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Cultivating the Heart of Patience: Lessons from the Bodhicaryavatara

by Sangharakshita

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... falling
into ‘dvesha’ and anger.
Samudraghosa: Is it not said that the perfections are kind of… that the
later ones have a higher priority than the early ones?
Sangharakshita: Yes, that is also sometimes said. But also of course I
said, in another context, that there is only one paramita, and that is

9

‘Paramita' means ‘perfection’ or ‘completeness.’ In Buddhism the paramitas refer to the

perfection or culmination of certain virtues. These are usually given as lists of six or ten
perfections. Listen to an introduction to the paramitas, and explore talks on the Six Paramitas.

prajna 10, and that the others - dana 11, sila 12 and even kshanti13 - are
not really paramitas unless they’re conjoined with Wisdom. So clearly
when Shantideva is warning us against anger or hatred, he is advising
us to cultivate kshanti in the first place as a sort of relative virtue. But if
it is conjoined with Wisdom then of course there’s no danger, or very
little danger, of your falling into that particular unskilful mental state.14
I suppose it’s part of the Indian way of doing things that each time a
particular virtue comes up, well you give that particular virtue the
highest praise, and that when you practise it you should practise it as
though that is the best and the highest, in a sense even the only one,
for that particular moment.
Jayarava: Bhante, do you think that it is significant that he doesn’t talk
about eliminating anger in this context but actually cultivating

10

‘Prajna’ means ‘wisdom’ in the sense of having seen deeply and directly the nature of

reality. It is part of the Buddha’s Threefold Way of ethics, meditation and wisdom. Listen to
talks on prajna.
11

‘Dana’ means ‘giving’ or ‘generosity’, a central Buddhist practice to help reduce the sense

of separation between ‘self’ and ‘other’. Listen to evocations of dana.
12

‘Sila’ (Pali, ‘shila’ in Sanskrit) is often translated simply as ‘ethics’, and is the term used for

the whole realm of intentional, ethical behaviour in Buddhism. Listen to perspectives on sila.
13

The Buddhist practice of patience, forbearance, and forgiveness. Hear more on kshanti.

14

In Buddhist ethics, the discourse is predominantly around the idea of skilful (kusala) and

unskilful (akusala) mental states and actions (skilful conducing to wellbeing, unskilful
conducing to suffering). For explorations of this, see talks on skilfulness and on unskilfulness.

forbearance. So he doesn’t attack the anger directly, but says cultivate
something else.
Sangharakshita: Yes, well this goes back to what the Buddha says
somewhere in the Pali Canon15 about the four ways in which you can
deal with unskilful mental states.16 The first way is simply to be aware
of the unskilful mental state. Just look at it as it were, just as you might
look at clouds, you know, passing through the sky. And it may be that
just as a result of that simple awareness of it, the unskilful mental state
disappears.
But then the Buddha says, if that doesn’t work - and of course very
often it won’t work - there’s another method to which you can have
recourse and that is cultivating the opposite. So here of course that is
what Shantideva is speaking about - cultivating the opposite. You
eliminate hatred or anger by making a deliberate practice of cultivating
kshanti. But the Buddha goes on to say there’s a third way, because
even that second method may not work, and the third way is
contemplating the evil, even disastrous effects or consequences of
your engaging in that unskilful mental state. And of course we can
look at anger or hatred from this point of view also, and of course
Shantideva does that by pointing out the disastrous consequences in
terms of one’s relations, say, with other people. So if you become
15

A lot (though by no means all) of the Pali Canon is available for free online at Access To

Insight.
16

Relates to the ‘Four Right Efforts’. For more on this, see ‘The Conscious Evolution of Man:

Right Effort’ by Sangharakshita.

more aware of where your anger or hatred or any other unskilful state
is leading to, you’ll be less likely to indulge any of it.
But then the Buddha also said that there’s a fourth way and that is, if
all else fails, you just forcibly suppress the unskilful mental state. Of
course some people believe that you shouldn’t suppress anything, but
in fact we have to sometimes, that is if we have, maybe momentarily,
the urge to murder someone, well that’s [LAUGHTER] something we
just have to suppress, if that’s the only thing we can do. So there are
certain very unskilful mental states that can’t be dealt with, at least for
the time being, in any other way. So it’s quite legitimate to suppress
them forcibly, hold them down.
Balajit: Doesn’t Shantideva say later something about ‘become like a
piece of wood’ or something?
Sangharakshita: Yes, it isn’t always advisable to let everything hang
out. Or even with regards to… Well, some people might say, well if
you feel angry with someone or if you really dislike them, you should
just express that. Well I think one can’t do that in all cases. You have
to consider the effect on the other person. Sometimes you can
express yourself very strongly and, even as it were angrily, and as it
were get away with it, partly perhaps you know the other person well
and you know that, well it’s not going to result in a permanent breach
in your relationship. But one has to be quite wary, quite careful
nonetheless.

So sometimes we have to check and restrain ourselves. In fact, texts
like the Dhammapada 17 are very much concerned with restraint. So
once again, as followers of the Buddha we can’t always afford to let all
our emotions hang out. All right so let’s go on - next verse.
Jayagupta: [3] One’s mind finds no peace, neither enjoys
pleasure or delight, nor goes to sleep, nor feels secure while
the dart of hatred is stuck in the heart.
Sangharakshita: Yes. Yes, a person of angry temperament never looks
happy. They always look unhappy, because anger or hatred isn’t a
very comfortable mental state. You feel uneasy. You can’t enjoy
anything. Even if you turn on the most beautiful piece of music, while
you’re feeling angry you can’t enjoy it, because the mental state of
anger is so inimical to anything of a pleasurable or blissful nature. So
therefore I say the angry person is an unhappy person.
So it’s in your own interests not to be angry. If you want to be happy,
well you have not to be angry, not to entertain thoughts of hatred. You
have to practise and develop forbearance. And also one might say
that well, forbearance is something that we have to practise all the
time, because all the time things are happening which we don’t quite
like. There’s probably not going to be a day in our lives when nothing
happens to displease us, even to a slight extent. I think such days are
likely to be very rare.
17

See Sangharakshita’s own translation. Also, Padmavajra, ‘The Dhammapada - the

Buddha's Way of Truth’ series of talks.

So therefore forbearance is a virtue that we need to be practising all
the time. And we can look at the negative mental state of hatred, or
‘dvesha', as having various levels. We could say first of all there
comes just annoyance; and then there may be irritation; then there
may be dislike; and then of course we’ve got anger; then we’ve got
hatred; then there’s enmity; and then there’s malice. So there’s a
whole range of negative mental states of this kind, and it’s very easy to
slip from one to another, from a less serious to a more serious one. So
we need to be on our guard, and yes practise the virtue of
forbearance.
Amalavajra: Can you repeat that list? [LAUGHTER]
Sangharakshita: Well… [LAUGHTER] first annoyance, someone that
doesn’t wash up his cup and saucer, leaves it dirty - you feel a bit
annoyed. But then there’s irritation. Perhaps that’s when someone
does something that annoys you and does it repeatedly. You get
irritated, you get a bit irked. And then after that, well, there’s dislike,
you start disliking that person because that’s the way he behaves and
it rubs you up the wrong way. And then, well, that dislike, that
irritation, can lead to anger and you may express the anger and speak
a few harsh words to that person. And if they don’t take much notice
of you, or they strongly disagree with you, or criticise you in their turn,
well, even enmity may develop between you. And as for malice, I
understand malice to be the deliberate harming of others for, so to
speak, no reason, simply because you enjoy inflicting pain and

suffering on others. That’s the worst. But I think that very few people,
you know, experience that kind of mental state.
Vidyakaya: It seems like through that succession you’re becoming
more and more identified with the hatred or the anger..
Sangharakshita: Yes, Yes.
Vidyakaya: And it’s becoming more and more a part of you.
Sangharakshita: And there’s more and more of ego behind it.
Nityabandhu: And less and less of seeing the other person.
Sangharakshita: Yes.
Jayarava: I’ve often thought of generosity as a practice, as a way of
cultivating awareness of other people. ...

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