Let me tell you a short story… – Once upon a time, on a beautiful sunny morning, a simple but enlightened being was passing through a village in an ancient India. Suddenly, a discourteous young man approached and began insulting him. “You have no right to teach others,” he shouted. “You are as stupid as everyone else. You are nothing but a fake.”
The old sage remained unfazed and patiently listened while the stranger vented his anger. This infuriated the heckler even more. “Why aren’t you defending yourself, why aren’t you angry!?” The sage paused his steps, looked the man deep into his eyes and softly answered, “Tell me friend, if someone wants to give you a gift but you choose to decline it, who would then ultimately own the gift?”
The stranger was stunned as the profound words slowly sunk to his heart. The Buddha briefly rested his hand on the stranger’s chest, gently pressed his palm against the stranger’s heart, radiantly smiled with this eyes and walked away in peace. –
What you may love about this story is how beautifully it presents the power of human potential of self-mastery. It shows that getting angry or upset can be just a matter of consciously choosing whether to accept other people’s insults.
What Would Jesus Do?
Whether you are religious or not, perhaps you’ll remember a famous and much discussed teaching by Jesus: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” I think most people take these words way too literally. You may argue but I truly reason that Jesus’ teaching was very much in line with Buddha’s teaching – that is to be defiant when faced with anger or aggression, do not allow it to affect your “mojo.” What Buddha and Jesus were really saying was more along the lines of “Bring it on dude… Your anger does not faze me, I see straight through it. Give it another shot if you want.” It was not arrogance but a teaching that even when faced with adversity, one can be fully in control of one’s mind.
One’s first step in wisdom is to question everything – and one’s last is to come to terms with everything. – George C. Lichtenberg
Let me say this and you may agree – neither Buddha not Jesus would have turned the other cheek if anyone attacked them with a violent fist. Sages have a responsibility to protect their body so that they can be of benefit to other beings. If they allowed anyone to beat them up they would look weak to their students. A black eye or broken leg would be of little inspiration to anyone around them.
It’s all about Skillful Means vs. Force
Stories like the one above clearly illustrate that an enlightened being will always attempt to skillfully diffuse other person’s hostility with wisdom and kindness. However, if someone truly attempted to attack them, I believe that both Buddha and Jesus could kick some serious ass! They would unleash some nasty Black Mamba Kung Fu moves and twist that antagonist into a knot resembling a pretzel. They would do it without a drop of anger and without truly hurting the aggressor long term.
I’ve seen my own spiritual teacher handle other people’s negativity in the most skillful ways too but one story told by a friend who was with him one day stuck with me the most. The teacher and a few of his students were walking a street in Hamburg, Germany, when an extremely bitter and drunk homeless man started following and hounding them with loud and vulgar words. First everyone was simply ignoring him and politely asking to stay away but this kept going on for minutes and then the bum actually spat on someone in the group. This is where the teacher turned around, quietly walked up to the bum, lifted him up from the ground (yes, he’s still very fit), pressed him against a brick wall, gazed at him intensely and calmly said “If you don’t stop this, I’ll break your leg.” The homeless guy was stunned and remained standing as if nailed to the wall while everyone else walked away in amazement.
You know, I was a bit in a light shock. After all, this is my teacher who advocates for nothing but loving kindness to all beings. But then it was something my friend said that gave me one of the most powerful insights of my life – “Make no mistake, ancient as they might be, Buddhist ethics contain a wealth of meaning for today’s world. It’s just we live in the 21st century; sometimes, wise words are a wrong tool to achieve non-violence when dealing with a drunken idiot.”
Patience is not Same as Passivity
When I chat with people about anger they often bring up their concerns about becoming passive if they learn how to control their anger. I always tell them that acting out of anger is weak and acting out of compassion is strong. Not being angry does not mean being passive, especially when we are dealing with injustice or witnessing aggression towards innocent beings. It simply means we do not allow anger cloud our judgment and cause unnecessary havoc. Remaining patient allows us to retain a clear mind and wisdom to employ skillful means to achieve the necessary result. This is what it’s all about.
Changing the world begins with the very personal process of changing yourself, the only place you can begin is where you are, and the only time you can begin is always now. – Gary Zukav
Albert Einstein once said: “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” Buddha was born unenlightened; Jesus needed to learn new things too. In fact, neither of them taught anything too profound up until their early 30’s. Developing wisdom takes time. It takes courage and perseverance. All great sages of the past thought that we can soften our hearts and master our minds. We can become like them if we wanted to. In wisdom lies true power that no one can take away or refute.
Learn a few more ways how to deal with angry people and go from there. I’ll be here as your mentor along the way. Be well.
P.S. If you think Jesus was very different from Prince Gautama (later – Buddha) then an interesting book would be Reincarnation: The Missing Link In Christianity. And If you would like to learn more about the Buddha then a very fascinating and eloquently written book that kept me captivated for weeks was Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha – amazing!