Don't Get Angry at the Stick

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #1746)

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this teaching at Kopan Course No. 41, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in December, 2008. This is an excerpt from Lecture Six of the course. Lightly edited by Gordon McDougall and Sandra Smith. Click here to read more.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching in Singapore, 2010. Photo: Tan Seow Kheng.

During President Bush’s time, when the United States was fighting, making a war with Iraq, there was a missile that came from very far away, from many thousands of miles away, and aimed exactly for its target. The missile came and blew up exactly what the soldiers wanted. That’s outside, but here we are shooting the real enemy, delusion. With wisdom, we eliminate delusion and we achieve liberation as well as enlightenment.

We can think about general causative phenomena but particularly in our life, with our body and mind, we can look at the people surrounding us, our families, friends, enemies, strangers, and our material possessions. Whatever objects we get angry with or have strong desire for, with strong attachment, ignorance or indifference—it’s very good to use those particular objects. Then it’s like a bomb hitting just the right target, our inner enemy.

Actually, there’s no outside enemy. There’s a reason why people give harm to us, get angry with us or criticize us. There’s a reason, there’s a cause for that, and that cause is our mind. For anybody, in any situation, even if a mosquito is biting us, the cause is our mind—attachment, anger, and of course no question about the root, ignorance. There’s no question, that’s the root. Ignorance—the concept holding things, the I and the aggregates as truly existent, which means the self-cherishing thought—that’s the real root.

In the past we harmed others with these negative thoughts. We made mistakes, we did unrighteous actions and harmed others. What is happening now is the result of that. This mosquito biting us, that person who doesn’t like us even from the first time he saw us, that person who scolds us, even that unknown person who gets angry at us though we’ve never met before—all these things are just results, just creations of this mind. They are caused by this mind, by these negative thoughts, especially the self-cherishing thought.

Actually, all these things are just like tools used by the people who are angry at us or who criticize us. All these things are like tools. The real enemy is our own self-cherishing thought, this ego, this ignorance, which causes anger, attachment and these delusions. The other things are like tools, like the stick that an angry person beats us with. The real reason is our own negative thought.

It is very helpful to remember this when somebody is angry with us, scolding us or talking about our mistakes. If we can remember this at that time; that the situation is a tool, used by these negative thoughts. This is happening now because in the past we harmed that person, we did some wrong action to that person. The harm they are doing now is just a tool. The main enemy is our own negative mind.

It’s very good to remember this. We can meditate on this while the other person is shouting at us and getting really angry, while even the nose is very angry. (I’m joking.) The person totally changes, even their face; they become angrier at us and insult us. At that time, we can meditate, sitting cross-legged, like this. Then, we can open our eyes and look at the person, like this, you know. [Rinpoche demonstrates] At that time if we do that, it’s very good.

At other times, no how much we try, we can’t do this. We forget completely. For so many years we do this [Rinpoche strikes a pose], but at that time we can’t do it, we forget.

Anyway, the main thing to remember is that our mind caused that person to do this. It comes back to us; it’s caused by this self-cherishing thought, this negative thought. Remembering that is so good, so good; it’s unbelievable.

So, there’s no need to get angry, there’s no need to get upset with the other person. The only solution is to take care of our own mind, to take care of our own life. As I mentioned, the United States sends missiles exactly to its target—the soldiers aim and the missile goes exactly. That’s like applying the lam-rim meditation, emptiness, renunciation, karma. Within the renunciation meditation, there’s karma and impermanence, how life is in the nature of impermanence. Even going through this, looking at how causative phenomena are like a star, even that makes it so powerful.

There’s no reason at all to get angry with the outside condition, though we feel obliged to. Really, the cause is this ignorance or this self-cherishing thought. What I am talking about here is the solution to that—the bomb to explode all that, to eliminate our negative thoughts.

We should feel pity for our harmers because they’re creating negative karma. By harming us they create negative karma and they get reborn in the lower realms. Even in this life there is no peace, no happiness, no peace; they suffer. So, they’re only an object of compassion, only an object of compassion. Even if they have cheated us, they have also created negative karma, so they are suffering now and they will suffer in the future, for so many lifetimes.

It is mentioned in the teachings that if we cheat one person, we are cheated for one thousand lifetimes. If we cheat one sentient being, as a result of that, we are cheated in our future lives; for one thousand lifetimes we are cheated by others. I think this is mentioned in a commentary on Aryadeva’s teachings. If we cheat one sentient being, we are cheated by others for one thousand lifetimes. Why is it like this? Because karma is expandable. When we create the karma, whether it is virtue or nonvirtue, we will definitely experience the result, happiness or suffering.

We will definitely experience the suffering result of a nonvirtue if we don’t do anything, if we don’t purify that negative karma, but if we actualize the exalted path, the Hinayana or Mahayana exalted path, the arya path, then we don’t experience suffering. If we achieve the bodhisattva’s exalted path, we have abandoned the suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death, so we don’t experience all this.

Until our mind becomes pure like the arya beings, the arya bodhisattvas, we have to experience the suffering result of our negative karma. It comes back to us, it gives us harm, but when our mind becomes pure, we don’t experience harm, we don’t experience suffering. Whether we receive harm or not is totally dependent on our mind.

A buddha, who has removed all the gross and subtle defilements, never receives harm. The Buddha achieved enlightenment at dawn, but at dusk on the day before that, millions of maras attacked him, throwing all kinds of things. When they came close to the Buddha, they became flowers, they were all transformed into flowers, like a flower offering, so nothing was able to harm him.

Whether we can receive harm or not totally depends to our mind. As our mind becomes purer it doesn’t happen, like those arya beings, those bodhisattvas, so there is no question that the Buddha, even before enlightenment, could not receive harm.