Anger is part of day-to-day life. Do you not get angry if someone cuts you off while you are standing in line at the store? You do. We all become angry over things that happen against our wishes or words spoken by someone that we don’t like to hear. This is a common occurrence in our daily lives. Feelings of anger arise due to how we interpret and react to situations. Our interpretation may not be correct most of the time. We become emotional over the actions of another person and if we are not skillful in handling anger, it can quickly develop into resentment and hatred. This pollutes our minds. Therefore it is important to learn how we should handle hatred.
Venerable Sariputta, the foremost disciple of the Supreme Buddha, teaches a group of monks about the basic foundation of hatred – how to handle anger tactfully. This discourse by Ven. Sariputta, discusses the five ways monks can train their minds to eradicate hatred completely.
- There is a person whose bodily behaviour is impure but his verbal behaviour is pure. This person speaks the truth all the time, does not engage in harsh speech, divisive speech or idle chatter. We definitely get angry because of his impure bodily behaviour. How should someone subdue hatred for him?
Ven. Sariputta uses this simile to explain. A monk who uses rag clothes that are discarded as garbage to patch up his robes sees a piece of rag on the road. He sees that only a portion of the rag is dirty. Holding the soiled portion to the ground by his left foot and using his right foot he tears off the unsoiled portion of the rag and takes it for his use.
When someone makes you angry, you know this person is pure in his verbal behaviour although his bodily behaviour is impure. Just like the monk who took only the unsoiled portion of the rag cloth, you focus your attention on his good verbal behaviour. You think “This person has never lied to me. He is truthful and can be trusted”. You start to see the good side in this person’s behaviour. When you think in this manner, you are not allowing thoughts of anger to enter your mind. You are mindfully guarding your mind against the pollutants. It is as if to pay no attention to the soiled part of the rag but to the usable part of the rag. As a result, bad thoughts will not surface and anger will subside and will not give rise to resentment and hatred.
- The second is about a person whose bodily behaviour is pure but his verbal behaviour is impure. He doesn’t speak the truth. He engages in harsh speech, divisive speech, and idle chatter. When we become angry towards a person like this, how do we subdue hatred towards this person?
Ven. Sariputta explains with another simile. A person is travelling on a long route in the midday heat. He comes to a pond that’s overgrown with slime and water plants, covered in sweat, exhausted, and thirsty. Instead of looking for a clean pool of water, this person would jump into the pool, clear away the slime and the water plants by hand, cupping his hands he would drink the water and then be on his way.
You become angry due to someone’s actions. You know this person’s bodily actions are pure. Pay attention only to the goodness in this person. You think to yourself “This person doesn’t harm anyone, you are safe with him”. Just like the traveller did, you have to clear the surface to drink the water with your cupped hands without the slime and the water plants getting into it. You pay no attention to the bad verbal behaviour but pay attention to his good bodily behaviour to guard your mind against thoughts of anger.
- The third is a person whose bodily behaviour and verbal behaviour are impure but from time to time this person takes part in joining with others volunteering his time in cleaning public places, donates food to the needy, and showing he has apparently benefited from the association with good people by displaying peace and calm in his behaviour. How should one subdue hatred towards such a person?
Ven. Sariputta explains with yet another simile. A person is travelling on a long route in the midday heat. He is covered in sweat, trembling, and thirsty. He comes across a little puddle in a cow’s footprint and thinks, “if I use my hands to drink the water, I would disturb it, stir it up and make it unsuitable to drink. What if I were to go down on my hands and knees and slurp up the water like a cow and then continue my journey?”
You become angry due to this person’s actions. As said before, pay no attention to his impure bodily or verbal behaviour. Look at the good side of his behaviour you see from time to time. He shows peace and calm in his behaviour from time to time and takes part in good deeds. It was a difficult task for the traveller to drink the water going down on his hands and knees like an animal, but he had to drink the water to quench his thirst and continue. He had no choice. In the same way, we have to protect our minds by being humble and patient in the presence of such people. Taking what is necessary is difficult but you have to do it to guard your mind and to subside your anger. This way, hatred towards him should be subdued.
- The fourth Ven. Sariputta says, is a person who is impure in his bodily behaviour and verbal behaviour, and who does not display mental clarity and calm from time to time. He doesn’t display that he has a pleasant mind. How should one subdue hatred towards such a person?
Ven. Sariputta explains with an additional simile. A man is on a long journey through the desert. He is in pain and is seriously ill. Travelling on a road far from the next village and far from the last village. He is unable to get the food, the medicines, the suitable assistance, and to find someone who can take him to the next human habitation. Now suppose another person were to see him coming along the road. This person out of compassion, pity, and sympathy for the sick man thinks “ O, this man should get the food he needs, the medicine he needs, a suitable assistant, and someone to take him to human habitation. Why is that? So that he won’t fall into ruin right here”.
This is a person impure in his bodily behaviour, verbal behaviour and does not display peace and calmness in his behaviour showing that he does not have mental clarity either. At the break-up of the body, such people will take rebirth at a bad destination. You become angry due to the actions of such a person. Out of compassion about that person’s destiny, you think “may this person abandon his wrong bodily actions, wrong verbal actions and wrong mental actions and develop right bodily, verbal and mental actions so that he may not end up in a bad destination after his death”. Just like the traveller who met the sick person on the desert road is unable to spare any food, find medicines or help him to the next village, you can only be sympathetic about his destiny and be compassionate towards him. Such thoughts will guard your mind against getting angry over the actions of this person. Hatred will be subdued.
- The fifth and last person, Ven. Sariputta says, is a person whose bodily actions are pure, his verbal actions are pure, and periodically he displays mental clarity and calmness. In case one gets angry towards such a person, how should we subdue hatred for him?
Ven. Sariputta explains using a simile. A person comes burning with heat, covered with sweat, exhaust, trembling and thirsty. He sees a beautiful pond with cool, completely clear water, with gently sloping clean sandy banks and shaded trees of many kinds around it. He plunges into the pool and bathes, drinks water and comes out of it and would sit down or lie under the shade of a tree.
This person is pure in his deeds and speech. He is peaceful and shows mental clarity. You have developed hatred towards him. Now you have to think “I know this person is pure in his behaviour both bodily and verbally. He displays mental clarity and calmness. All that I could think of this person is good. There is no harm from him to others. So why should I have any resentment towards him?” You are reflecting on the good behaviour of this person to guard your mind against developing thoughts of anger. An entirely inspiring individual can make your mind grow serene and your mind subdues hatred towards him.
Let’s recap what we learned. You are angry for some reason. This will grow into resentment and hatred quickly if you don’t treat it. If you are smart you know it’s not good for you. You need to subdue your anger. This discourse teaches us how to do it in a practical way. Four of the similes teach you to reflect only on good behaviour and one teaches you to be compassionate when there is no other option. Our minds are not trained in this manner and when we are angry, with emotions we tend to look at the unacceptable behaviour of a person most of the time. Thought after thought about this person is a bad thought. That’s like adding fuel to fire and does a lot of harm to your mind. Training your thoughts this way, you can protect your mind from thinking about the unacceptable side of another person’s behaviour so that hatred will subside.
Getting Rid of Resentment (2nd) – an5.162