the good and bad points of the world. This is very far from the Way.
Therefore, when we continue to see the mistakes of others, denigrating and slandering them, we demonstrate that we are the most awkward and wanting of all, because our minds are still deluded, full of discrimination, lacking in wisdom and compassion. We thus bring retribution upon ourselves in the future. Regardless of whether or not others are in the wrong, let us strive not to be in the wrong ourselves. We should learn from great men and let our minds be as clear and bright as a mirror. Without anticipating or hedging about future events, without regretting or dreaming about things of the past, with the mind filled with brightness and equanimity, we will surely receive a wonderful response!
If we have distracting thoughts of envy and hate and speak words of scorn and blame, then, internally our True Nature becomes defiled and externally we bring rancor and disputes upon ourselves. This results in further errors and transgressions. For this reason, to achieve peace of mind and be free of afflictions, we should not comment on people's shortcomings.
The phrase "by getting rid of the habit of fault-finding" also has the deeper meaning of eliminating the Four Propositions and eradicating the One Hundred Errors.
"When neither hatred nor love disturbs our mind, serenely we sleep" ("reclining with both legs stretched out and resting") describes the state of great liberation, all eagerness for study gone, eating when hungry, sleeping when tired.
True cultivators always have a clear and solid position and viewpoint, and pay no attention to the praise and criticism, likes and dislikes of the outside world. As an example, it once happened that a well known Zen Master, having awakened to the Way under Elder Master Fu Shan, went to reside in a famous monastery. Although living among the Great Assembly, he did not practice meditation or seek guidance in the Dharma; all he did all day was lay sleeping.
Upon hearing this, the abbot arrived at the meditation hall, a big staff in hand. Seeing the guest master reclining with eyes closed, he admonished: "This place does not have surplus rice to allow you to do nothing but eat and rest!" Reply: "What would you, High Master, advise me to do?" The abbot said: "Why don't you sit in meditation?" Answer: "Succulent food cannot tempt those who have eaten their fill." The abbot continued, "A great many people are unhappy with you." Answer: "If they were happy, what would I gain?" Hearing these unusual replies, the abbot inquired further, "Who was your master?" Answer: "I arrived here after having studied under the eminent Master Fu Shan." The abbot said, "No wonder you are so headstrong!" They then clasped hands, laughing aloud, and headed toward the abbot's quarters.
One day, many years later, the guest Zen Master, having washed himself, ascended the Dharma seat, bid farewell to the great assembly, wrote a parting stanza, immediately dropped the pen and expired in a seated position. The guest master, as we can see, conducted himself easily and freely, having mastered life and death. Is it not because he had truly internalized the meaning of the passage "when neither hatred nor love disturbs our mind, serenely we sleep?"
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