The urge to correct is dukkha.
– an unknown Dharma friend
The teachings of the Buddha offer us real, practical tools to address our karmic ailments. Just yesterday, I had an encounter in a public place in which I (inadvertently) “poked” a very angry person. Vitriol came forth and was spread around; my heart rate went up. I was distressed particularly because it was my own aversion that pushed me to provoke rather than avoid the angry person. It didn’t occur to me that this stranger was capable of going off the rails.
The experience was most useful because it uncovered the anger I carry all the time towards people who refuse to give way, to make space for others, in public areas. Until yesterday, I didn’t see that this is a hard kernel of anger that obstructs my spiritual progress. There was no obvious remedy at hand because I couldn’t see past my unwholesome urge to correct people who are insensitive to the needs of others.
When driving, I assume that ten percent of drivers (at least) are careless of the safety and comfort of others on the road, so I behave accordingly, giving aggressive drivers a wide berth, letting people into the lane, not dithering when the light changes, etc. These are my gifts to other drivers, in particular (I intend) the gift of safety. But I had been assuming that anyone on foot, whose face I could see, was perfectly composed and might welcome the opportunity to correct an error pointed out to them. In retrospect, this assumption is laughable; the same random ten percent of pedestrians are like unexploded bombs and should be given a wide berth.
What to do with this information? The answer came to me when I was doing my (more or less) daily chanting: the second precept, not taking what is not offered, that is, generosity. It would be an act of generosity to move around people who don’t give way, to understand that they may or may not be making an aggressive challenge. Perhaps they see their occupation of public space as a necessary protective buffer, and see others as threats.
Can I apply forgiveness and generosity in these situations in the future, walking around people who seem to be physically challenging me to move out of the way? Can I look at them, forgive them for taking up more than their fair share of space, and generously offer them the leeway they might need? I’m certainly going to try – it’s the only method I can think of to start wearing away this particular imperfection/defilement.