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Anger

Chapter 17 of the Dhammapada for Awakening

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Abandon anger, give up pride, and overcome all fetters. Suffering does not befall him who is without attachment to names and forms, and possesses nothing of his own (Dhammapada 221).

This is really quite clear. I assume this verse was chosen to begin this section since it first mentions anger, which is the theme.

Charioteer

When a man governs his rising anger like a chariot going out of control, that is what I call a charioteer. The rest are just holding the reins (Dhammapada 222).

This is not complicated. Buddha is saying that the person who reins in his rising anger and does not express it is a person of true control, even though it is preferable that the capacity for anger be completely extinguished in time. So Buddha is giving the striving aspirant encouragement and praise.

Overcome

Overcome anger with freedom from anger. Overcome evil with good. Overcome meanness with generosity, and overcome a liar with truthfulness (Dhammapada 223).

This is a very significant verse. Although Buddha commends the one who controls the passions, he says that we must overcome them–cancel them out. And in their place we must establish their opposites–the real virtues, not just an appearance. It is good to suppress evil impulses, but it is better to have only impulses toward the good. Only by cultivating these positive virtues can anger, evil, meanness and false-speaking be eliminated completely.

The company of devas

Speak the truth, do not get angry, and always give, even if only a little, when you are asked. By these three principles you can come into the company of the devas (Dhammapada 224).

How beautifully simple and practical are the teachings of Buddha, completely devoid of tangled metaphysics and the citation of mythologies. These three principles can win us a place in world far beyond this world where falsehood, anger, and selfishness are systemic evils.

Harmlessness

Those sages who do harm to no one, and who are always physically restrained, go to the everlasting abode, reaching which they will face no more suffering (Dhammapada 225).

This is a reference to the Pure Abodes, called Pure Lands in Mahayana Buddhism, which are realms free from the necessity for rebirth. They are also written about in Hindu scriptures and in the Gospel of Saint John: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2, 3). Those who reach such levels are able to continually practice meditation under the tutorship of great evolved souls and eventually attain Nirvana. This is very important information, for by unceasing discipline and meditation we can fit ourselves to ascend to a Pure Abode after death and never more have to return here or to a lesser world. There without interruption we can engage in sadhana and attain the Goal. This is the hope set forth for all sadhakas, even those coming to it late in life. Ahimsa and determined restraint are the way.

Attaining passionlesness

Inflowing thoughts come to an end in those who are ever alert of mind, training themselves night and day, and ever intent on nirvana (Dhammapada 226).

Harischandra Kaviratna: “The influxes of passion disappear in those who are ever vigilant, who are absorbed day and night in spiritual studies, and who are bent on realization of nirvana.”

Extinguishing the passions is extremely difficult, especially since they can seem to be eliminated when the mind is either hiding them or they remain in the form of karmic seeds that will sprout in the future in the undisciplined mind. Therefore Buddha tells us that we must be forever vigilant night and day, filling our mind with spiritual knowledge, perpetually aspiring after Nirvana. If this is done, the passions will not arise, or if they do, they will be so weak that we can easily toss them out. For they are always extraneous to us and really cannot touch us. Yet, they fool us into thinking that they are somehow ingrained in us and inseparable from us, for if they get us to believe this, we will think we are powerless against them. But that is a lie, an illusion; they really do not even touch us. Sri Ramakrishna used to give the example of a washerman and his donkey. Not wanting the donkey to wander off in the night, he would pass a rope around its forelegs and make it feel like it was tied. Consequently the donkey would stand there the whole night, believing it was unable to move. It is the same with us and the passions. But those who follow Buddha’s advice will come to see the truth of things and know this is not so. And the passions will melt away before their empowered will.

Criticism

It was so of old, it is not just so today. They criticize him who sits in silence, they criticize him who talks a lot. They even criticize him who speaks in moderation. There is not a man in the world who is not criticized. There never has been, there never will be, and there is not now any man exclusively criticized or exclusively praised (Dhammapada 227, 228).

No matter what a person does or does not do, there will be those who will criticize him, those who will praise him, and those who will ignore him. No one is always praised, and no one is always condemned. So what should we do? Ignore it all. It means nothing. People just talk and talk, usually with little thought and no insight behind it.

Peer pressure should not even exist for us. I mean this literally. No one can really put pressure on us unless we are susceptible to it. Regarding this Sri Ramakrishna said: “Worldly people say all kinds of things about the spiritually minded. But look here! When an elephant moves along the street, any number of curs and other small animals may bark and cry after it; but the elephant doesn’t even look back at them.… God dwells in all beings. But you may be intimate only with good people; you must keep away from the evil-minded.”

This should always be kept in mind.

Beyond criticism

If a wise man of unblemished behavior and endowed with wisdom, morality and stillness of mind, is praised by the discriminating after day in day out acquaintance with him, like a pure gold coin, then who is fit to find fault with him? Even the King of the devas praises him (Dhammapada 229, 230).

Only the good will and approbation of the wise need matter to us in any way.

Body, mind, and speech

Guard against physical unruliness. Be restrained in body. Abandoning physical wrongdoing, lead a life of physical well doing. Guard against mental unruliness. Be restrained in mind. Abandoning mental wrongdoing, lead a life of mental well doing. Guard against verbal unruliness. Be restrained in speech. Abandoning verbal wrongdoing, lead a life of verbal well doing. The wise who are restrained in body, speech and mind–such are the well and truly restrained (Dhammapada 231-234).

It is not enough to be disciplined in only one of these three. There must be restraint in all, for thoughts and words can be as destructive as physical actions. For example, a brilliant friend of mine, a writer most skilled with words, once became angry at his brother-in-law, a weak and unadmirable person, who spoke very insultingly to my friend on the telephone. In reaction my friend spoke to him with great bitterness at some length, expounding his worthlessness and the impossibility of his ever improving. When he hung up, the brother-in-law went directly to his room and shot himself through the head. My friend killed that unfortunate man with words. So body, mind, and speech must be consistent with the principles of non-violence and all the other virtues. Actually, in these four verses we have returned to the subject of anger and injury.

Next article in the Dhammapada for Awakening: Impurities (Taints)

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Chapters in the Dhammapada for Awakening:

Introduction to the Dhammapada

The History of the Dhammapada

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