Lather, rinse, repeat

“Mind is empty. You can change your thoughts.”  –Lama Norlha Rinpoche

We are taught in the Seven Points of Mind Training, “Be grateful to everyone,” and “Rely all the time on a joyful mind.” How can we put this into practice when all around us things are constantly going wrong and people continue to behave in ways that disregard or harm us?

One way we may respond to adverse situations is with anger, or at least annoyance, or at least a fervent wish for things to be different. Below is a partial list of the thoughts I turn to when that’s my first impulse. Even when anger seems justified or I’m confronted with a situation that calls for corrective action, I know from experience that an emotional reaction prevents me from seeing clearly and acting effectively, and often makes the situation worse. These alternative thoughts don’t necessarily eradicate negativity the first time around, and I may have to lather, rinse, repeat again and again. Likewise, the whole list may not apply to every situation, but I always find one or two that at least create a gap in the clouds.

  • The other person is blinded by their own emotions and ego-clinging. They are not in control of their own mind and actions.
  • The other person is creating negative karma that will result in future suffering for them. Knowing this, I can truly feel compassion and wish for their welfare.
  • I would not be experiencing this suffering now had I not created negative karma in the past by acting harmfully toward someone else (maybe this very person!).
  • The Buddha said that if no one ever harmed us, we would have no opportunity to cultivate patience and attain enlightenment.
  • This situation is an opportunity for me to let go of an expectation, release a habit, or de-activate a button, i.e., to clear away some of my own internal obstacles to happiness.
  • The cycle of habitual action and reaction is what perpetuates the whole experience of samsara. It will keep going round and round if someone doesn’t stop it. Why not me?
  • “Holding onto anger is like eating poison and expecting the other person to die.” (1)
  • “Ego-clinging, you have gotten me into nothing but trouble lifetime after lifetime, and I’m not going to listen to you any more!” (2)
  • Emptiness: things are never limited to being the way I perceive them.
  • Anger feels bad and it harms my health.
  • No hopes, no fears!

One thing we can always count on: there is never any shortage of opportunities to practice!

When I need more advice, I turn to one of the following resources from which many of the above points are drawn:

  • Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation (chapter on patience)
  • The Seven Points of Mind Training
  • The Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva,
  • The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva by Ngulchö Thokme
  • Working with Anger by Thubten Chödron, a Western nun and teacher

(1)    I first heard this saying from Pema Chödron, but I don’t know the original source.

(2)    Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye reminds us that ego-clinging is the reason adversity makes us suffer. He advises us to speak directly to it. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche suggests we might do this in the shower, while driving, whenever we recognize it.

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