Today, we have witnessed a terrible and senseless tragedy [9/11]. We may not be directly or physically involved, but we are all affected. When we look at the victims, we will certainly have compassion, because we have these good human qualities within us that will draw forth our compassion. But the moment we focus on who did it, we feel our anger rise. Even though I have spent sixty years practicing Buddhist kindness and compassion, when I see the collapse of the buildings and the people running, unable to breathe, the anger comes. When I hear about the plans for retaliation, the thought comes, “Okay, good.” When something happens and we say “good,” but say it with anger, we must see that our anger will soon be controlling us. We have to be very careful with this. If it is a surgical retaliation directed at the culprits without bringing harm to many innocent lives, good. Because not retaliating can be wrong, too, and this is often misunderstood. Retaliation is necessary. Without it we become vulnerable. But there are many nonviolent ways to retaliate, and I hope for this to be nonviolent.
Our real challenge is to develop compassion even for those who did this. Developing compassion for them does not mean you cannot stop people who are going to hurt others. People should not misunderstand this. Compassion does not only mean love and light. On the contrary, if we don’t stop them when we have the opportunity, we may even have the negativity of not stopping them. The spiritual path is not as black-and-white as we may think. But it does not mean that we do not act with compassion. We should be compassionate to all. But compassion sometimes has to be harsh. How else can we pinpoint where the problem really lies? Hatred’s hold on us is so strong. Simple coddling will not do the job.
We have been watching and listening to the news, and many feelings have arisen. We are supposed to feel! Because if we don’t feel what happened today, we are senseless and useless people. But when we watch our mind, we see it tends straightaway toward anger. If you did not experience anger, then rejoice! But if you did, it is very normal. But that feeling should not be left at the anger level. It should be transformed into compassion. That’s where we have to take charge of ourselves, take charge of our minds, take advantage of our freedom to use our minds properly and turn away from hatred of our enemies. How? Not by justifying what they did. We also don’t want to try to understand where they are coming from or why they did it. If we do that, we will ultimately be justifying hatred. That is not right. We know why they did it. They did it out of hatred. Hatred brings more hatred, and violence only brings more violence. What we must do is stop this cycle here and now by transforming anger and hatred into compassion.
We must see that when we feel anger, we are not reacting to the person who harmed us, but to that person’s hatred. Their hatred has blinded them. They were unable to stand up for themselves. They submitted completely to their anger. Even though they think they are doing something great, consider how stupid they have actually been. They have become total slaves of their hatred. Who is a better candidate for compassion than that?
Their hatred hurts the whole world: physically, financially, emotionally, and mentally. We have witnessed a horrific example of how hatred can create suffering and pain for us all. No one is going to forget today, September 11. And no one is going to forget how sad and terrible indeed it is. But it has given us a point to develop compassion, and to understand how hatred can be harmful.Our hatred is our own Osama bin Laden, hiding in the mountains of our hearts.
This hatred is the cause of suffering not only for them, but for all of us. The real enemy is their anger, our anger, their hatred, our hatred, their violence, our violence. Our hatred is our own Osama bin Laden, hiding in the mountains of our hearts. If we can begin to consider hatred as the enemy, as your and my enemy, then we can begin to transform our anger into compassion. That will be how we can take advantage of an unfortunate and tragic situation.
Rimpoche Nawang Gehlek on Anger and Patience
Think of anger. Anger is the mind that wishes to harm and hurt. Patience is the mind that holds back from harming or hurting. Anger is most difficult to deal with; patience is most difficult to develop. Patience is the only thing that defeats anger.
Don’t be disappointed if you can’t do it right away. Even after years of practice you may find that you’re still losing your temper. It’s all right. But you will also notice that the power of anger has weakened, that it doesn’t last as long, and does not as easily turn into hatred.
If patience comes easily to you, wonderful. If not, how do you go from anger to patience?
When negative emotions are strong they tend to overpower you; you could never take suggestions, never be able to apply an antidote. You need time and space. First, find out if you’re willing to see whether your anger is valid or not valid. If you are not willing to see that, then take a break. Walk outside. Go to a nice place where there’s a beautiful view. Divert your attention through something neutral, like nature. In Tibet, many of my teachers liked to go up on a high mountain overlooking the valley, the river, and the mountains. They let their disturbing thoughts fly away—if they had them at all—and took in the fresh air. Certain traditions even recommend that you watch the sunset from a slightly high vantage point, stand lightly, bouncing gently on your toes. Breathe out gently three, nine, or twenty-one times, using breath as a vehicle to carry your thoughts away. Let your heavy thoughts go with the setting sun and bid them goodbye.
When a thought of violence pops up very strongly and you divert your attention to a neutral level, by doing so, the force that was pushing you to do the wrong thing is weakened. Once it has been weakened, there’s the opportunity to do something else. Also, give yourself ample time to dwell in the feeling of the nice cool breeze . . . long enough so that any disturbing impulse cools, not physically, but mentally—only don’t catch cold.
Related: The Nonduality of Good and Evil
Related: The Enemy Within
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.