Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Power of No

"The Buddha"
-in my meditation garden-

A statue of the Buddha sits under an olive tree in my meditation garden - peaceful, serene, calm and at rest. Yesterday as I browsed through the newest edition of the monthly Buddhist magazine,  Shambhala Sun, I was quite surprised to find a series of articles about the "Angry Buddha," including a picture of a Buddha who was anything but calm and serene - his fist raised in protest, nostrils flaring, teeth bared.  I actually found these articles to be extremely enlightening for me.

I usually think of anger as being a barrier on the path of the spiritual journey, but in his article, On the Enlightened Power of No, Buddhist author Melvin McLeod makes an insightful distinction between anger that leads to destructive aggression and anger that leads to enlightened wisdom. 

Anger is energy. When this energy is used to defend and assert a self-important ego, the energy turns into aggression "against" others,  and this is the kind of anger that blocks the path to enlightenment. But that very same energy can also be used to wake up compassion on behalf of others - the energy of this kind of anger motivates us to stand up, raise a fist, bare our teeth,  and say "NO" to all that is self-indulgent and unjust. 

In its awakened form, anger brings good to the world. 
It is the energy that inspires great movements for freedom and social justice.
It helps us to be honest about our own foibles 
and to show a loved one how they are damaging themselves.
It is a vital part of every spiritual path,  
for before we can say yes to enlightenment
we must say no to self centeredness, injustice and aggression.  

As I read this article about the angry Buddha, I immediately thought about Jesus who is also often pictured as meek, mild and serene- surrounded by little children and gently holding little lambs. But there were also times when Jesus was consumed with a holy fury. He went into the temple and turned over the table of moneychangers who had perverted "his Father's house." He angrily lashed out and raised his voice against the temple authorities who said long prayers, sat in judgement over sinners, and showed no compassion for the needy, calling them all "a bunch of hypocrites" - "blind fools." Many times, Jesus was an advocate who angrily raised his voice on behalf of those who had no voice. 

I have often thought that there is too much anger in the world today, and in one sense that's true; but in another sense maybe there isn't enough anger. There is far too much aggression used "against" others, but perhaps far too little anger exhibited on behalf of others. 

A few weeks ago, some very "angry" protesters stood in the streets of Murrieta, California and prevented busloads of frightened immigrant children and families from entering their nice little town. The protesters shook their fists and raised their voices at these teary-eyed kids, telling them that they were not welcome, yelling for them to "Go Home!" It took a lot of energy to muster up that much  aggression. I wonder what would have happened if all that energy had instead been used to awaken compassion. 

I wonder what would have happened if the people on those streets would have turned their energy into an anger that boldly said "no" to selfishness and injustice. I wonder what would have happened if instead of hoarding their possessions and closing their doors, those people would have opened their arms and invited those children to get off the buses and come into their homes and into their community- setting a place for them to sit in dignity at the table of life?  

Had that happened, I think we would all be living in a better world today. 


  1. Good morning Paul. The callousness of the citizens screaming at little children in dire need with no hope in this world astonishes me and puzzles me. Is not empathy a natural human trait? I do not find it unchristian or unbuddhist to have negative feelings about those who create violence and ill will. Their acts and their feelings are worthy of nothing but censure. We are told to flee evil. And we are given the example of loving sinners. When understood under the canopy of compassion such reaction is not contradictory.

    The action of those taken to denounce the little ones give those on a spiritual path an opportunity to increase their compassion. Those willing to throw a child out onto the streets are in need of greater compassion than those little children.

    I think of His Holiness the Dalai Lama who holds no ill will toward the Chinese tyrants who have sacked his country and have the goal of destroying his culture and traditions.

    And then there is of course the example of Jesus who mourned for those who had intentions of destroying him.

    Compassion can result from anger. Is it good to become angry? I suppose it depends on what the anger causes you to do. Does it lead to kindness? Does it lead to compassion. If it does anger is useful and good.

    On a bright note. In Syracuse NY the mayor has offered to shelter and give refuge to the homeless immigrant children from Central America. As is to be expected some citizens have responded positively and some have acted in anger.

    I wonder how much the philosophy of Ayn Rand has to do with the attitudes of people in the nation today.

    1. Once again I thank you for your enlightened wisdom.