Lady Vedehika and Kali

A story from the Buddha (MN21):
Once, monks, in this same Savatthi, there was a lady of a household named Vedehika. This good report about Lady Vedehika had circulated: ‘Lady Vedehika is gentle. Lady Vedehika is even-tempered. Lady Vedehika is calm.’ Now, Lady Vedehika had a slave named Kali who was diligent, deft, & neat in her work. The thought occurred to Kali the slave: ‘This good report about my Lady Vedehika has circulated: “Lady Vedehika is even-tempered. Lady Vedehika is gentle. Lady Vedehika is calm.” Now, is anger present in my lady without showing, or is it absent? Or is it just because my work is neat that the anger present in my lady doesn’t show? Why don’t I test her?’

So Kali the slave got up after daybreak. Then Lady Vedehika said to her: ‘Hey, Kali!’

“‘Yes, madam?’

“‘Why did you get up after daybreak?’

“‘No reason, madam.’

“‘No reason, you wicked slave, and yet you get up after daybreak?’ Angered & displeased, she scowled.

“Then the thought occurred to Kali the slave: ‘Anger is present in my lady without showing, and not absent. And it’s just because my work is neat that the anger present in my lady doesn’t show. Why don’t I test her some more?’

“So Kali the slave got up later in the day. Then Lady Vedehika said to her: ‘Hey, Kali!’

“‘Yes, madam?’

“‘Why did you get up later in the day?’

“‘No reason, madam.’

“‘No reason, you wicked slave, and yet you get up later in the day?’ Angered & displeased, she grumbled.

“Then the thought occurred to Kali the slave: ‘Anger is present in my lady without showing, and not absent. And it’s just because my work is neat that the anger present in my lady doesn’t show. Why don’t I test her some more?’

“So Kali the slave got up even later in the day. Then Lady Vedehika said to her: ‘Hey, Kali!’

“‘Yes, madam?’

“‘Why did you get up even later in the day?’

“‘No reason, madam.’

“‘No reason, you wicked slave, and yet you get up even later in the day?’ Angered & displeased, she grabbed hold of a rolling pin and gave her a whack over the head, cutting it open.

“Then Kali the slave, with blood streaming from her cut-open head, went and denounced her mistress to the neighbors: ‘See, ladies, the gentle one’s handiwork? See the even-tempered one’s handiwork? See the calm one’s handiwork? How could she, angered & displeased with her only slave for getting up after daybreak, grab hold of a rolling pin and give her a whack over the head, cutting it open?’

“After that this evil report about Lady Vedehika circulated: ‘Lady Vedehika is vicious. Lady Vedehika is foul-tempered. Lady Vedehika is violent.’

In the same way, monks, a monk may be ever so gentle, ever so even-tempered, ever so calm, as long as he is not touched by disagreeable aspects of speech. But it’s when disagreeable aspects of speech touch him that he can be known from experience as gentle, even-tempered, & calm.
(full sutta, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.021x.than.html)

This sort of scenario catches me out regularly. I can go along for weeks or even months without being aggravated enough to lose my cool. Then a particular nerve gets touched, and the resulting anger is fresh and raw.

Some of us are in a position to minimize our exposure to things we don’t like, especially being retired (as I am). The pressure of trying to pack too many things into a day is diminished, and a greater percentage of our time is governed by our own choices. And yet, these things by themselves don’t uproot the source of our unwholesome mind states. It’s only by experiencing our anger, acknowledging it, looking at it directly and honestly, that can we discover and dismantle its causes.

How do we deal with those moments when our expectations are not met, when an unexpected unpleasantness pops up? Does our anger boil over, like Lady Vedehika’s? Or do we catch, observe, and understand our reaction in time to back away from acting on it?

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