Student: I’m not yet at the level where I can use meditation on emptiness or the illusory nature of phenomena as an antidote to my anger. When a problem is right in front of me, I try to remember emptiness, but the problem still seems enormous. What are some other tools I can use to counteract anger and avoid creating more negative karma?
Rinpoche: If you meditate on emptiness, it doesn’t help? The problem arises while you’re meditating on emptiness? The problem arises while it’s empty? Maybe I’m also involved in the problem! When you meditate on emptiness, the anger will stop because emptiness is a remedy for all the delusions. Why? Because it is the antidote to ignorance, which is the foundation of all the other delusions. Therefore, the minute you meditate on emptiness, anger will stop. Anger arises when you believe in the false object, the false I, the false enemy—all these things that do not exist. When you believe that they are true and that they really exist, anger arises.
When you meditate on emptiness, you look at the truth of the I, the truth of the other person, and you find that no foundation for anger exists. Thus emptiness is the most powerful antidote to the delusions. If anger arises after you have meditated on emptiness it is because there is no continuation of the meditation. Since the mindfulness of emptiness has stopped, anger can arise.
First, you have to remember to use a meditation technique when you have a problem. Often the problem is forgetting to use the technique. But once you remember the technique and use it, it works. If you do not remember to apply a meditation technique, the delusion will usually overwhelm you.
The first technique I recommend is to think about karma. This brings you back to the fundamental philosophy of Buddhism—no creator other than your own mind exists. Buddhists do not believe in God. Buddhists do not believe that there is a creator of your life who has a separate mind from yours. This basic Buddhist tenet differentiates Buddhism from other religions that believe in a creator God. From the Buddhist viewpoint, no external being who creates your life exists. There is no other creator besides your own mind, your own karma.
Whatever happens in your life comes from your own mind. Your aggregates (this association of body and mind, which includes your senses), the way you view objects of the senses (forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile objects), and the feelings that arise by the senses contacting these objects are suffering in nature. Your whole world comes from your mind because of the imprints of past karma—the positive, negative, and neutral karmic imprints left on your mind-stream. The events and experiences of your life are manifestations of those karmic imprints. Because of karmic imprints, you now have a human body, human aggregates. Your feelings of happiness or suffering are also due to the ripening of particular karmic imprints. Ultimately, all your experiences come from your mind.
Your aggregates, your senses, your view of sense objects, and the feelings you experience through contacting them arise from karma. Karma is the mental factor of intention. Where does karma come from? From ignorance. When we speak of the twelve links of dependent arising, ignorance is the first. From it comes karma, and from karma come all the results you experience. All these come from your mind, not only from karma—the mental factor of intention—but also from the ignorance that is the root of samsara, the concept of an inherently existent I. This is how your happiness and suffering evolve.
If your meditation on emptiness is not yet firm, then thinking about karma can be a very powerful way to stop anger. The minute you think about karma, there is no place in your mind for anger because you see there’s nobody and nothing to blame. Thinking of karma is putting into practice the basic Buddhist philosophy that there is no creator other than your mind. You need to apply that philosophy in your life. You shouldn’t just leave it as philosophy, written in a notebook that you keep on the top shelf of your bookcase, but remember and apply it in your daily life, especially when you have problems. The philosophy of karma is very effective not only to discuss as a philosophy but also to use in your life to calm your mind.
The moment anger arises, your mind believes in a creator. You think that someone else is creating your problem. “The problem I’m experiencing came from that person.” That is similar to believing in an external creator. You hold two contradictory attitudes—you talk about and believe karma and the philosophy of Buddhism, but when you encounter a difficulty in your daily life, you think that there is an external being who created it! Instead of practicing that there is no creator, you practice that there is a creator because the problem came from somebody else. “That person created my problem.” In daily life, you become just like practitioners of other religions; you practice that there is a creator. Even though you do not use the word “God,” you believe that there is a creator, somebody else who created your problem. With this as the basis, anger arises.
But the minute that you think that you are the creator, that your mind is the creator, that whatever you are experiencing comes from karma you yourself have created, you know that there is nothing external to blame, so there is no basis for anger to arise. The wish to retaliate and harm someone else is based on the belief that the other person is harming you, that you are an innocent victim who has nothing to do with the problem.
Generating compassion and the benefits of doing so
Thinking about karma first is powerful because it sets the foundation. On top of this, meditate on emptiness or compassion or any of the other techniques. In the sixth chapter of A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva said:
Previously I must have caused similar harm
To other sentient beings.
Therefore, it is right for this harm to be returned
To me who is the cause of injury to others.
Thinking in this way is useful. It stops the mind that thinks that we should be able to harm others but should not receive any harm from them. That thought is very illogical. That is why Shantideva advised us to think, “I deserve to receive this harm. That is, it is natural for me to receive harm, because I harmed others in the past.” In the same text, Shantideva also said:
Having been instigated by my own actions,
Those who cause me harm come into being.
If by these (actions) they should fall into hell,
Surely isn’t it I who am destroying them?
In other words, think, “Who started all this? It’s not the other person. I started it because my karma—the harmful actions I did in previous lives—made this happen. In the past, I mistreated this sentient being, and that made the connection for me to receive harm now. My karma has persuaded this person to harm me now. By the other person harming me, he is creating negative karma, and that will cause him to take rebirth in the lower realms.” Question yourself: “Didn’t my action instigate what will be a very unfortunate situation for the other person?” Thinking like this will help you generate compassion for the other person, and when your mind feels compassion, there is no room for anger.
In this way, you use the fact that the person is harming you to develop compassion for him. You use the problem to generate compassion and bodhicitta for him. By generating bodhicitta, you will be able to actualize the entire Mahayana path to enlightenment, including the six paramitas, the sutra path and the tantra path. You will be able to cease all the mistakes of mind, complete all realizations of the path, and attain enlightenment. Depending on this person who is harming you, you will receive all these benefits. Due to his kindness and your generating compassion for him, in the future you will be able to free all sentient beings from suffering and bring them to full enlightenment. Being able to offer such incredible benefit to all sentient beings in the future is due to the kindness of this person. By his harming you, he causes you to generate compassion, which is the root of the Mahayana path.
You can also think, “This person is so precious and kind because due to him I can receive all the benefits of practicing patience. Developing compassion for this one sentient being now will enable me to generate compassion for all sentient beings later.” This person is so kind and precious because he is helping you to stop harming all sentient beings and have compassion for them. By your ceasing to harm them and benefiting them instead, sentient beings will receive much peace and happiness. The opportunity for you to offer all this peace and happiness to all sentient beings comes from this one person who gave you the chance to practice patience.
The Dharma contains many different ways of thinking to counteract anger. We have already discussed thinking of karma, cultivating compassion, and remembering the benefits of practicing patience. There are others as well. You should apply the ways that are most effective for your mind. In The Door of Liberation, Geshe Wangyal translated into English a collection of advice from the Kadampa masters. Included in it are six techniques for practicing patience. You may want to write them down or memorize them so that you can use them when the need arises.
Shantideva explained, as did Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo in Liberation in Your Palm, a technique that is very effective for using the harm received from another person to develop compassion for him. If someone beats you with a stick, you usually do not get angry at the stick because it has no freedom; it is under the control of the person. Similarly, the person harming you is under the control of her anger. She isn’t free; she has become a slave of her anger. Therefore, this person, who is not free and who is controlled by her anger, is only an object of compassion. Don’t just leave it at that, but take the responsibility of pacifying that person’s anger. “I must do something to pacify her anger by whatever means I can find to help her mind.” If at the moment there is nothing you can do to help directly, then pray to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha to pacify her anger.
I need somebody to hate me
His Holiness the Dalai Lama normally encourages us to meditate on the kindness of the angry person, to see that he is as precious and kind as the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Guru. Why is that person kind? If nobody ever gets angry at you, you can never develop patience. Think, “If everybody loved me, if nobody ever got angry at me, I would never be able to develop patience, that precious and essential quality of mind on the path to enlightenment. Therefore, I need somebody to be angry at me. I really need this in my life. It’s so important that somebody be angry at me.”
That person’s anger is not precious to that person, but it is for you. For the other person, his anger is torture. It throws him into the lower realms. “For that person, his anger is terrible, but for me, his being angry at me is so precious, so essential.” Normally, you say you need somebody to love you. You feel that need so deeply inside. But in the same way, think that you need somebody to hate you—having somebody dislike you is even more important than having somebody love you. Why? Because somebody loving you does not help you actualize the path to enlightenment, does not help you cultivate the qualities needed to benefit all sentient beings. But if somebody harms you and you use that experience to transform your mind into patience, the path to enlightenment lies open in front of you. If you practice patience, your anger evaporates and other sentient beings do not receive harm from you. Through your great patience, they receive only peace and happiness from you. Thus, the angry person is most kind because he gives you the precious opportunity to do this. His being mad at you is like a wish-fulfilling jewel.
The disadvantages of anger
Reflecting on the disadvantages of anger is also useful. Anger destroys your merit. It destroys not only your happiness now, in this life, but also your long-term happiness, your opportunity to attain liberation and enlightenment. Anger is a great obstacle to your realizing bodhicitta, because you can’t have great love and compassion for sentient beings if you can’t stand them. In addition, depending on who you get angry at, your receiving realizations may be delayed for many thousands of eons. A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life mentions that getting angry once delays realizations by one thousand eons. However, this person being angry at you gives you the opportunity of practicing patience. Think, “Due to this, I will be able to overcome my anger. I’ll be able to complete the paramita of patience, fulfill the two collections, cease all obscurations in my mind, and realize the entire path to enlightenment. I’ll be able to free all sentient beings from suffering and lead them to enlightenment.” All this infinite benefit that you can offer to all sentient beings comes from practicing patience for that person, and that depends on her harming you. So you can see that her anger at you is very important and necessary in your Dharma practice.
When you are upset, you can also think about impermanence and death. You could die today, so what’s the point of getting angry? Thinking in this way is very powerful. Also, think that the angry person could also die at any time. This helps you let go of your anger and generate patience and compassion for the other person.
Practicing patience does not mean withdrawing or hiding. It does not mean avoiding finding solutions to problems. You have responsibilities, so you have to use your compassion and wisdom to solve problems as much as possible. As His Holiness says, when it is beyond your capacity to solve a problem, you have to rely on higher objects, the Triple Gem, for aid, but otherwise, use your own abilities and do whatever you can do yourself. Most importantly, cultivate patience, the ability to remain calm in the face of problems and harm. To do this, use whichever techniques are most powerful for you.