Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Grasping a Hot Coal

"Olive Branches"
- in my meditation garden -

The other day I listened to an NPR interview with a woman whose policeman husband was recently murdered by a disturbed young man during a bust. She talked about her uncontrolled rage over this senseless murder of her beloved spouse and how her friends comforted her with the assurance that this young thug would "rot in prison" for the rest of his life. The woman then went on to say that the image of this man suffering in jail offered her little comfort. In fact the more she thought about this guy "rotting in jail," the more anguish and rage she experienced. 

The one day a Buddhist friend took this bereaved widow aside and asked her a simple question, "Who is suffering more from your rage and anger, you or that guy in prison? You think about him constantly,  you are obsessed with resentment, do you think he even knows that you exist?"

The Buddha taught:

Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal 
with the intent of throwing it at someone;
you are the one who gets burned.

I have been thinking about that widow whose husband was so senselessly "gunned down." Of course she was in deep pain over her loss, but that question asked by her Buddhist friend was filled with wisdom. Who indeed suffered most from this widow's resentment, rage and anger - the woman or the killer in the jail? 

The grieving wife reported that she finally released her anger and when she did so, a heavy burden was lifted from her life.  

There is another Buddhist saying:

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemy.

In my reading yesterday I came across this wonderful story from some ancient Buddhist texts about a man who, for some reason or other, was very angry with the Buddha. One day he approached Buddha, screaming out in rage, rudely and harshly reviling him. 

Throughout the time that this angry man was waging his attack, Buddha simply sat quietly and listened, and then he asked a question of the man, "Have you ever offered food or drink to someone who came to your house?" The angry man replied, "Of course I have." The Buddha continued to ask, "If that person refused to accept your offer, to whom would that food and drink belong?" Now more angry than ever the man spit out, "Well it would obviously belong to me."  

Buddha then smiled and said, "Friend it is just so here and now. You come here and revile me but I do not revile in return. You harshly scold me but I do not scold in return. You abuse me but I do not abuse in return. So I do not accept from you what you offer to me and hence it belongs to you." 

I love this little story. Anger and resentment are like offerings or invitations placed before the threshold of our lives.  If we acknowledge that the anger and resentment has been placed there, but refuse to accept it, then it doesn't belong to us and we are set free.

Conquer anger by non-anger, conquer evil by good.
Never indeed is hatred stilled by hatred; it will only be stilled by non-hatred. 

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