If you think the Buddha was always perfectly equanimous, think again. The Pali canon contains a couple of examples showing that this great teacher could get a little irked now and then. And why wouldn’t he? Teaching is hard work. Rewarding, yes, but hard, and the Buddha taught for forty-five years. Of course, he was no ordinary teacher, but that’s why I find it refreshingly relatable to read that he too could get ruffled at times.
Let’s look at two examples.
The first occurs in the city of Kosambi, where a community of monks is locked in a bitter quarrel over the monastic rules. The Buddha repeatedly tries to stop them from bickering, but he’s rebuffed. The monks tell him not to trouble himself with such matters and to go enjoy his happiness elsewhere. Imagine that! The Buddha then says to himself, “These foolish men are in the grip of emotions. It’s not easy to persuade them.” I picture him shaking his head at these grown men fighting over legal matters. According to the text, the Buddha then goes for alms alone. When he returns, he recites a verse on companionship and departs, leaving them to resolve the matter without him. Eventually he finds a quiet forest and says, “Now that I’m alone, I’m happy and at ease because I’m apart from those monks at Kosambi.”
In the second example, a wanderer named Potaliputta claims the Buddha has taught that only mental action is beneficial. Upon hearing this, the monk Samiddhi counters Potaliputta but gives an answer that the Buddha considers inadequate. In the meantime, the monk Udayi chimes in with his own two cents. But the Buddha ignores Udayi and instead turns to his attendant: “See, Ananda, how this misguided man Udayi interferes? I knew, Ananda, that this misguided man Udayi would unreasonably interfere now.” Does anyone else picture Udayi shrinking back into the crowd? The Buddha goes on to call Samiddhi foolish and says that wanderers like Potaliputta are foolish and incompetent. This is actually a common refrain in the Vinaya, the section of the canon that deals with monastic rules. When monks step out of line, the Buddha often refers to them using the Pali term moghapurisa, meaning “foolish” or “deluded one.” So it’s clear that even the Buddha could get annoyed once in a while.
And yet we’re used to the ideal picture of the World-Honored One, to the tales of his perfect equanimity and compassion. Take, for example, the period after his full awakening when he blissfully meditated for seven days without moving (Majjhima Nikaya 86). Or the grace with which he handled several assassination attempts by his jealous cousin Devadatta (Cullavagga 7). Not to mention the time he confronted the notorious mass murderer Angulimala and convinced him—with no small amount of magic, wisdom, and kindness—to renounce violence and live a life of peace (Udana 1.1). Who wouldn’t think the Buddha was the perfect role model?
The thing is, role models are multifaceted, and the Buddha was no exception. It’s a misconception to think that he never got annoyed or bothered. Rather, he did his best to serve with the tools at his disposal, like any great teacher would.
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