Category Archives: Patience

Communities

In his introduction to the chapter called “The Intentional Community” in The Buddha’s Teachings on Social and Communal Harmony, Bhikkhu Bodhi points out the fundamental difference between natural communities and intentional communities. Natural communities are our neighborhoods, the group of people that shows up at the pool or the gym, or in the dog park, or at school or work. It’s the regulars at the local bar, the people waiting in line for coffee or for attention at the Motor Vehicle Bureau or welfare office. It is the people who land in any prison or hospital.

An intentional community is one that we have a choice about joining or not: a church or other spiritual community, a sports team, a book group, a bridge club, a choir, the Parent-Teacher Association, the Lions Club, a fraternity or sorority, or any other social or support group. With intentional communities, we make it a habit to show up in person, to participate, to accept and support the others in the group.  Generally, a common goal or interest binds members of an intentional community together.

We humans are herd animals; sometimes we go mad if we are isolated. We are all members of natural communities, however temporarily. Most of us also belong to at least one intentional community, and these can be overlapping circles.

For some of us, our families are our primary community, our tribe. If we are lucky, our relatives are also our friends. Some folks work in places where interpersonal bonds become deep through shared purpose. Occasionally friendships made in school or university last a lifetime. But of course, if one is not so lucky, one’s primary commitment will be elsewhere, and may move from one group to another at intervals. There’s a lot of scope here to choose communities that are supportive of what’s best in us, and also groups that bring forth our lesser qualities. In some locations, violent gangs can seem an appealing form of community.

On-line communities have become a reality in recent years. Particularly for people who are shut in for one reason or another, these modes of communication can be life-saving. It’s unfortunate that most of what we hear in the world media from on-line communities are extremist views and vitriol. Let’s not forget that for many people who can’t get out and about or live in sparsely populated areas, an on-line community can be essential and positive.

We’re going to be considering characteristics of communities in upcoming posts. Meanwhile, we might benefit from reviewing where our commitments lie; what groups are we currently involved in or identified with?

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Filed under Friendships, General, Patience, Relationships

An anger-eating demon

There is a curious sutta in which an unnamed, deformed demon challenges the followers of Sakka, the ruler of the devas, by brazenly taking Sakka’s seat. As Sakka’s subjects revile the demon, he becomes visibly less ugly and more attractive. How can this be? They report this strange phenomenon to Sakka, that an “anger-eating demon” has claimed his throne. So, Sakka kneels before the demon, presses his palms together in salutation and says, “I, dear sir, am Sakka, ruler of the devas!” Sakka repeats this phrase another two times and each time, the demon becomes visibly more deformed and ugly and then disappears. Sakka re-takes his seat and says:

“I am not one afflicted in mind,
nor easily drawn by anger’s whirl.
I never become angry for long,
nor does anger persist in me.

“When I’m angry I don’t speak harshly
and I don’t praise my virtues.
I keep myself well restrained
out of regard for my own good.”
— the full sutta is here: https://suttacentral.net/en/sn11.22

It’s almost as if the anger-eating demon is an embodiment of a negative quality, and clearly stating the present reality dissipates the “bogey man’s” power. It could be a parallel to when the Buddha is confronted by Mara, the embodiment of delusion, and simply says, “I see you, Mara”, which makes Mara withdraw.

An Australian artist named Sebastian Moody has produced a number of public works. One of them is displayed in an underpass I often drive through:

the-more-i-think-about-it-the-bigger-it-gets-1.png

Don’t we all experience this? If we are worried about something and keep on worrying, doesn’t it grow until it clouds our mental state? If we are planning a happy event and obsessing over the details, don’t we lose perspective? If we go over something (anything) in our minds again and again, doesn’t it become distorted?

Because Sakka is not prone to anger and not vulnerable to the worries of his followers, he is able to see clearly how to bring things back to reality.

The mindfulness technique of naming what is true right now, in a flow, can help us stay in balance.  For example: “tension in the stomach”, “feet on the earth”, “this in-breath”, “this out-breath”, “cool air on the skin”, “slumped posture”, “tense jaw”, etc. By taking this inventory of our direct physical experience as we become aware of it, we can interrupt the flights of fancy that take us out of our present reality. It could be as simple as noting “this body is sitting/standing/walking”, and experiencing that fully.

Another available technique is to shift our attention to the space we are moving through – not the apparently solid objects but the empty space in which everything we can experience exists.

Our minds are difficult to tame. All we can do is accept the challenge and persist in developing mindfulness of the body, feeling, mental states, and phenomena as we perceive them.

 

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Filed under Anger, Causes and results, Mindfulness, Patience

Not my anger

On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Rājagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrel Sanctuary. The brahmin Akkosaka Bhāradvāja, Bhāradvāja the Abusive, heard: “It is said that another brahmin of the Bhāradvāja clan has gone forth from the household life into homelessness under the ascetic Gotama.” Angry and displeased, he approached the Blessed One and abused and reviled him with rude, harsh words.

When he had finished speaking, the Blessed One said to him: “What do you think, brahmin? Do your friends and colleagues, kinsmen and relatives, as well as guests come to visit you?” – “They do, Master Gotama.” – “Do you then offer them some food or a meal or a snack?” – “I do, Master Gotama.” – “But if they do not accept it from you, then to whom does the food belong?” – “If they do not accept it from me, then the food still belongs to us.”

“So too, brahmin, I do not abuse anyone, do not scold anyone, do not rail against anyone. I refuse to accept from you the abuse and scolding and tirade you let loose at me. It still belongs to you, brahmin! It still belongs to you, brahmin!

“Brahmin, one who abuses his own abuser, who scolds the one who scolds him, who rails against the one who rails at him – he is said to partake of the meal, to enter upon an exchange. But I do not partake of your meal; I do not enter upon an exchange. It still belongs to you, brahmin! It still belongs to you, brahmin!” (SN 7:2, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi)

This is a well-known sutta, probably because it is so often relevant. The question is, can we remember this story when we feel like engaging angrily with an angry person? It can be a mighty challenge.

If we stand back and observe from a distance, an angry person looks deranged. They are in the grip of an emotion that is overpowering their reason and their judgment; they can’t see the consequences of their actions. A wise person will not engage directly with someone in that state.

What quality in us makes it so difficult to allow another person to spew their anger and not have our own anger aroused? We can feel as if we’re being attacked, as if a war has already begun and we must stand and fight. Some of us are so sensitive that even an imagined slight, someone failing to say “Good morning”, can set us off. Others of us can handle anger directed at ourselves but explode if we think someone we care about is being treated unfairly.

What can we do? Best would be to understand that others’ anger belongs to them and that we can choose whether to respond in kind or to take another path of action. For this to be so, we would need to know what our triggers are and try to correct for them when necessary. Can we raise our self-awareness to this level when under duress?

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Filed under Anger, Harmlessness, Mindfulness, Patience, Perfections, Speech

Patience with others’ anger

There’s a story in the Pali canon about a battle between the devas (heavenly beings) and the titans (lower-ranking demi-gods) and how the victor treats the vanquished leader. [The full sutta is here: https://suttacentral.net/en/sn11.4.] Here’s an excerpt in Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation:

“One who repays an angry man with anger
thereby makes things worse for himself.
Not repaying an angry man with anger,
one wins a battle hard to win.

“He practices for the welfare of both –
his own and the other’s –
when, knowing that his foe is angry,
he mindfully maintains his peace.

In this case, Sakka, king of the devas, is enduring the rage of the captured Vepacitti, leader of the titans. Sakka’s advisors encourage him to deal with Vepacitti harshly, but Sakka demonstrates how his patience prevents Vepacitti’s fury from harming him. Sakka even says that this is an opportunity to develop mindfulness, to show how awareness helps us to see clearly and to know our own strength.

Patience is a primary remedy for anger, our own and others’. On the surface, it may seem a passive response to a difficult situation; but below the surface, patience has potentially unlimited power. If we can learn to see the range of choices we have when others’ actions provoke us, we can be protected from our own mercurial responses.

We are not victorious kings dealing with angry, vanquished leaders. However, sometimes we are confronted with someone who is in a position of lesser power, in a work or domestic situation, and that person is behaving badly. We may feel like crushing them, putting them in their place, setting them straight – but is that the best way to handle things? Or is this a moment with potential for training? If we can resist our own enjoyment of power and have patience, others may notice our strength, and we ourselves will know that we are free in a way that others who wield their power carelessly are not.

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Mindfulness tips

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming (more on anger in upcoming posts) to provide some practical tips on how to bring mindfulness to bear when difficult states of mind – including worry, anger, and anxiety – come up.

This seven-slide set titled “How to Stop Worrying” appeared in an on-line newsletter called Next Avenue, which is offered by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the USA and targets an over-50 audience.

Regardless of your age, I hope you find the link helpful (please ignore the final slide):

http://www.nextavenue.org/slideshow/how-to-stop-worrying/

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Filed under Causes and results, General, Mindfulness, Patience

Anger

Among the mental defilements disruptive to social harmony, probably the most pernicious is anger. Since virtually all communities, including Buddhist monasteries, consist of people still prone to egotistical desires, they are in constant danger of being riven by anger, resentment, and vindictiveness among their members. For this reason, the control of anger is critical to communal harmony. The Buddha recognizes that while giving vent to anger brings a certain degree of satisfaction, he points out that angry outbursts ultimately bounce back upon oneself, entailing direct harm for oneself and entangling one in conflict with others. Hence…he describes anger as having a “poisoned root and a honeyed tip.”

– from the Introduction to chapter “Dealing with Anger” in The Buddha’s Teachings on Social and Communal Harmony by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Is there no safe haven from anger? Probably not from other peoples’ anger, but perhaps we can start with our own.

In our everyday life, what are the things that annoy or anger us? Recently I learned that, for a number of family members, traffic lights (while driving) can stimulate powerful anger. We talked about the fact that having this reaction guarantees that every time we get into a car we’ll become irate. We could all see that this was unhelpful and probably bad for our immune systems, but NOT getting angry seemed a remote possibility.

Later, sitting in very slow traffic, I felt frustration rising. Then I thought, “Exactly which one of these drivers in front of me am I angry at?” Everyone I could see was also stuck in the traffic jam, and was probably feeling some degree of frustration. There was no one to blame; everyone on the scene was deserving of compassion, including me. The anger that had been leaking into my body subsided. I recognised this as a breakthrough in patience.

There’s an old tale of a couple of people in a small boat at night. They navigate carefully through a narrow passageway and become aware of another small boat coming towards them. Since it’s nighttime, all they can see is a dim light in the bow of the other boat. As the second boat approaches, the passengers in the first boat call out – “Hey there!” When they get no response, they call more loudly, more insistently, more angrily. Finally, the boats meet and gently bump into each other, and the passengers see that the other boat is empty. They were furious with someone who wasn’t there. This seems an apt analogy for many of our experiences of anger. There’s no one there trying to harm us and no one to blame. Perhaps if we can remember this feature of experience we’ll spend less of our time fuming.

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Filed under Anger, Causes and results, Generosity, Patience

Protecting ourselves and others

‘I will protect myself’: thus should the establishments of mindfulness be practiced. ‘I will protect others’: thus should the establishments of mindfulness be practiced. Protecting oneself, one protects others; protecting others, one protects oneself.

And how is it, monks, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation [of the four establishments of mindfulness]. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

And how is it, monks, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, loving-kindness, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

‘I will protect myself’: thus should the establishments of mindfulness be practiced. ‘I will protect others’: thus should the establishments of mindfulness be practiced. Protecting oneself, one protects others; protecting others, one protects oneself. (from SN47:19, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi)

We’ve been thinking about how social and communal harmony come to be, and addressing the factors that WE can bring to bear to support and promote harmony. Safety is an important element of harmony; without safety, there is no peace. If we feel confident that we’re doing all we can to create safe spaces wherever we go, we can be contented with our actions.

The establishments of mindfulness are sometimes called the four foundations of mindfulness. They describe a system of directing our mindful attention inward, to (1) our bodies, (2) our feelings, (3) our mind states, and (4) dhammas (phenomena) or what we see going on around us. As part of these reflections, we also notice these four things about others and can see that as it is for them, so it is for us, and vice versa. Sometimes each of us is affected by bodily comfort or discomfort, painful or happy feelings, confused or clear mind states, and points of view that are helpful or unhelpful.  By cultivating these mindful reflections, our understanding matures and we become more naturally inclined to be kind to ourselves and others.

The third section refers to patience, harmlessness, loving-kindness, and sympathy as ways to protect others and thereby protect ourselves. This list is similar to, but not exactly the same as, the list of brahmaviharas or divine (mental) states. By developing an increasingly sustained mindfulness, we are deepening our patience and extending our loving-kindness and sympathy to an ever-widening circle of beings, all of which inclines us to avoid harmful behaviors.

The lines quoted above from the Samyutta Nikaya can serve as a motivating factor. We could remind ourselves repeatedly: “By protecting ourselves, we protect others. By protecting others, we protect ourselves.” Any other practices we might do could fall under this umbrella.

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Filed under General, Harmlessness, Mindfulness, Patience, Sublime states