Chapter 06 of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara by Arya Shantideva: Patience
Commentary given by Lama Tubten Shenpen Rinpoche in She.Drub.Ling, Graz (Austria) on 200/05/06
This evening, we are going to talk about the chapter 06 of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara by Shantideva – which is about patience, and, mainly, how to develop an antidote against anger, and how to counteract the different possibilities to generate anger and hatred – namely, by developing patience.
The Bodhisattvacharyavatara by Arya Shantideva is a text written in the 8th century, and yet it is a very actual text, whose content helps us also nowadays to develop and to promote the best out of our mind. The whole text promotes the basic ideas of the Mahayana
Buddhist path that once we have decided to engage in this path, all our time, all our effort, all our mind have to be devoted to help the other beings, to find ways to be of benefit to other beings.
On that path, it is extremely important to promote two main teachings: one is what we call Bodhicitta, the ' Awakening Mind
', and the other is the six Paramitas
, the '6 Perfections
'. One of the six Paramitas is patience.
This is a teaching which is completely up-to-date, because since all these centuries, since Buddha
's time, since Shantideva's time, although a lot of things have changed in our society – the various developments of technology, one thing has not changed, that is, our mind, and how our mind works, how our mind generates its various aspects, may they be positive or negative aspects. This is why the Buddhadharma is a very actual and lively teaching, because it deals with the way the mind of a human being, or of a being in general, works. It is not about the outside aspects, the car, the house, the technology, but the inside, or fundamental, aspects, what we are and what we can become.
One may ask why I chose a text specifically about patience and the various ways to apply specific antidotes against anger for tonight; it's because this is what in our daily life seems to lack the most. If we look at our daily life – generally speaking, of course, not individually, everyone may have one's own problems and schedule – most of the time, I can see this in my own life, there are so many factors, conditions, and people that it is rather difficult to keep a calm mind. It is extremely difficult to keep a concentrated mind, a mind that will be able to focus on a subject, or an object, or on a project in a calm way.
From life to life, and even without referring to earlier lives, within this one life, we have the habit to let our mind work quite wildly, without too much of control; and if we just make a simple meditation and try to watch our mind for one minute, without a specific method, we will see that our mind is jumping from one topic to another topic, from one subject to another subject, and if we decide to think about one project, or when we want to solve one problem, then we will start to think about that subject or problem, and then we will think, e.g., about our taxes that we have to pay, and then we come back to our subject, and then we will think about the shopping that we have to do, and then we will come back to our subject – in this way we will jump from one topic to another topic, and this makes it difficult for us to solve our problems, because we are thus unable to look at them long enough, to go deep enough, in order to really perceive directly and clearly the solution.
This difficulty to focus on one subject and to find a solution for all the different little problems, the different little projects we have, have the tendency to generate a kind of frustration within ourselves, which cumulate with other little frustrations, and all that generates what we usually call stress: the incapacity to manage all the different aspects of our life, of our work, and from that type of stress, when there is something which comes from outside and disturbs us a little but, then we tend to react in an inappropriate way. This inappropriate way most of the times derives or ends up in aggressivity or a small nervosity, up to anger, and could end up in hatred.
If we understand, how Karma
is working, and if we understand, how our mind is creating positive and negative types of energy, we shall know and understand that even a second of anger creates an extremely negative karmic imprint. This is why Shantideva starts this chapter on patience by saying:
06.001. Whatever wholesome deeds. Such as venerating the Buddhas, and generosity That have been amassed over a thousand aeons
Will all be destroyed in one moment of anger.
We cannot go through the whole chapter tonight, because it contains 134 stanzas, but we will try to go through various ideas on which one can meditate in order to practice and develop patience. The whole text of Shantideva consists of ideas and comments on which one can meditate and that we can take as a subject of meditation in order to develop and increase certain virtues and perfections within ourselves, and, in this chapter, to develop and increase the Perfection of patience.
The whole Bodhisattvacharyavatara is not a text, except for the last chapter about wisdom, that gives a mere listing of points, it is not, so to say, a scholastic text, but completely integrates how in a daily life we could ask ourselves questions, about anger in this case, about how we do not respect the others, and some other cases. It is a text that we can read exactly as we could talk to ourselves.
Most of the stanzas are questions that we may ask ourselves when we understand, when we recognize that we have generated anger or aggressivity within ourselves. It implies that we have already started a little work within our mind, a little job within our thoughts, which is to become aware of what we are thinking. Most of the time, as I said, we are jumping from one topic to another, and at the end of one minute, we may no longer remember half of the topics we went through. This is because we are not paying attention to what is happening within ourselves. And this is also the reason why we end up in anger: Before anger arises, there are signs, there are little hints, which should make us to react, and to be able to say: 'Hey, here I start to be a little bit unsatisfied, and there is a little irritation, and if I let this irritation go a little bit further, then anger may arise.'
This implies as well that we have the wish to operate a work within our mind. This is an important point, because many times in the west, when we are talking about a certain control over our mind, this word or concept of 'control', 'controling', gives us a negative feeling, and therefore we have sometimes some difficulty to tell ourselves that we have to try to control our mind. Many people have the feeling that by controling their mind this will prevent them to be spontaneous, and that it will prevent them to have a free type of thought.
But within Buddhism, the concept of control is completely the opposite: Instead of closing the mind with a certain type of 'control' (that we have the idea about), it is much more something that will free our mind; because most of the time, it is the flow of hundreds of thoughts that control us in a much worse way, because we cannot direct our mind wherever we want. But if we operate a certain control, from a Buddhist point of view, over our mind, then we will start to be able to direct the mind towards the subject or topic where we want it to go. Thus, the concept of control within Buddhism, instead of enclosing the mind or closing ourselves, we do not loose something, but it will give us back a certain freedom.
Once we understand this point, and once we understand how we can benefit from the control that we can operate on our own mind and our own mental processes, then we decide to become aware of what is happening in the mind. Because only if we become aware of what is happening in the mind, we will be able to recognize that this point or that point in our mind is rather good to be there, and that this point or that point is rather negative and thus better to be avoided in our mind. There is a process that happens often in our mind which I call the 'snowball process': We start by a simple case or a simple situation, which will give us, for example, a little irritation. This is like letting a snowball roll down a slope: The more it will roll down, the bigger it will become. Thus, from a small irritation, because it will meet some other factors, some other conditions, we may end up with a kind of anger. By becoming aware, by developing this attentiveness within our mind, we will be able to distinguish the slightest sign, or the first sign of this irritation – and to operate an action against it.
This is one of the first tasks that we can start to develop, namely how to become aware of our mind. There are a certain number of meditations that we can practice and that we can develop in order to become attentive of what is happening in one's mind. It is extremely important in our life to set up daily some little moment of meditation, not necessarily a meditation with a technique to follow, but some moment during which we will watch what is going on within our mind. And it is not necessary to apply some sitting meditation, but at different moments of our daily life to try to watch how our mind is working, and to try to recognize within our mind which kind of factor does exist at one moment or another: Is it attachment, is it generosity, is it Compassion
, is it irritation, is it jealousy? – Just to be able to watch and to recognize what is going on.
Once we are more or less able to recognize what is going on in our mind, and once we can name the different aspects of it, we can see that some we can be let free, so to say, and for some of them need the application of some antidote. Shantideva describes all the dangers arising from anger, and all the negativities created even by just a single second of anger – which gives some strength to our wish to stop that anger.
Even without entering much into details about karma and the negative karmic imprints that anger may leave in our consciousness, we can easily analyze what anger produces: the lack of control it operates, what we come to say or to do sometimes while we are under the control of anger, quite some things we may regret afterwards, and we can see the results of anger in our daily life, in our family or in the job, when out of anger we may have said a lot of things which may have hurt others. Thus, we can easily understand the necessity and the need to operate a certain control over it.
Once we have generated that capacity to watch the mind, it gives us the opportunity to analyze quite finely the various causes of that anger, e.g., in one moment of our day we may realize that we have already been angry for 10 minutes, and we will ask ourselves, why we have been angry, we will try to analyze the causes of that anger, and we will ask ourselves a certain amount of questions, such as 'Why have I been angry?' – because sometimes we may become angry without really knowing why, and then 'Is that reason a good cause to have such a reaction?', and 'Is that reaction appropriate?', and 'Does that type of reaction help me to solve the situation in which I am?' – an amount of questions that will help us to understand how we react. Most of the times, we do not even do this 'post-anger analysis', thus just our habit of becoming angry is strengthened without even giving the hint that it is not appropriate, and giving us the idea of how to stop it before it gets some importance [in the mind].
Within our Western psychology, it is often said that anger shall not be suppressed. It is often said that as soon as anger appears, it should be expressed, because otherwise it would not be good for our mind. This is an idea that does not make sense in Buddhism, for two reasons. Firstly, letting a mental factor express itself means giving strength to that mental factor. If we do not watch our mind process and if we never try to operate any control over a mental factor such as anger, we let that habit to take place. And more we let that habit express itself freely, the more it will at its ease within our personality.
On the other hand, it is true that while we have anger within ourselves, if we do not anything else than to deny it, it may lead to a very bitter, or very difficult situation within ourselves. Thus, we have to find a solution between not to let the anger explode as freely as it would like and at the same not just to deny its existence. The solution lies in the analysis of anger. Because once you recognize that anger is in your mind, has developed already, or is on the point to be developed, if you analyse it correctly by asking all those little questions that we discussed earlier, from where it came, how it came, whether the cause is in a good proportion to the answer, and so on, by this analysis – which need not be long, but is long enough actually for the anger to dissolve by itself. Try the next time you recognize anger in yourselves, you will see that this is efficient. Try to disconnect for a few seconds from that anger, and instead of being that anger, living within that anger, try to look at it, from one little step behind, if you like, and to analyse it. Do not look at it as if something you live, that you are in, but as something that has taken place within yourself – and analyse it. By the end of the analysis, the anger may have dissolved. First of all, if you have concentrated well enough on the analysis, you will not find a real cause, a real root for it, as most of the angers come out of things that do not really need to react like this, and secondly, because our mind cannot focus well on one thing. Thus, usually when you get angry, it is because you have focused on a cause for that anger, but if you focus your mind on the analysis of the anger, you are no longer within that cause. That's like a kind of pastry, soufflé, something that becomes big, and after some time, if you do not watch it carefully, it just collapses. The anger within us is just doing the same thing.
In order to operate that work on our mind, we can distinguish two moments: One of these two moments is the sitting meditation. For example, we may do a small sitting meditation in the morning and in the evening, aside your regular practice you may already do, take for analysis 'anger' and all the different moments in which this anger usually is preceded by a certain type of irritation. Calmly, let's say, on your cushion, try to remember some situation, and there are usually quite a few, in which you have lost your temper, and try to analyse with a cool mind how it did happen, why it did happen, and whether it was really useful to react in this way.
The second important moment, during which we can do such work on anger and patience, is 'in situ', within the situation in which the anger will arise. At the beginning of the practice, it is most probable that you start this job after the anger. So, once the anger has arisen, you will realize that you have been angry, and then you can do the little analysis, 'post-anger'. If usually, you are angry for ten minutes before to calm down again, then if you apply this meditation morning and night, if you accustom your mind to react when anger happens within your mind, then it will soon be only nine minutes and fifty seconds, after which you will realize that anger has taken you again, and then you apply your little analysis. It is important that each time you recognize that you have lost your patience, that you make a little analysis about it. Because this will give your mind the habit to recognize anger, to analyse it, and finally to understand that it was not necessary to react like that, and to give yourself a kind of commitment that next time you will really try to catch that anger before it happens. It is clearly not a process that only needs the time of a finger snap; it really needs some time before to come down from ten minutes of anger till few seconds before anger arises, where you will be able to catch irritation before anger.
As we see here, the work that we can perform is not something that requires some specific quality, or years of study in a monastic university, but it is clearly something all of us can apply within our daily life. There is no need for specific circumstances in order to perform this work, this analysis and work about anger. If you have a car, you will know how easy it is to loose patience, and in many circumstances, without any useful reason and without any real cause. I like to take the example of the parking place, and those who came to the teaching last time may know it already, it is at the moment you are in your car and you are looking for a parking place already since a long time, and you turn round and turn round, and you look at your watch and you are already late, and finally you arrive in front of a free place, direct your car, but just in the moment you arrive there, some other driver in front of you is taking the place. This is a moment where most of the time we just explode and find any names for the person that has taken the parking place. But from now on, every time it will happen, either after having called this person such names or at the moment it does happen in front of you, try to think about the validity of the anger reaction. Try to ask why you are getting angry. Usually, we are treating the person as a thief, at least, because it has taken our place. But is it really our place? Was that place dedicated for me in such a way that I have to become angry because somebody came and took it away? And so on. This is a process we can clearly start to apply in every situation of our daily life.
There is one stanza from the text which refers directly to this and can be really a subject of meditation, Shantideva wrote:
06.093 When their sandcastles collapse, Children howl in despair; Likewise when my praise and reputation decline My mind becomes like a little child.
Of course, at this time, it was not a story of parking place, and not directed in the same way, but it shows that somehow we do react in the same way, a way which is not appropriate concerning the situation. In this stanza, the child is giving the sandcastle some importance which it does not have, and if it gets destroyed for any reason, then there is an overreaction, a strong emotion that arises, and in many situations concerning our state of mind, we do react in the same way. Out of a little event, somebody may tell us one word, that we misinterpret, or one pick from somebody makes us overreact. Thus, it is important to do this meditation morning and night about how we do react normally, and how we should react in various situations, in order to give the strong habit to our mind not to overreact in daily situations.
It is not always the question of the parking place, but many times in our daily life, as Shantideva pointed out in this example, something which is related to ourselves, how we take ourselves, how we understand ourselves, which kind of importance we give to ourselves, and when there is a slight criticism about ourselves or what we are doing, then we produce this kind of strong reaction, which can turn out to be anger, or aggressivity, or whatever. According to this point, we have also to go through an analysis of how we do perceive ourselves, and how we should understand with humility what we are within our environment, and not to magnify our situation.
Basically that's what I wanted to say about our state of mind facing the negative mental factor of anger, and the necessity of the development of patience. If we look back a little bit what is important to do. First of all, it is very important to start a way to analyse our mind, to be aware of what is going on in our mind. And in order to do so, to take some little time at different moments of the day to ask ourselves what is going on. Once we become aware which mental factor we recognize, then we can apply a specific antidote to it. In the case of anger or irritation, we will try to develop patience. This patience can be developed in different ways, one being the analysis of the causes of that anger, and the way to dissect those conditions for the anger. As I said, if we focus our mind on this analysis of the various conditions that have brought us to develop anger, then the anger itself will loose of its energy, of its strength, and will finally collapse by itself.
Another way to counteract the development of anger are all types of meditation related to the non-inherent existence of phenomena – which is developed in the ninth chapter of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara. Just briefly, in order to understand that all phenomena with which we enter in contact are productions of our karma, are creations from all the different causes and conditions that we have accumulated from past lives and from this life. Under that aspect, we shall look at our environment with another view – not as something so concrete and so real as most of the time it seems to be, but with the idea that it may not be so real, and that we may usually have a mistaken view about its real nature.
The third way to counteract anger and to develop patience is by developing all the various aspects of what we call Bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is often in the west translated as compassion, but, from my point of view, this is a bit restrictive, because we have already a definition of what should be 'compassion' according to the judeo-christian tradition. Within the Tibetan tradition, 'Bodhicitta' is translated as 'awakening mind
'; this idea of opening our mind well enough in order to take in consideration all sentient beings
without any exception fits more with what we call 'Bodhicitta' than just the word 'compassion'. By developing this attitude of taking into consideration all sentient beings, by developing this personal deep inside wish to help all other sentient beings, and by looking at all the different ways within our life to come to that finality to help as many sentient beings as possible, then it helps a lot to develop patience, because in many situations people around ourselves are acting in a way which we take directly, without analysis. This often generates within ourselves a reaction of the anger type.
Something that helps a lot in order not to overreact in front of what somebody is saying or doing is to disconnect the behaviour of the people, how the people do act, and the being himself or herself, the consciousness which is behind. This is not the same, in the sense that there is a being, and because of Ignorance
, because of an amount of disturbing mental factors, that being will react in a negative way sometimes. If we do not make this difference, then if somebody acts in a bad way, we will say: I reject that person, that person is a bad person. And out of such an attitude, out of such a way of reacting against a being, anger will finally arise. While, if we understand that a behaviour is not correct, but we still keep the being within our compassion, because we understand that that being is misled by ignorance and his/her own delusions, then we can much more easily disarm the anger which would have otherwise arisen.
Thus, whenever you are facing somebody who does react aggressively or in a nasty way to you, or in a way that we could label as nasty, or in a jealous way, or whatever, always try to have this understanding that there is a consciousness, and that consciousness is under delusion, under ignorance, and may react in such a way, disconnect the behaviour from that being. This is extremely important, especially for those of you who have taken the Bodhisattva Vows
, or who expect to take the bodhisattva vows, especially prior to a high Tantric Initiation
, but also outside any Tantric initiation, because one of those bodhisattva vows concerns the fact to keep all sentient beings without any exception within our compassion. Thus, if for some moment we take one being out of our compassion, then we break this vow. In order to do not break this vow, and in order to keep all sentient beings within our field of Bodhicitta, within our wish to help them, it is important not to start to criticize, or to judge, or to reject one being, and in order to do not do so, we have to disconnect something that we dislike – the behaviour of some beings – from the being himself or herself, from the consciousness which is behind.
After all, there are mainly two situations in which we will loose our patience: the first is in front of beings, and the second is in front of objects. If we understand well karma, if we understand how the law of cause and effect produces our environment, we may understand as well that objects and phenomena appear out of our own karma, out of all the different causes that we have created in the past. Thus, if today we are in front of a situation – we have to wait for the bus which is late, we are loosing our parking place, we cannot get the chocolate cake that we expected to take, or whatever situation – we have to understand that it is a result of our own karma. If we would have to be unhappy about something or somebody, it would be as if we were unhappy against ourselves, in a way. Thus, concerning the objects, it seems quite useless to react in a negative way against objects, when we understand that these objects have taken a place within our environment due to our own creation of karma. And the second, concerning the beings, and that's what I was just explaining before, in front of the negative reactions of some beings, instead of loosing patience and becoming angry, we shall understand that such a reaction, such a behaviour comes out of ignorance, of the delusions of that particular being. If we understand this well, instead of loosing patience, it shall increase our own compassion, our altruistic attitude towards such beings. Why? Because such a being, deluded by various circumstances, under ignorance, will, by his or her attitudes, for himself or herself some negativities. If in front of somebody who is already creating a lot of negativities for himself or herself, we generate more negativities, everybody is loosing in that. While if you understand the situation correctly, and in front of the negativity generated by somebody, you generate yourself more compassion, more loving attitude, you do not create negativities for yourself, and you may help that person to calm down, to understand that situation in a different way, and to do not create more negativities.
If you want to find more subjects of meditation, and if you want to deepen your understanding of the necessity to work against the anger and to develop patience, then I recommend you to read the Bodhisattvacharyavatara (lit. 'Entering the Bodhisattva path'), written by Shantideva.
And before closing tonight's session, if you have some questions, about something which I may not have said, or not explained well, ...
Q. You said at the beginning that our mind is jumping around all the time. Then you said that while angry, our mind focuses completely on the cause of anger. Thus it seems that while we are angry, our mind seems to be able to focus quite well; is this true or ...?
A. Well, actually, it is not completely true in the sense that we do not focus on one thing when we generate our anger; most of the time, it is a composition of different factors that make our anger to arise. If we develop anger against one being, it is usually not the being himself or herself, it is not the face, it is not the clothes, it may be a certain amount of different factors that make us develop anger. Thus, we are not so well focused.
Q. (a Child) When you were talking about the sandcastle, does it mean that when the sandcastle breaks, the children get angry? Is it this what you meant?
A. Yes, this is what I meant. Because most of the time, in front of a sandcastle, a child will give a great importance to the sandcastle, while if we analyse well, we can understand that a sandcastle is not SO important. We can build another one, anyhow, it is not strong, so it is meant to be destroyed at one moment or another, and in the same way within our life, there are many little things to which we give a lot of importance, we think that this is very important, important for our life, for our reputation, for [xxx], and then, if somebody is criticizing us, or if somebody destroys, makes a little dump in our car or a little scratch on the paint, or whatever, then we get angry, we loose our patience. Usually, as a grown-up, we can understand that a sandcastle is not so important, and we say, this child should not be so angry, because the sandcastle, after all, is not so important, but we do not understand always that we do react ourselves in a way which is [similar]; because if there is a little scratch in the paint of our car, for example, it is not a big deal, it is not a reason to be angry. And if somebody accuses you, or treats you, or gives you bad names, or something like this – what is hurt in that situation? Your mind cannot be hurt by words, but we do fight and we do get angry. You know that?
A. But if somebody tells you something not good, then you react not good. But is it good to react not-good?
Q. Anger, hatred, and joy is a question of temperament, it is 'innate', so to say, and one cannot do much against it!
A. How do you say in German? "Doch!" – Well, clearly, according to our education, according to our social environment, and according to past karmic creation, karmic imprint, we may have more tendency to develop anger, or jealousy, or to be calm, or compassionate, or whatever. We have to see that what we are now is the result of a certain amount of different factors. 'Innate' or 'acquired later' does not matter so much in the sense that it is clearly possible to have an action on it. It is clearly possible by meditation, by analysis, by a correct way to think about a particular subject, to either generate love and compassion, and patience, and it is possible to decrease anger, jealousy, any of the mental factors. Within our mind, we have all the potential – maybe another time, or you may have a look yourself on some texts which explain exactly all the 51 different mental factors that the mind contains, the mind can develop any of them. Basically, we could say, at any moment, according to the causes and [conditions]. Each of us does have these 51 mental factors. Some of them will be more developed than others, according to our past habits, according to our situation and our past karmic imprints. But we can act on them, and this is what is positive about it. We all can decrease the negativities that we have within ourselves, and we all can develop and magnify the wisdom and understanding.
Q. Is there anything positive about anger?
A. As far as I can think about it, no. Among the different aspects of our mind, anger and hatred are clearly the worst things that we can develop, because the strength of anger is really something that destroys a lot of efforts and accumulation of merits
and positive karma. And it is something that helps us to reject some being out our compassion.
We may conclude here – thank you for your patience! And have a good practice!