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Lions Roar : September 2014
PHOTOBYCESARINACIOMARTINS first, Do no harm In our psychologized society we place a premium on inner experience and subjectivity. But how we act is important. Most of us don’t resort to physical violence, but almost all of us hurt other people with aggressive words and harsh emotions. The sad part is that it’s usually the people we love most. Buddhism, like all religions, offers guidelines to help us restrain ourselves. We may not like rules and limitations, but the morals, ethics, and decorum taught directly by the Bud- dha are guides to doing no harm. The principle of right conduct applies to acts of body, speech, and mind. Guided by the inner attitudes of gentle- ness and awareness, we monitor what arises in the mind moment by moment and choose the wholesome, like peace, over the unwholesome, like aggression. Buddhism also teaches helpful meditation techniques so we are not swept away by the force of conflicting emo- tions, like anger. These techniques allow us to take advantage of the brief gap in the mind between impulse and action. Through the practice of mindfulness, we become aware of impulses arising and allow a space in which we can consider whether and how we want to act. We, not our emotions, are in control. i’m in Pain, You’re in Pain Without excusing or ignoring aggression, it’s helpful to recog- nize that it’s usually a maladapted response to suffering. So caring for ourselves and cultivating compassion for others are two of the best ways to short-circuit aggression. We are suffering beings, and we don’t handle it well. We try to ease our pain and only make it worse. The practices of mindfulness and self-care give us the strength and space to experience our suffering without losing our stability and lashing out. We are protected by the knowledge that we are ultimately not threatened by external circumstances. And when we are targets of aggression ourselves, knowing it comes from the other person’s pain helps us maintain our equanimity and compassion. All this cuts the tit-for-tat cycle of anger so many relationships are trapped in. the lion’s roar Our problem is not anger itself. It’s our fear of anger—of its inten- sity and shame—that distorts the basic energy of anger and creates suffering. We fear that intense emotions like anger will overwhelm us and make us lose control. We’re ashamed that such “negative” emo- tions are part of our makeup at all. So we protect ourselves against the energy of anger by stopping or lessening it. We can do this in one of two ways: we suppress the energy or we act it out. Denying and releasing are both ways to avoid experiencing the full intensity of emotion. Both are harmful to ourselves and others. What we need is the courage not to run away from our anger. This is called the lion’s roar, a traditional Buddhist symbol of fear- lessness. The lion’s roar is the courage to experience the full intensity of the energy within us without suppressing or releasing it. The lion’s roar is the secret to the Buddhist path of working with anger. Because when we have the courage to remain present with our anger, we can look directly at it. We can feel its texture and understand its qualities. We can investigate and understand it. What we discover is that we are not actually threatened by this energy. We separate the anger from our ego and storyline. We realize that anger’s basic energy is useful, even enlightened. For in its essence, our anger is the same as the Buddha’s. the Power of no We have the same power of no that the buddhas do. Traditionally, it is said that the enlightened version of anger is the wisdom of clarity. It is sharp, accurate, and penetrating insight. It sees what is wholesome and unwholesome, what is just and unjust, what is enlightenment and what is ignorance. By accurately saying no, it lays the ground for saying yes. We all have flashes of this wisdom. We experience it when we see clearly how society mistreats people. When we have an honest insight into our own neuroses. When we have the inspiration to say no to injustice, suffering, and ignorance, and to fight for some- thing better. Yet day by day, we and our world overwhelmingly experience anger as aggression, as a tool of ego and our greatest cause of suffering. Which is real—the wisdom of anger or the suffering of aggression? If Buddhism offers us one piece of good news it is this: the real anger is the wisdom. In reality, we are buddhas, and our anger is wisdom. The confused and misdirected aggression that causes all the suffering is just temporary and insubstantial. Enlightenment is the reality. Samsara is the fiction. The path is realizing that. ♦ A 13th-century Benevolent King (Nio) guardian at Todai-ji temple in Nara. Nio are manifestations of the bodhisattva Vajrapani, who symbolizes the buddhas’ power. SHAMBHALA SUN SepteMBer 2014 47