I have been following the flare up of human rights contravention of Dorje Shugden practitioners recently. There is great outrage and emotional discontent aimed at the Dalai Lama as a result of his ‘ban’ on the practice of Dorje Shugden (an ancient Tibetan Dharma Protector) prayers, which is detrimental for many Tibetan devotees, and also in the world Tibetan Buddhist community. In summary, these devotees are being persecuted by their communities through the denial of basic human rights such as medical care, education for their children, exclusion from employment opportunities, monks excluded from their monasteries, etc. The Dalai Lama as spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people is being blamed for this removal of human rights, and Buddhist communities everywhere are protesting on their behalf.
There is a great deal of concern for this situation and especially from those who continue to practise Dorje Shugden in spite of the so-called ban. Of course, sympathy is overwhelming, especially for the victims of persecution and vicious physical attacks from the Dalai Lama’s cohorts, and for those gurus who lead the determined Dorje Shugden communities who have seemingly been threatened by the Dalai Lama faction.
For the purposes of this reflective article, I would like to offer my thoughts on the anger and potential for revenge, which this situation is stimulating. I too was once a Dorje Shugden practitioner and consider myself to be a cousin of the New Kadampa Tradition, and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso as one of my esteemed teachers. Though nowadays I am serving as a Nirvana Buddhist practicing in Japan with the MahaParinirvana Sutra, the last teachings of the Buddha Shyakyamuni, as my main pillar.
These Nirvana teachings are heart teachings with little analysis and scant instruction or explication, unlike teachings designed for western practitioners, which necessarily offer a way into the heart through the head or intellectual mind. Our practice here relies on the three practices- Generosity, Service, Sharing the Dharma- (a condensing of the 6 paramitas or perfections), and we are mostly encouraged not to think or analyse but to act, putting the principles of the Nirvana teachings into actual practice. Therefore, I know many who have come to this teaching out of a kind of blind faith, or through family connections, who ask few questions, but instead actually steadily practice, an approach very common in Asia in general.
I would like to put the ongoing struggles between the Dalai Lama and Dorje Shugden devotees into my current framework, and examine the anger and the scars it leaves, along with possible motives for revenge which I observe welling up amongst those courageous enough to go against the Dalai Lama’s ‘ban.’ I realize that they are sticking their necks out for Dorje Shugden practitioners in India and Tibet itself, who seem to have little or no voice, or no desire to protest.
I was deeply moved recently by re-watching the film, ‘In the Name of the Father,’ (1993, director Jim Sheridan) an account of the wrongful long-term imprisonment of the ‘Guildford 4’ for their supposed part, as provisional members of the IRA, in the Guildford Bombings (1974) in which 6 died and many were seriously injured.
To sumarise the plot, in a rapid reaction to this unprecedented and random bombing of innocent people enjoying an evening in their local public house, the British government enacted a new law (Prevention of Terrorism Act, 1974), which conferred emergency powers on the British police when they suspected terrorism. Gerard Conlon and Paul Hill, two young northern Irish emigres to England known as activists in Belfast against British rule there, were searching for work in London at the time of the bombing. They were immediately arrested two days after the law was enacted, brutally interrogated and tormented until they confessed to instigating the bombing, and so were tried and sent down for sentences varying from 25-30 years. They were innocent, and there was evidence to prove their whereabouts at the time of the bombing, but it was suppressed out of an eagerness to rid society of these villains.
So, the kind of anger that mutates into the desire for revenge is highly dangerous for karmic reasons, and in terms of the arising of mindless reactive behavior. At base, anger is a projection because it cannot remain inside the person who is manifesting this delusional state, exactly because it is so destructive. The Buddha said,
Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else: you are the one who gets burned.(The Buddha)
The human mind, unable to contain such a force, off-loads it and projects it on to something or someone else. Exaggerated anger is a kind of aversion and this is where revenge appears. ‘Aversion’ means that it is impossible to bear the object of anger, so it should be destroyed or removed. Of course, we can see such willful removal of objects or people in the behavior of young children, who are not yet in control of their minds. If a child decides to dislike someone or something, it effectively ceases to exist for them because they have not yet developed object permanence. As Shantideva (8th Century Buddhist monk) says:
It is natural for the immature to harm others. Getting angry with them is like resenting a fire for burning.
But as we learn to process emotions, both positive and negative, and become mature, we can usually learn tolerance and calm our aversions. The British government projected its anger and frustration on to innocent victims in a hasty action to remove the objects of their anger, ie. the entire Irish warring nation, by incarcerating them for 30 years, and suppressing evidence so that they could take action immediately. Such hatred combined with high pride had developed inside state leaders of that time, that they resorted to satisfying their aversion.
Full blow anger or irritation are dangerous negative emotional states of mind which all seekers in every religion and spiritual way of life train to truly eradicate, like the root of a poisonous plant. Any tiny root fibre left behind could start to grow anew. Anger leaves karmic scars, which will never disappear, and pushed on to the next stage of revenge, it inflicts pain, punishment and perhaps death (Gerry Conlon’s father, Guiseppe Conlon, died while in wrongfully imprisoned). As we Buddhist seekers know, anger is immature and completely lacking in objectivity and wisdom.
I have recently felt the anger among those ostracized by the Dorje Shugden embargo, both on the internet and in person, and I am concerned about the scarring it will inevitably leave. This reaction has seemed mostly to be lacking in compassion and mindfulness, and has crossed the line that such practitioners are often drawing, which we are advised not to cross, ie. that samsara is a crazed dream, and reality is awakening from such a dream.
This does not mean that we should never act when it is needed, but we train to be able to act from a place of calm and compassion, so that our actions will be dignified and dynamic in a positive way.
Patience is often sited as a way of dealing with anger. I detected a strong presence of impatience billowing up from reactions to the recent bout of the Dalai Lama affair. Impatience comes from hot negative emotions devoid of clarity, while patience emanates from objectivity and wisdom. Allan Wallace (Tibetan Buddhism from the Ground Up, 1993) says:
…….there are three ways to get rid of anger: kill the opponent; kill yourself; or kill the anger.
In my current practice and in Shingon Buddhism in general, great emphasis is placed on the spiritual background of every situation and every person in a situation. This refers to both their present karmic condition, and the state of their ancestors and related spirits in the spiritual world. For us, the invisible and visible worlds are one because all beings are connected in a matrix, so we work with special prayers and requests for spiritual consolation and purification of our ancestors. This combination of all worlds, all dimensions, many of which we cannot see or hear due to our limited human minds, gives ‘big picture’ perspective. We can divine that the DL’s strange irrational behavior during the last 18 years or so must be part of a huge spiritual picture, which we cannot yet decipher.
Perhaps he is deliberately committing karmic suicide to provide a spiritual test for us all – will we give in to anger and over-protective tendencies, and resort to hatred and what some Tibetans have cited as disrespectful attitudes to their revered Dalai Lama, their patriarch? Perhaps he has taken the wrong pathway in his spiritual progress due to political pressure from the occupying Chinese forces.? I believe that if we practice patience and unconditional love, the bigger picture will be revealed to our wisdom mind. But if we act strongly with aversion, wanting to remove the source of our anger and outrage, we will be blinded by the hot fire of negative emotions.
As I read various accounts and protests on the internet, and heard first-hand from Tibetan practitioners who have been ostracized, I wanted to stand up and ring the sweet bell of mindfulness to call everyone back to their true home. I wanted to become that bell radiating bodhicitta to lift everyone into the realm of wisdom and calm so that their hooded eyes could open wide. As engaged seekers, our greatest asset is the mystical power locked into the Buddhist teachings, the Dharmakaya, so to change this unacceptable situation we need to practice even harder within the heart; to strive to open the heart wide and to keep it open with unwavering compassion; to deepen our bodily peace so that all our thoughts, words and deeds will also be peaceful. Such anger, call it ‘wrath’ if you will, occludes our native joy and enduring happiness known as Buddha Nature; the seeds of revenge produced by anger may sprout outside our control.
It is for each of us to go inside and examine our anger, for as Sylvanus, an early Christian Saint (2nd century) advises,
Knock upon yourself as upon a door, and walk upon yourself as on a straight road. For if you walk on that path, you cannot go astray; and when you knock on that door, what you open for yourself will open.
Our practice must be continuous, without interruption. If I can maintain this adamantine state I have everything inside me to deal with any conflict, even one depriving people of their human rights. If we interrupt this sacred process with negative emotions, we will be breaking off from what we must do today in the unbroken line towards enlightenment, towards Nirvana.
In the last teachings of the Buddha, he instructs his disciples on various ways to cultivate their Buddhahood:
- They should be like candles, burning away with each passing moment to dispel darkness for others.
- When reading aloud, perhaps the meaning of the text cannot be understood completely at first; understanding is a gradual process, which proceeds from basic stages to intermediate, and then advanced. With time, we can grasp all aspects of a piece and be transformed by it.
- A goldsmith needs devotion in order to accumulate practice of his art, which takes time.
- Chanting the sutras and conducting rituals and rites requires great effort and practice, which takes time.
Such spiritual practice constantly puts us at a distance to negative emotions arising in the ordinary mind, and we must devote ourselves to this ardently if e are to go beyond enlightenment or Nirvana and take all sentient beings with us.
‘If we find a viper in our room, we should drive it away immediately.’ (the Buddha, Mahaparinirvana Sutra)
Finally, the intrinsic laws of Dharma observed in Nature demonstrate that seeds sprout, grow, flower and then fruit without any intervention from humans. The Buddha recommended that mastering the middle way is the same as this. No-one teaches a newborn calf how to suckle milk. In the same way, consistent practice over a long period of time can destroy all delusions. It is unnatural to become angry when we are basically beings of compassion and light, wisdom which can overcome any negative emotion and bring universal peace and harmony into the world.
There is a meaningful story of anonymous origin about anger, which touches my unconscious mind deeply.
Once there was a young boy with a bad temper. One day his father gave him a bag of nails and told him to hammer a nail into the fence every time he became angry. The first day the boy hammered 37 nails into the fence, but as the days went on, the number reduced. He quickly learned that it was easier to hold his anger back than hammer nails into the fence. Finally, one day he hammered no nails into the fence, which delighted his father. However, now the father asked him to pull out one nail for each of the days he was able to control his anger completely. Quite quickly, he was able to report that all the nails had been removed. Then, the father looked at the fence with his son and told him that the fence would never be the same again because of all the holes in it.
‘When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out, but no matter how many times you do that, the wounds will still be there.’
Angry thoughts lead to angry words (whether written or spoken), and then on to angry actions. Anger is a public or private projection away from mindfulness. The British government acted rashly when trying to destroy representatives of the Irish nation because it had attacked the English nation. This is surely a samsaric nightmare par excellence. Wrongful imprisonment and even execution is common here in Japan because of the hatred of the police who intimidate suspects into confession, and this is supposedly a Buddhist country!
The only way we seekers can make real changes in distressing and unjust situations is at the unconscious level though mindfulness and meditation, repentance and devotion, and patience will enhance our wisdom so we can see with our spiritual eyes. This is surely the most effective and meaningful way to reach the Dalai Lama. I also feel, having read opinions of Tibetan nationals, that the way non-Tibetan Buddhists are behaving towards H.H. the Dalai Lama is disrespectful and unacceptable. Perhaps it is not up to us to interfere in Tibetan cultural national matters, especially at the cost of our own merit and positive karma.
Any comments or questions on this humble article will be most welcome. I apologise in advance for any terminological clashes which may occur as a result of my ignorance or misunderstanding, or simply a difference in spiritual level. I write from my position as an ordained Nirvana Buddhist and in an attempt to make interfaith connections and spread the Dharma in a clear unprejudiced way.
Wisdom has the muscles to raise us above taking sides I believe.