Jul 26, 2020
Jenny Hall

Verses from the Dhammapada 399

Anger is a defiling passion in Buddhism, how can this energy become an entryway into the spaciousness of the Buddhanature? Jenny Hall discusses this problem in her latest commentary.

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“He is a Brahmin whose mind is clear and who patiently bears abuse.”

For the last few years the media has reported a huge surge in online abuse. The Buddha taught that anger and desire drive the thoughts that make up the delusion of ‘I’.

This verse points to the spacious clarity that is beyond this delusion. When anger, fuelled by abuse, is met and suffered, the Buddha Nature opens. It is expressed as a quiet listening.

In the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Orpheus plays a lyre. The music is so enchanting that spiders stop spinning, ants stop running, bees stop gathering pollen and birds stop singing. Together, with all the other animals in the forest, they gather around to hear Orpheus playing. One day a cobra hears the music. He also stops to listen. He raises his head and sways backwards and forwards. The birds are safe in the knowledge that the cobra won’t steal their eggs whilst Orpheus plays his lyre. While running through the meadow, Eurydice, Orpheus’ wife, accidentally treads on the cobra, who immediately bites her on the ankle. In great pain, Eurydice escapes by descending into the dark underworld ruled by Hades and Persephone. Despite Orpheus’ efforts to rescue her, she is separated from him and his beautiful music forever.

In the same way as Orpheus’ playing beguiles and creates harmony amongst all the animals, a beautiful piece of music may momentarily extinguish ‘me’. However ‘I’ am soon back. This return of ‘I’ is symbolised by the cobra who, in a rage, bites Eurydice. Her escape into the underworld mirrors our reluctance when under attack, to meet and suffer pain and emotional turmoil. We often squander precious energy in an angry outburst. The heart yearns for the spaciousness of the Buddha Nature and we mistakenly believe that by getting words ‘off our chests’ we will find it. However, the more we complain, the more words seem to proliferate and the further we are from the peace we crave. Once at a social gathering, a guest was describing at length an injustice he had suffered. Finally his partner blurted out “Oh do shut up! It’s my turn now.” Even if we don’t actually confront our ‘enemy’ directly, many long hours may be spent mulling over what was said and what we could or should have said.

The following Zen story reveals how we obscure the inherent quiet spaciousness.

It used to be usual for Zen temples to hoist a flag at the gate to announce when the master was delivering a sermon. Two monks were arguing about the flag. One said, “That flag is moving.” The other monk argued, “No, you are quite mistaken. It’s obvious the wind is moving.” Just at that moment the Sixth Patriarch, Eno Daikan, was passing by. He heard the argument and said, “Both of you are mistaken. It’s neither the wind nor the flag that is moving but the hearts of the venerable monks which move!”

The Zen training helps us to recognise our confusion. When we sit completely still in zazen, sounds come and go within the space that opens. We become one with the sound of the dripping tap and the barking dog. When there is labelling, “Oh, that’s the tap dripping,” or judging, “I can’t stand that barking,” then the open awareness is lost. Such labelling and judging, created ‘me’, the one who is picking and choosing and taking sides. On or off the cushion, when we give ourselves wholeheartedly into whatever is occurring, a quiet listening responds. If the constant barking of the dog arouses irritation, it is allowed to exist and is endured. When it no longer fuels thoughts then a bit of ‘I’ is burned away.

In conversation with an elderly neighbour she may repeat stories I have heard before. If the feelings of impatience are met, then a choiceless awareness opens up. In the quiet listening there is no division and instead warmth appears.

When someone is keen to offload a painful experience, he or she is not looking for a solution (though ‘I’ am often keen to offer my opinion). What is being sought is someone who will listen. This one who does not judge is the heart empty of ‘I’. Strangely, this is communicated to those who are given space to speak without judgement. In this way suffering is relieved.

Giving ourselves into walking along a main road, the sound of the worker’s drill, the traffic and the roar of the jets overhead are reflected in the open heart. Its spacious clarity is not disturbed.

..Text copyright to Jenny Hall

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