” In my ten years as a Soto Zen Buddhist, I’ve considered the distinctions between activity and quiet at length. I have never been in danger of escaping to my cushion, of hiding behind a passive Buddhist face. I have a noisy mind, a restless body; my flaws have always been active ones. I envied the placid tempers of some of my fellow trainees. The last thing I thought I wanted to do was learn self-defense—learn to fight. But I believe compassion can be assertive, even aggressive; I believe it must take that form sometimes.
Fear diminishes me, makes me no bigger than that part of me which fears. Fearful, I am too small to contain Thought, too small to hold real compassion. Protecting myself, I will hurt others. That is the state I was in before I took this course—always anxious, always ready, unskilled, a loose cannon in every sense of the word. Learning to fight correctly has given me not only control, but the security needed to fight only as much as necessary and no more. This is true warrior mind.”–Sallie Tisdale from the essay “Warrior Mind” Tricycle online magazine
I have a postcard picture of a raging deity above my computer, not a peaceful Buddha. This is because I am not yet a peaceful Buddha, and may never be. I know that I can still sometimes be a hot-head with a bad temper. It’s who I was as a child and maybe even an infant. It’s who needs the most compassion but has been the most shamed and rejected by myself, by others. Understandable. I hurry to get away from angry people too. I hurry away most urgently from myself when I am angry.
I hid under the porch when she bared her teeth and held up a clenched fist. Should I cower? I did. Should I become enraged at this abuse? I was. The power of my rage would keep them away from me, I surmised. It did. But then I was alone and alone is all I knew how to be. Not a skillful solution, but then I was only six or seven years old. When I was ten she pushed me down a flight of stairs because I was crying too much.
She was my mother and she was suffering. That is all that was happening.
I tell you this because I know you have suffered too. In your own ways. And you have rejected the suffering self, the angry Buddha you were, maybe still are. Only the way we hide may be different.
I am participating in my sangha’s 10 week intensive called “Transforming Suffering.” Ironically the first weeks we are looking at the ways we suffer. I am not talking about the “big” suffering like heartache necessarily, but all the ways humans are dissastisfied, frustrated, annoyed. What startles me is all the small ways I suffer nearly every hour of every day:
the dog does not do what I want and I am pissed off,
the computer has a glitch and I feel stymied,
somebody is driving too fast or too slow
money is short and bills are tall,
I can’t lose weight like I did when I was young…
frustration, fear of change, suffering because I am suffering. It’s almost comical. And then it’s not so funny when I find myself yelling at my dog Yogi, who has grabbed an opened, mostly eaten can of salmon on the ground by a sleeping homeless man. I top it off by shouting at the homeless man that he should put his trash in the nearby trash receptacle. He wakes up and yells at me “Bitch, it’s not mine!” Now I see I have started a war. He and I are suffering with anger.
I burn with shame at my unkind, unskillful behavior. Later that day, embarrassed at my pettiness, I confess all this to my mentor for the “intensive.” She tells me I get an A+ for the week. Why? Because, she explains, I am seeing what the Buddha saw: “There is suffering.” (the First Noble Truth). We start where the Buddha started.
Aha. I spend my life trying to avoid suffering but when I stop to look I have not “gotten rid” of suffering. The more I run from it the more it accelerates to catch up with me, the less “in control” I feel.
So I put the postcard of the blood-red raging face demon deity who is throwing fire from his many arms above my computer. This fire energy that is so powerful, so frightening, so destructive. I think of the fires in Colorado and can remember the heat of his rage, her rage, my rage. Consuming. There is fire. An energy so powerful that only an equally powerful energy can match it, dissolve it.
Fierce anger can not be subsumed by shrunken fear, but only by fierce love.
- Buddha Wasn’t a Buddhist & Water Isn’t a Bottle of Evian! (elephantjournal.com)