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Lions Roar : September 2014
B uddhas are not the love-and-light people we think they are. Of course, their enlightened mind is grounded in nirvana—total peace—but in that open space compassion spontaneously arises. It has many manifestations. One is anger. Anger is the power of no. The enlightened mind of the bud- dhas is enraged against the evils of samsara and the suffering it causes. It says no to the three poisons of ignorance, attach- ment, and aggression that drive cyclic existence. This is the natural reaction we all have when we see some- one we love suffer—we want to stop it. The buddhas are angry about our suffering, and they will happily destroy its causes. They aren’t angry at us; they’re angry for us. Traditionally, it is said that the buddhas’ love expresses itself in four ways. These are called skillful means, the different ways wisdom and compassion go into action to relieve suffering. First, the buddhas can pacify, helping us to quench the flames of the three poisons. This calm and pacifying buddha is the one we’re familiar with, whose image brings a feeling of peace to millions around the world. But sometimes more is needed. So the buddhas can enrich us, pointing out the wealth of resources we possess as human beings. If need be, they can magnetize us, seducing us away from the suffering of conditioned existence to the joy of our inherent enlightened nature. And finally, there are times when the compassionate thing is to destroy. To say “Stop!” to suffering. To say “Wake up!” to the ways we deceive ourselves. To say “No!” to all that is self- centered, unwholesome, and unjust. We all like the love that says yes. We’re not so crazy about the love that says no. This love exposes our many forms of denial. It shows us how we cause ourselves and others to suffer. It wakes us up from our comfortable sleep. It exposes the tender heart we are trying to protect. This love gives us what we need, even when we don’t want it. It can be painful. In its awakened form, anger brings good to the world. It is the energy that inspires great movements for freedom and social justice. It helps us be honest about our foibles and show a loved one how they are damaging themselves. It is a vital part of every spiritual path, for before we can say yes to enlightenment, we must say no to the three poisons. In its unenlightened form, though, anger is aggression. It causes endless suffering, from personal hurt to global warfare. It is our greatest spiritual challenge. A simple admonishment against aggression isn’t enough, of course. Every saint, philosopher, and advice columnist has been preaching that since the beginning of time, and the world remains full of aggression. We need a profound understanding of where aggression comes from and a practical path to work with it. Buddhism offers both. The basic act of aggression is ego. It is what distorts the energy of anger into a cause of suffering. When we define our- selves as separate and truly existing beings, we automatically set ourselves against others. We’d like to pretend we can practice some form of “enlightened self-interest” in which this is not the case, but that’s just a comforting illusion. The pleasure we take in for ourselves and the pain we push away ultimately come at others’ expense. Samsara is a zero sum game. Yet anger is an inherent part of our nature—we can no more have yes without no than we can have light without dark. We need a path to work with it. It begins where all healing begins. ➢ Melvin Mcleod is the editor-in-chief of the Shambhala Sun and editor of Mindful Politics and the Best Buddhist Writing series. PhOTOBYMEguMIYOShIdA Previous page: Painting by Chögyam Trunpga Rinpoche of Four-Armed Mahakala. His four arms represent the actions of pacifying, enriching, magnetizing, and destroying. Right: Temple guardian at the entrance to Horyu-ji temple in Nara, Japan. His fierce appearance wards off evil spirits, demons, and thieves. SHAMBHALA SUN SepteMBer 2014 44