Hi Mark -- I think the question you are asking would be a great one to post on the comments page of the newspaper -- how do we heal from the wounds of crime? I don't think any of us can answer that question for another person, all we can do is try to help people engage in the question rather than circling around in anger (grief, hatred, bitterness, whatever the emotion is). I imagine some people will answer that question with violent revenge fantasies. But as we know on some level that that really doesn't help, even if that is the flip public response the question may remain.
The people I worked with at the needle exchange very vividly demonstrated that there is a lot of suffering but there is also incredible human capacity to heal from very terrible things. In my own life what has helped recover from violence done to me and to my loved ones is zen practice, yoga, being in nature, time passing, and the love and care of people around me. But I wouldn't try to suggest these to anyone who is not asking what helped me. People have to find their own way and I've never seen it work to tell someone that they *should* heal.
What is anger? Anger is a very destructive mind for us and for others. What is anger and what is its purpose? Well, anger harms everyone. It is an equal opportunity delusion that harms the angry person and the object of the anger. What we do when we feel anger arising is most important and what do we need to practice to learn to control our mind?
Anger is a deluded mind that focuses on an animate or inanimate object, feels it to be unattractive, exaggerates its bad qualities, and wishes to harm it. I can remember the first time I heard this. I had recently had an argument with a friend of mind and my teacher told me that the only purpose of anger was to harm others and to push them away. To me I only had an argument. But, honestly I was still a little steamed. Now that I thought more about it, after our little spat, I didn’t do something I had agreed to do because I wasn’t over it yet. So, now not only did I get angry I became unreliable as well. Furthermore, my very wise teacher told me if someone gets angry look for the fear behind it. In her experience if we uncover the fear we can uncover the cause of the anger.
Think about the last time someone got angry at you. How did you feel?
• Did you realize they wanted to harm you? Probably
• Did you realize they were pushing you away from them? Probably
• Did you realize they were afraid of something and you were just a convienent object of anger. Probably not!
I never really thought about anger coming from fear. Where does fear come from? Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says that fear is the severest form of self grasping. Self-grasping is holding on to the "I" or self as though it is inherently existent. This "I" that we will harm others over does not exist as it appears to our mind. We cherish this non-existent "I" so much we can even kill and steal for it's perceived benefit.
So if anger stems from fear, how can we reduce our self-grasping? We need to study and meditate on Buddha’s teachings on impermance and emptiness to truly begin to reduce and eventually eliminate our self grasping.
A good place to start is one of Buddha’s most essential teachings – the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra – and it is recited by Mahayana Buddhists all over the world.
Let’s talk about retaliating! If getting angry comes from self grasping and someone is trying to harm us why would the most likely reaction be to strike back. Some people would in affect run away or at least move away. But some people would rather strike back and I think this decision to stay or flee comes from karma more than anything else. But the reason we strike back actually stems from our self-cherishing. With a mind of self-cherishing we love the " I" that does not exist as it appears. Through ignorance for the “I”, that does not exist as it appears, but that we cherish more than anything else; we harm others and our self. The delusions of the mind are what we should get angry at.
Self-cherishing leads to the incorrect view that we are the most important entity or thing in the entire universe. The idea that we are separate and more important than billions of other beings is not only incorrect view it’s kind of dumb don’t you think. I have heard one of my teachers say it is frankly stupid. Buddha taught that we live in an interconnected universe and because our self-cherishing can be so strong even after we hear these teachings we suffer terribly and cause others to suffer.
How harmful is this delusion of anger and retaliation of anger? As a student of history I would say that all wars are caused by the fact the human beings can’t control their minds and because of their self-grasping and self-cherishing. People may ostensibly fight over economics and territory but the cause of this hatred, aggression, and unskillful actions is self-grasping and self-cherishing. Last weekend I went to the College of self-grasping, self-cherishing and Retaliation otherwise known as State Correction Institution. I did Puja and gave a little talk to the inmates and they understand these teachings very well. Actually, my guess it is somewhat of a relief to them that Buddha taught that there is no such thing as an intrinsically bad person. Yes, according to Buddhist view – not even Hitler as difficult as it may be to accept. According to the natural laws of karma Hitler will suffer far worse than he gave out in future lives, except of course if he came to Dharma class and learned how to eliminate his negative karma. It’s complicated and food for thought. Buddhism is more optimistic than pessimistic once you embrace the idea to live your life like you might die in the next minute and that the natural law of karma eventually ripens. Positive actions creates positive effects and negative actions create negative effects.
What we can do about this situation will take a lot of study and effort? Ultimate truth, emptiness, correct view; these are things we all will need to work on. Well, Buddha was a genius for creating medicine for the mind and he has the antidote for anger which is patience. It’s easier to understand and something we can put into practice as soon as you turn the keys in your car and get on the road. If I was harming people with my anger I would practice patience as much as I could.
It is so clear from the responses to the news article that much of our society dwells in the mind of anger. As for Mr. Nichols, the time to think about the conditions in prison are before he created the causes to be in prison. What difference does it make in the grand scheme of things if we give a prisoner a decent diet of wholesome food? He is still a human being with delusions of the mind. He is free to work the system to get what he wants and unless he purifies his negative karma he will still have much more suffering to come his way. I feel nothing but compassion for him and those whose angry minds caused them to write such negative things in the newspaper.
Thank you both for such impactful meaningful words. It has helped me gain a better insight into my own mind...and thank you for taking time to respond....dialogue is important to me as I work through my own deluded mind at times.
Hi Victoria -- I'm curious about your comment -- are you willing to say more about your own experience? I have had several major surgeries. All of them have left scars. The scars do not go away. And, the wound is healed. My experiences of violence feel the same way. They have left scars, and, they are healed.
I work with an inmate who murdered an old man during the Christmas season while in a psychotic state. I'm sure his community feels the same way as many of the folks in OKC who commented on Nichols' case. I often wonder what I would say if one of those people asked me why I gave my time to this inmate. It comes down to a simple question:
If your house was on fire could you put it out by setting another fire?
Anger never defeated anger. Hate never defeated hate.