03/19/2013 01:00 pm ET Updated May 19, 2013

Right View and Patience

Buddha Shakyamuni taught that we should regard our waking experiences as if they were dreams. We ordinarily think there is a big difference between the objects of our dreams and the objects of our waking experience -- believing the objects of our dreams are merely mind-created but the objects of our waking experience exist independently of our minds. Believing that objects exist "out there," just waiting for us to observe them, is called "self-grasping ignorance." Objects do not exist independent of our minds; objects arise as phenomena on the basis of causes, conditions and what Buddhism calls mental designation. Mentally designating a world of things characterized in particular ways is called a "view." Wrong views lead to "craving," cause suffering and frustrate our pursuit of true and lasting happiness. "Right views" are those views that enable us to progress on the spiritual path that does lead to the end of suffering and true and lasting happiness. Viewing objects with the form of craving called "aversion" leads to anger, and actions motivated by anger perpetuate our suffering. The perfection of patience is the Bodhisattva perfection that overcomes anger. In order to develop patience, we must eliminate anger-causing views and develop views that result in patience.

Shakyamuni Buddha's teaching of no self must be understood as referring both to what we think of as our own selves and what we think are "external" self-existent things. Identifying strongly with an object we call our self, thinking "me" and thinking we are observing self-existent things are both forms of what Buddhist philosophy calls "self-grasping ignorance." Anger is the emotional response to the ignorance of aversely viewing an object. Anger is a form of suffering, and it causes other forms of suffering. If we are to recognize the objects of our waking consciousness as dreams and eliminate craving, we must cultivate what Buddha called "right view" and abandon wrong views. The perfection of patience is developed by abandoning views of objects that cause aversion and anger to arise. We can do this by first becoming convinced that aversion-causing views are dysfunctional and then developing the ability to view objects in ways that result in spiritual development.

We can become convinced of the truth of something in one of three ways -- by direct observation, by inference from signs, or by accepting it because of having been told it is true by someone whose testimony we trust. For example, I can believe that a house is on fire because I see it burning, or because I observe smoke exiting a window of the house and infer from the smoke that it is burning or because someone exiting the house tells me it is burning. In order to wake up to the dream-like existence of all things and end all our suffering, we need to start by trusting the teachings of the Buddha, then learning the reasons why this is true and finally directly observing this truth by attaining the perfection of wisdom. Developing patience by employing right views is a necessary step on the path to attaining the perfection of wisdom.

On the basis of trusting Buddha's testimony, we can become convinced that attaining the perfection of patience is a necessary step on the path to Buddhahood. If we trust Buddha and work on the perfection of patience, we can observe that the amount of suffering we experience as a result of viewing objects with aversion is greatly diminished. This can strengthen our faith in the Buddha's teaching that the end of the path results in the complete elimination of suffering. We develop the perfection of patience by using lojong meditation to eliminate aversion-causing views of objects and develop non-aversion-causing views of objects. We then apply the results of meditation in our daily lives by noticing when we have an aversion-causing view of an object and then changing our view to one we have developed in meditation that does not cause aversion. I express these ideas in poetry verses in chapter four of my book, Ocean of Compassion.

I begin chapter four of Ocean of Compassion with the following two verses. The first verse defines the perfection of patience and states a benefit of being patient; the second verse states two of the negative consequences of anger.

Patience is a state of mind

Able to bear pain and abuse.

With Patience, we'll always have peace of mind,

So anger will be of no use.

This perfection shields us from the foe ire--

The most potent cause of the vices.

It's quite obvious when we see umbrage at work

The suffering that from it arises.

We must begin the process of developing the perfection of patience by becoming convinced that we should eliminate anger. Many people claim that it is appropriate to become angry with someone who has acted non-virtuously. Those who believe this have fallen into a false dichotomy. They believe that we either must be passive and emotionless in response to harmful, non-virtuous behavior or we must respond angrily to protect ourselves and others from harm. This is a false dichotomy, because it is possible to respond to non-virtuous behavior with the motive of love for everyone. This is possible for a Bodhisattva, because a Bodhisattva wants to protect both the victims and the perpetrators from harm. The perpetrators will suffer negative karmic consequences as a result of acting non-virtuously, so a Bodhisattva acts lovingly when responding to non-virtuous intentions, even if he or she must kill a perpetrator in order to stop the perpetrator from killing someone else. The ability to do this is an advanced stage of the Bodhisattva path, but we can't get to this stage unless we first develop patience. If we meditate on the fact anger is not a necessary response to non-virtue, we can overcome believing in the false dichotomy and move on to considering the harmful effects of anger and the benefits of overcoming anger.

The first of the two verses that I quoted, above, states that we can achieve peace of mind if we overcome anger. Ultimate and permanent peace of mind are only found in enlightenment, but we can achieve temporary states of peace of mind before we become enlightened, and abiding in a peaceful state of mind is a very pleasant experience. On the other hand, an angry mind is very unpleasant to experience. So, a very important benefit of overcoming anger is that it helps us to achieve very pleasant states of mind. Of course, the greatest benefit of eliminating anger is that it is a step on the path to attaining the true and lasting happiness of a Buddha. If we meditate on the fact that overcoming anger causes us to experience both temporary pleasant states of mind and the permanent peace of mind of enlightenment, we can develop the goal of eliminating our anger.

The second of the above verses states an important negative consequence of anger -- anger causes non-virtuous behavior, and vast amounts of suffering result from non-virtuous behavior. For example, anger can cause us to develop malicious thoughts, to lie, to kill and, in fact, it can cause us to engage in any of the 10 non-virtuous actions that have the karmic consequence of trapping us in suffering existence. In my next blog post, I am going to discuss some more of the important negative consequences of becoming angry.

If we know that anger is not a necessary emotion and the many negative consequences of anger, we can develop right view of anger. The right view of anger is that it is a dysfunctional emotion that should be eliminated. After we learn to view anger as a dysfunctional emotion, we can work on changing our views of the situations that cause us to become angry into views that do not lead to anger. I will discuss non-anger-causing views in subsequent blog posts.

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