People are sometimes attracted to Buddhism via the glamour of spiritual
heroes and heroines. In a world where there are few truly solitary
individuals, the hermit is one of the most admired role models: "We may
revere a Gampopa but
we'd like to hang out with Milarepa."
However, it is a requirement for achieving enlightenment, or ultimate
liberation and happiness, to devote her or himself to the sangha.
Sangha, as one of the Three Refuges,
can refer to:
1. The historical Buddha's group of disciples who are also the
"progenitors" of Buddhism
2. The community of Bodhisattvas (stream-enterers) who have the
capacity to help us out of the vicious cycle that is Samsara.
3. But sangha is also the community of Buddhist practitioners with whom a
person shares the way; the Buddhist group to which we may belong.
4. In its broadest sense sangha could mean "all well-intentioned
beings" but usually in that instance the preferred phrase is 'the
In any case, the objectives of Buddhism are difficult to attain in a
We tend to admire Gampopa or other lineage founders for having created the
"structures for transmission of the Dharma in an organized fashion,"
but we may consider Milarepa (or Bodhidharma, or Han Shan) to be superior in
some ways because they spent time as hermits.
None of those people "were truly solitary and certainly not isolated
although they obviously had significant periods of closed practice. Didn't
Milarepa have thousands of students? And even Bodhidharma was an abbot
Without the support of other people, those men could not have been
hermits. The previous Dolpo Rinpoche
(a.k.a. Shiri Lama) was enclosed for most of the
years of his life, high in his Himalayan cave in meditation for the benefit of
all beings. But he could not have done so without the support of sangha
and community that cared for his physical well-being, bringing him food and
caring for his health.
Interaction with other people also provide opportunities for the practice of
the Perfections of patience, generosity and so on.
"In one of his short teachings, Tsongkhapa talks about rishis who practiced
solitarily. As long as they kept to their meditative state, everything was
fine. One of them came out of meditation and discovered that rats had
eaten his long hair. He flew into a rage. Later, because
of this anger, he was reborn in hell.
Meditation is an essential aspect of Buddhism and it is easier for most people
to do that away from the distracting input of the world and of other
people. "But the world manifests itself to us due to our karma. While
purifying our mindstream, it seems we also at least purify our
perceptions. This can only be done in concert with others."
Milarepa's story provides many examples of that. It was the actions of
others that provided him the opportunity to attain his great level of
realization. If his aunt had not abused him, he could not have practiced
patience. The cruelty of others and the tragedy of finding his mother's
bones abandoned in their former home contributed to his achieving a compassion
that was all-inclusive.
Had the sorcerer who was Milarepa's first teacher not been so afraid of
damnation, he would not have needed any help; it was his request for salvation
that led Milarepa to try to attain enlightenment.
Many teachers make the point of saying that it is essential to interact with
people and that we should especially cherish people who seem to view us
negatively. Shri Atisha
Dipankara's tradition of the sage of Suvarnadvipa and the system of
Training or lojong shows the benefits of working with what is.
[Above link is to Ani Pema Chodron's summary at
Lama Kathy Wesley (KTC) reminds us that our karma determines the people -- or
at least, the kind of people -- that come into contact with us, and theirs does
the same. In her experience, there is just no use trying to get away from
certain kinds of individuals we find difficult; they will certainly follow you
-- even into retreat!
KU, whose reply to a question at the
kagyu email group includes the quoted material here, concluded:
I certainly understand the impulse toward hermit life. But opting out
of interaction with people for self-protective reasons seems to be a dead
end. How can we really develop as Bodhisattvas? Even deluded, we
are the 1000 arms of Chenrezig.
Being deluded, don't we need the blessings of the Buddhas and our lamas,
and the interaction with our Vajra bothers and sisters to anchor us?
Well, sometimes the interaction side of that anchor is too heavy
-- it can tip us over and drag us down, it is true.
One remedy is to arrange a balance. It is good to set
aside some time each day for solitary meditation and reflection during which we
can fortify our refuge. We can practice our equanimity. We can also
contemplate and examine our knee-jerk reactions to unpleasantness, and
being more aware, we resolve to carry this consciousness with us through the
It is frequently taught that:
If someone says something false about you, but you chew on it
and mull it over and get angry about it, it is like someone shot an arrow at
you but it missed. So you run over, pick it up and stab yourself with
Also, if your feet hurt from walking on rocky ground, you do not
need to spend energy trying to pave the road. It is better to get yourself
shoes with thicker soles. In other words, we can work on how we handle
difficult situations, for we cannot always change the circumstances.
Ngulchu Thogmed Zangpo (1245 - 1369) in 37 Practices of a
- Unless our inner enemy -- our own anger -- has been subdued,
Trying to subdue outer enemies only makes more of them.
Therefore, to swiftly raise an army of loving-kindness and
- So as to conquer our own mind-stream, is a practice of the
Anger is the most detrimental of emotions, since in its
extreme form it can lead us to break the one fundamental precept which is not to
take a life.
HANDLING ANGER -- 10 ANTIDOTES
ANTIDOTE 1 - Patience.
Patience is the main antidote to anger. As common wisdom says: just count to
100 ... . During this time, any of the following methods can be effective. The
effective one depends on the actual situation. Especially in our age
of rush and intense change, patience may not be seen as a positive quality,
but take a minute to think -- impatience can easily give rise to a general
feeling of anger.
ANTIDOTE 2 - Realization of Suffering.
Once we understand that problems and frustration are basic facts of life, it can
reduce our impatience with our own unrealistic expectations. In other words:
nothing is perfect, so don't expect it. Because of the belief that things
are or can be perfect, it is easy to feel hurt.
ANTIDOTE 3 - Understanding Cause and Effect
The real reasons for our problems are our own actions, which are in turn caused
by our own negative states of mind. If someone makes us angry, it has a sobering
effect if we dare to think that the real reasons for this situation are our own
past actions, and the person is just a circumstance for our own mind to ripen.
ANTIDOTE 4 - Changing or Accepting.
Basically, we can find ourselves in two types of unpleasant situations: ones we
can change and ones we cannot change. If I can change the situation, I
should do something about it instead of getting all worked-up and angry. Not
acting in such a situation will cause frustration in the end. If I cannot
change the situation, I will have to accept it. If I don't, it will only lead to
frustration and a negative and unpleasant state of mind, which will make the
situation only worse.
For some reasons unclear to me, Westerners (including myself)
appear to have
big problems with accepting unpleasant situations which we cannot change. Could
this be a result of impatience (a form of anger) with imperfection (an
ANTIDOTE 5 - Realistic Analysis.
For example, someone accuses me of something. If it is true, I apparently made a
mistake, so I should listen and learn. If it is untrue, the other person
has made a
mistake. So what? Nobody is perfect. I also make mistakes, and it is all
too easy to label the other as "enemy," in which case a helpful
discussion or forgiving becomes difficult. It may also be worthwhile
searching for the real underlying reason of the problem. Of special
importance is to evaluate one's own role in the situation: my own fears,
insecurity, being very unfriendly, or not being blameless (like leaving home
much too late for an appointment and blaming the 5-minute delay of the train).
ANTIDOTE 6 - Equanimity.
Equanimity means that one realizes the basic equality of all people; others want
happiness, just like I do. Others make mistakes just like I do. Others are
confused, angry, attached just like I often am. Is the other person happy in
this situation, or just struggling like I am?
ANTIDOTE 7 - Openness
Be prepared to be open for the motivation of others to do what causes you
problems. Talking it over and being prepared to listen can suddenly make a
problem acceptable. Did you ever notice the difference when a plane or train has
much delay and nobody gives any reasons for it? People very quickly become
irritated and hostile. Then when the driver or pilot explains there is a
technical defect or an accident, suddenly waiting becomes easier.
ANTIDOTE 8 - Relativity.
Ask yourself if this situation is actually important enough to spoil your own
and other people's mood. Is this problem worth getting upset in a life where
death can hit me at any moment?
ANTIDOTE 9 - Change Your Motivation.
In case a situation is really unacceptable, and another person needs to be
convinced that something is to be done or changed, there is no need to become
upset and angry. It is likely much more efficient if you show of understanding
and try to make the other understand the need for change. If one needs to appear
angry for some reason to convince the other person of the seriousness of the
situation, one can think like a parent acting wrathful to prevent the child from
ANTIDOTE 10 - Renew Your Acquaintance with Emptiness.
~ reminder courtesy Lobster at The
Kagyu Mailing List
HH Dalai Lama in Ethics for the New Millenium explains
the Tibetan word for compassion:
"As such, our innate capacity for empathy is the source of that most
of all human qualities, which in Tibetan we call nying je.
Now while generally
translated simply as "compassion," the term nying je has a wealth of
that is difficult to convey succinctly, though the ideas it contains are
universally understood. It connotes love, affection, kindness, gentleness,
generosity of spirit, and warm-heartedness. It is also used as term of both
sympathy and of endearment. On the other hand, it does not imply
"pity" as the
word compassion may. There is no sense of condescension. On the contrary,
nying je denotes a feeling of connection with others, reflecting its origins
Living in Compassion (Rinchen, Inc., May 2001) by
Ven. Bardor Tulku-Rinpoche of Karma Triyana
Dharmachakra, His Holiness Karmapa's seat in North America, includes a
discussion of marriage and relationships; a commentary on The 37 Practices of
a Bodhisattva; the Six Perfections, and more. The book is US$16.95 and
is available from Namse Bangdzo.
Rinpoche, who is married and has three daughters, is well qualified to write
about such things:
Question: One important quality you have talked about
compassion. Sometimes there are situations, however, where that
particular attitude might not be understood. Perhaps someone like a drug
addict or an alcoholic may see your compassion and decide to take advantage of
you. Do you have any suggestions on how to practice compassion in that
Rinpoche: In walking the bodhisattva path, we need to avoid what has
been called "idiot compassion." That refers to compassion
that tries to be "nice" and make people happy. It involves doing
what they want rather than what is needed. It is really about making ourselves
feel good, rather than actually practicing compassion. What is missing in this
is wisdom. Bodhisattvas cultivate and practice limitless compassion which is
endowed with the quality of wisdom. When you have that, no one can take
advantage of you because of the sharpness and clarity of that wisdom. It cuts
through any faults or mistakes that might come about, including being taken
advantage of. In a situation where someone is trying to take advantage of you,
you will actually know what will benefit them and what will not. With that
awareness, you can apply your compassion and do your best for that person,
even if it means not doing what they want. When the compassion is joined with
authentic wisdom in this way, the outcome will always be beneficial.
~ Venerable Bardor Tulku-Rinpoche, 45-46.
. . . one of the negative actions connected with speech is known as "hurtful
speech." This could mean any kind of aggressive verbal abuse, and it
could mean creating disharmony between friends, relatives, husbands and wives,
or in a community, all by engaging in negative talk. The opposite,
positive action would be to engage in
gentle, conciliatory, and helpful speech. ( 29)
. . . .
As we close this section, there are a few things I would like you to
remember. First, there are a few more thoughts from Padampa Sangye, who was
one of the great teachers of Buddhism in Tibet.
He said that much of the time our communications with each other are like the
way people talk in a crowded marketplace. People are chattering at the same
time but not listening to each other. He was saying that we need to learn to
listen to each other, appreciate our relationships, and learn to work with
difficulties of the situation rather than alienating ourselves from each
other. He also said that it is the responsibility of men and women to love
each other and work out their relationships." (41)
. . . .
The second of the four things taught in the sutras is
abandoning criticism of other bodhisattvas, which means other mahayana
practitioners in general, and especially realized bodhisattvas. It says,
in stanza thirty-two, "If, under the power of mental afflictions, a
mahayana practitioner proclaims the defects of another bodhisattva or mahayana
practitioner, the the proclaimer becomes impaired (the
proclaimer's virtue degenerates). It is therefore the practice of
bodhisattvas not to proclaim the defects of those who have entered the
This refers to situations where through the power of mental afflictions,
especially jealousy, a mahayana practitioner bad-mouths another mahayana
practitioner -- proclaims their downfalls, the defects in their conduct, their
general failings, and so on. And this only hurts the one who is broadcasting
the faults, because they are acting out jealousy. It is therefore the
practice of bodhisattvas not to
criticize other beings in general, and especially those who have entered any
vehicle of Dharma, and most particularly the mahayana. In short it means to be
careful with your speech -- to control your speech. Essentially the point of
this, which goes along with the previous stanza, is to be more concerned with
your own defects than the defects of others (94-95.)
. . . .
Finally, the fourth thing taught in the sutras is to abandon harsh speech. In
stanza thirty-four it says, "Since harsh words agitate the
minds of others, and therefore cause one's bodhisattva conduct to
degenerate, it is the practice of bodhisattvas to abandon harsh words
that are unpleasant for others."
When we do not pay attention to our own defects through carelessness, for
example, we may become angry and carelessly
speak harshly to others and agitate them. This can hurt their feelings and
make them angry. Therefore bodhisattvas and those practicing the
mahayana should speak gently when they speak. They should speak appropriately,
and in a manner that is easy on the ears and that sounds right to those who
are hearing it. When you speak carelessly and hurt someone's feelings, this is
obviously going directly against the whole purpose of the bodhisattva path --
which is not to cause suffering, but to bring beings happiness. It is
therefore a great downfall for a bodhisattva to do so. Therefore bodhisattvas
abandon harsh words, which means that they think carefully
about what sort of language and what sort of things to say that will
actually be pleasant and appropriate for that person. Watching one's
speech is very important. In general it is said, "When alone, look at
your mind; when in company, look at what you are saying." (95-96.)
. . . .
Question: I wanted to ask about verse thirty-two, which is connected
with abandoning criticism of other bodhisattvas. Is it ever appropriate, under
special circumstances, if you feel that there
are individuals who could be harming others, and you feel that to
benefit someone else, you should let them know about this person's activity?
Rinpoche: The text is not saying that you should never criticize other
practitioners. If appropriate, you can and should do so when it is
necessary in order to prevent a situation of harm or abuse, as you said.
However, you should not do so out of dislike or
jealousy. ~ (Bardor Tulku-Rinpoche 103) Namo
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