Today’s post is a “guest” post—the first for this blog. It’s written by Don Mead, new friend of mine who I met through this blog. Getting to know Don and exchanging ideas about the Buddhism, I have come to appreciate Don’s insights, his intellect, and his dry humor.
Don has studied and practiced Buddhism most of his life. He has a very strong Tibetan and Zen background, and when I read his essay on the Ninth Zen Precept, I wanted to share it with others. When I asked him about this, he said, sure, he felt he had something to share, “but I am not looking for people to agree with me, but rather to think for themselves.”
In that typical Zen spirit, I offer you this friend’s essay. I was greatly helped by it, and I hope you will be too.
The Ninth Zen Precept—I keep my mind calm and at peace. I do not indulge in anger.
I am sadly aware that we tend to see in others what we refuse to acknowledge in ourselves. Therefore what follows must be understood in that light. It appears that throughout human history not one person has ever been angry without feeling that there was something or someone outside of the person who made the anger happen.
Of course, none of this is true. Nonetheless, this feeling of justification allows the person to feel that somehow the pure justice of the situation allows one to indulge in the anger without being subject to the laws of cause and effect.
It is important to note that in Zen, anger is one of the Five Poisons, the other four being greed, ignorance, pride, and jealousy. As such, anger is a great cause of unnecessary suffering to both the individual who indulges in it and others.
Isn’t it amazing that anyone could feel that they could drink poison without being affected by it, just because they felt that they were justified in doing so?
No One Can Make Us Angry
So let’s really get to the point. No one or no-thing can make another person angry! It simply just is not possible! Perhaps, someone might serve as a catalyst to bring the anger that was already there to the surface. Of course, when this happens, we should be grateful, for it gives us a chance to confront our own anger and hatred (yes they do appear to go together) head-on.
We need to understand that no matter how loving and kind that we may appear on the surface, there is bubbling underneath this “poisonous” anger that infects even our purest actions. The Ninth Precept does not ask us to be free of anger, but rather urges us not to indulge in it. I, myself, have witnessed folks who are still indulging in anger that is over 15 years old!
Now let us look for a moment at anger itself. It seems that anger is really a desire to murder someone or something outside of one’s self. Now before you say that I am being a bit overboard here, let’s look at the situation.
I am angry with someone—let’s say you. So I come to you and say something like, “It is your fault that I am angry. If only you did not do this or say that.” You see, my anger wants you to not be and do what you are being and doing, but rather wants you to be and do what pleases me. In order words, my anger wants the “you” that exists to stop existing, and in its place I want you become and do something that pleases me.
Now I suppose that I could say something like, what pleases me is what is good for you. But that excuse has been used so much over the course of human history that it appears that it should be worn out by now.
“Ah, young lady, you are not who I think you should be, so we are going to burn you at the stake. It’s all for your own good, ya know.” And how many battered mates and children have heard the classic, “I didn’t want to hit you, it just that you made me so mad?” So from this point of view, we can say that the Ninth Precept is another facet of the First Precept—do not kill; affirm life.
The Buddha’s Great Insight
In the first moments following Lord Buddha’s enlightenment, it is said that he saw that all living beings were no different than him, in that they were all endowed with Buddha Nature. And His last words just before His death were to remind us that we are the light itself, and that we should only trust ourselves and practice the Dharma.
If we can look beyond our anger and hatred of the world, we can clearly see that all living beings are not here to fulfill our desires. They are here to become what they are—just like us. If we are truly going to walk in the path of the Buddhas, we have to accept responsibility for ourselves. No one makes me angry. No one is responsible for my emotional well being. Nobody has to change one atom of his or her being to please me. No one owes me anything!
As I said, we are not here to fulfill each other’s desires, but I do believe that we are here to love and care for each other. We feed the hungry because the hungry need to be fed. We love our children because they need to be loved. We see what needs to be done and we do our best to do it. But we do not blame others for our own weaknesses and character faults.
At the same time, the Ninth Precept seems to tell us that we need to find a way to weaken anger’s hold on us. We need to deal with anger in the same non-violent manner that we use to deal with ego, that is, boycott! Starve the son of a bitch to death! We train ourselves to avoid those subjects that feed our anger. If a person’s presence causes us to be angry, then we should, as best as we are able, for a while, avoid that person and if we are able, we might consider avoiding even the thought of that person.
The Great Test of Anger—Self-Righteousness
But, one might say, “My anger is Vajra (spiritual) anger. There is no hate in it. My anger works for the good of all sentient beings.” Luckily for us, there is a very easy test to check if our anger is ego-centric or not.
If there is even the slightest bit of self-righteousness, then we, are 100% in the wrong. In fact, I would go so far to say that self-righteousness is the Ninth Precept’s best friend. It is so easy to recognize in ourselves that all excuses to indulge our anger are washed away. But we need to examine ourselves honestly. “Do we, in fact, like the energy of anger?”
Another self question might also help. Ask yourself, “From the deepest darkest corner of my heart, what do I really want for the object of my anger?” These are the type of questions that are so important, that there is absolutely no room for even the smallest amount of self-deception. So from the bottom of my heart, to all who read this, be happy and healthy, and, of course, . . .
Be kind to yourself.