Independent

Ah, so happily we live,
Without hate among those with 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.

Dhammapada v. 197-198, translated by Gil Fronsdal

These verses begin a short chapter called Happiness. I take their position at the start of this section as an indication that this is where we should start – with independence.

We humans tend to be herd animals, very much affected by those around us. A big leap of maturity is to have an independent heart, to carry our confidence and goals so firmly that they aren’t easily swept aside by the words and actions of others. If our own minds are clear about the direction in which we are headed, then even if we are with a group that steers in another direction, we will keep to our own course.

So, even though we are often in close proximity to people who are angry, spiteful, self-pitying, etc., we have the option of recognizing their mindstates as their own and our mindstate as our own – and choosing not to meet these folks where they are. Suffering can be self-inflicted, or imposed by others, or just be a result of bad luck. We can feel and offer compassion to everyone without getting stuck in the thought “I should be able to fix this”. If we accept that things are sometimes difficult for most people, and that everyone deserves sympathy and understanding, we can give compassion freely without feeling weighed down.

With actual hate or anger, I find that the best response is usually to back away quietly if at all possible. For most people, it’s hard to sustain rage without an audience. It is unpleasant to be confronted with hate, but we don’t have to take it personally. The only hate/anger we have control over is our own.

We can live happily in difficult circumstances because we are not (within ourselves) at war with how things are; we know that our job is not to make the world good, but to purify our words and actions.

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