Friday, March 03, 2006

Compassion and Rhetoric

Both his weapon and my body are causes of suffering. He has obtained a weapon, and I have obtained a body. With what should I be angry? (Bodhicaryavatara, 6.43)
Drop in on any discussion list or online forum related to Buddhism, and you're bound to see a LOT of bickering. Someone says something that sets someone else off, and immediately the accusations fly that said person is a "bad Buddhist", "lacks compassion", etc. Then the debate spirals from something substantive down into a meta-discussion about who's the "best Buddhist".

Doesn't this all miss the point by a mile? Someone who "attacks" me may think they're using skillful means. I may disagree, and feel that he's being an asshole. But the moment I respond to that person with accusations about their character or their lack of respect for Buddhist principles, I'm perpetuating the cycle of anger and discord. I'm bringing discord to the sangha as much as he is.

"He started it!" is not a valid defense for abandoning my own detachment and equanimity. It not only traps me in samsara, it encourages the other person to continue waltzing down that road. It's a curious affair: when we lambaste someone for not being sufficiently compassionate, we're not being compassionate towards them!

If someone else is angry with me, it is not their fault; it is because they, like me, are deluded, and afflicted by passions that are dependent on other causes. As Shantideva said:
If inflicting harm on others is the nature of the foolish, then my anger toward them is as inappropriate as it would be toward fire, which has the nature of burning. (Bodhicaryavatara, 6.39)
Our anger, our hurt feelings - these are not "us". There is no independently existing "I". How swiftly we all forget this the moment someone finds one of our buttons and presses it as hard as he can!

I pray that illusory existences arise as the ultimately real. May we all come to realize that ALL sentient beings are our teachers on the path.

Especially the ones who piss us off.

(More Shantideva here)

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