Working it out for myself

When I was younger, I didn’t like the Buddhists I met – and I’d still never call myself one – they seemed to be attempting to be good. That Buddhism would attract such fearful [of being bad] people is hardly surprising given that each factor of the eightfold path – in English – starts with “Right” [I’ve seen perfect instead!]. This translation naturally inclines to opposition with “wrong” when in fact the sanskrit root gives us the English word solid and that which is generally translated right is really more like whole.

The dubious use of “warmest wishes” – or similar – to end emails came to really stand out for me, resulting after a while in my neither greeting the recipients of my mails nor signing then off in any way. I realised that mail salutations were habit during a period in which I was keen to gently but persistently test habit patterns. When I tried leaving off the salutation etc. I discovered worry about what people would think of me. Well that did it! Fear was no good reason for such a habit.

The Buddha [is said to have] said that he meant intention by his use of the word karma, rather than the original meaning of action. That which will come back to bite you, your karma, for him [it’s said], was your intention not just your action.

I’m convinced that self-responsibility is a cornerstone of a buddhism-without-beliefs. If then, the teacher Gotama might be helpful to me, rather than a perfect beacon of light, and no teacher is perfect either, then I have me to fall back on. This turns out to not be easy, myself naturally flawed. Given my conviction of self-responsibility – no blaming others, no self-attack – however, I find myself with the uneasy necessity of working with myself as I am.

I’m also really grateful to the buddha and to my teacher, I wouldn’t want to do this alone.

What do you think?

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14 Comments

  1. Sophie Alcock
    Posted March 3, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I call the self righteous ones ‘shouldest buddhists’, too many shoulds, rights, and rules but it has taken years (wisdom of age? ) for me to realise this and to not feel inadequate in relation to the good ones

  2. Helen Lehndorf
    Posted March 3, 2014 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    Buddhists and anger. There’s a thing. I’m a Buddhist who thinks there is a sometimes a place for anger. Righteous anger can fuel positive social change. Parental anger can protect or advocate for children. Sometimes to detach from our anger could mean also detaching from ‘right action’. My anger has motivated me at times in my life when I needed motivation. Anger also parks my butt on the meditation cushion.

    • Tony Reardon
      Posted March 4, 2014 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      pawn to queen 6!

      Language is tricky, whatever it is you mean by your ‘anger’ obviously works for you. And has no problems associated with it? for you?

      So why stop something that works?

      Anger is one of the translations of dosa which could be seen, broadly speaking, as the rejecting, as opposed to grasping, force in the ‘mind’ [ah, language citta really means heart/mind]. I think that the difficulty that is pointed at in any sophisticated [as opposed to moralising] buddhist critique of ‘anger’ is the distortion, the loss of clear seeing of whatever is being looked at. In this sense dosa would be an indiscriminate force accompanied by regret or blame i.e. it’s unstable, unbalanced.

      In this sense, workable ‘anger’ sounds more like assertiveness, ‘energised on my own behalf’ but that inclines a little too much to the PC for my taste, and becomes a little bloodless!

  3. Helen Lehndorf
    Posted March 4, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Ha ha, ‘I am very energised on my own behalf right now’. I’m gonna get that on a t-shirt.

    Yes! I guess what I’m getting at – and you untangled it really well – is a tendency in Buddhist circles to read detaching from emotion as suppressing emotion, rather than examining emotion and creating space in the mind to be the conscious observer of whatever emotions are rising and ebbing in you….the suppression-stuff brings me out in hives. ‘I am a bad Buddhist if I feel angry. I should feel peaceful and full of equanimity at all times….’ Just…NO.

  4. Tony Reardon
    Posted March 7, 2014 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    what is anger?

  5. Viv
    Posted March 20, 2014 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    Anger seems to be the opposite of patience for me. There is also a serious lack of receptivity in these moments and often a wanting of things to be other than they are.

    If I don’t identify with the anger nor see another person’s anger as ‘theirs’ and just see it as ‘anger arising’ it takes the power right out of it. Less possibility of suppression this way.

  6. Tony Reardon
    Posted March 21, 2014 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    That’s a fresh way of looking at it Viv.

    I posed the question because I’d come to see that it was [yet another] word taken for granted as understood.

    For a while I thought of it as ‘energy on my behalf’ – but then so is assertiveness – so I think anger also uses aggression and a sense of threat to make its impression. I also think/experience it as automatically arising, not deliberately chosen. It’s part of human programming for survival I would say.

  7. Leon Frampton
    Posted March 22, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Anger arises, like all emotions, from the contingent nature of our “selves”. I see from the posts that anger can have positive consequences. Nonetheless, it seems that the internal experience of it remains unpleasant. For me, on the one hand, anger is an impulse. A deep defensive response to threats to my safety, my sense of self-worth, my family, and so on. So it can arise from the oldest parts of our brain, that communicate little with our rational brain. However, on the other hand, what about when you get angry that someone left a pile of dishes in the sink for you to wash? There is no threat there, this is frustration, a sense of others not understanding how we think, what offends us, how we like the world to be. Different anger, same taste – bitter.

    Much has been written across the religions and philosophical traditions about anger, just as for desire. Complete suppression seems unreasonable, like not draining pus from an infected wound. The anger is as real as anything else the contingent being experiences, so why deny it. But then indulging it carries significant risks of harm to self or others. So we are left with the same dilemma that the Buddha faced. What to do with anger?

    This is where the middle way comes into effect for me. If my car requires attention I take it to the garage. If it is fixed for a reasonable price I am happy, no anger. If it is not fixed, or the costs are huge, then anger will likely arise. For me the crucial part happens next – I decide what to do with that anger. The path of least resistance, just accepting the bad service might avoid a confrontation, but does not resolve the anger for me, and does not help future customers receive better service. Violently attacking the mechanic, whether physically or verbally, achieves even less and causes significantly more harm. I can try talking to the mechanic and explaining my anger. Perhaps there will be a positive response, perhaps not, but my choice is whether to act with compassion or not. Nevertheless, a new situation will arise, contingent on the present moment, requiring a new evaluation, a new response.

    For me, the trick is to be progressively less angry at a world I know will not bend to my will, and people (contingent beings themselves) who may not understand me or my intentions. Ultimately, anger, like all things, will end.

    • Viv
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      Dishes… ‘Different anger, same taste – bitter’.
      Still comes from the same root though. Your dishes, my space. The identification with a me and the feeling of separation from a you, and the fear of that. So still fear based.
      For me it boils down to the relationship with anger not the anger itself.

  8. Tony Reardon
    Posted March 23, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    In case it isn’t clear, let me say that I’m never really interested in any sort of definitive answer to anything I might raise in a post.

    Phil, in my Saturday meditation group, said “worms also have anger, it’s a mechanism triggered in ‘animals’ when their territory is impinged upon.”

    I found that really helpful.

    I’m going to expand on something like this in a new post.

    • Leon Frampton
      Posted March 23, 2014 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      Hey Tony. Is there any such thing as a definitive answer, hahaha! Angry worms, now there’s a thought to meditate upon!

  9. Tony Reardon
    Posted March 23, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Clearly wise that I’m not attempting it then!!

  10. Tony Reardon
    Posted March 27, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    The reason I wrote “what is anger?” is that I understood a couple of years ago that I didn’t really know what anger was.

    While “what is anger?” may seem like ‘an invitation to think’, what interests me about buddhist analysis is that it’s experiential not intellectual.

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