Ah, so happily we live,
Without hate among those who hate.
Among people who hate
We live without hate.
Ah, so happily we live,
Without misery among those in misery.
Among people in misery
We live without misery. (translated by Gil Fronsdal)
Here we begin a new chapter, usually titled “Happiness”.
In these verses, we are told that it is possible to live with a peaceful sense of joy, even among people who are angry, hateful, or miserable. It is possible to bear the vicissitudes of life without taking them as personal insults. Instead of expecting others to treat us nicely, we can learn to treat ourselves nicely. If someone else is angry, we may feel an urge to join them in their anger, to react angrily ourselves. But this is a choice; we can take their anger personally, or we can refuse to do that. We can see their anger or unhappiness as originating and remaining within their mental world without its affecting (or infecting) our mental world. We can remain neutral and allow the energy to dissipate on its own, or we may see that the person is suffering and feel compassion for them. Either way, we don’t pick up the “burning coal” of hate.
A subscriber recently asked why Buddhist teachings often start with “don’t” rather than “do”, appearing to take a negative approach. It’s a common concern among people who first look into the Buddha’s teachings. The trainings are not so much prescriptive as they are based on restraining our tendencies to grasp at and reject our experience; to reflect before acting or speaking; and to avoid getting too caught up with what’s around us so we can develop an inner steadiness. This can look like a passive or disinterested position, but in reality, we have to work hard to maintain our balance when those around us have lost theirs, in either a positive or negative direction. Some people call this developing an intimacy with life.
If we are working on building the strength of our inner peace, we may seem to be less engaged with the world than other people. In fact, we are practicing a different sort of engagement; we are keeping track of our inner reality, separately from what’s going on around us. In most cases, it only takes a second or two to check our reactivity. With practice, we can note our responses to experience without taking them as ultimate reality, without grasping onto and possessing them, thinking “this is me”. This can be a profound form of freedom, one worth investigating.