Cultivating Skillful Means

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Patience — the antidote to anger (continued)

Seeing adversity as the means to patience

We can succumb to adversity or learn from it. It is only through adversity that we learn patience. This view allows us to see those who would harm us as teachers of patience. You can't learn virtue by taking a course or reading a book. Only in the crucible of adversity can we appreciate the importance of patient forbearance and learn disciplined response.

The Dalai Lama often says that it is only from our enemies that we learn patience:

We cannot learn real patience and tolerance from a guru or a friend. They can be practiced only when we come in contact with someone who creates unpleasant experiences. Live in a Better Way

I must emphasize again that merely thinking that compassion and reason and patience are good will not be enough to develop them. We must wait for difficulties to arise and then attempt to practice them.  And who creates such opportunities? Not our friends, of course, but our enemies. They are the ones who give us the most trouble. So if we truly wish to learn, we should consider enemies to be our best teachers! For a person who cherishes compassion and love, the practice of tolerance is essential, and for that, an enemy is indispensable. So we should feel grateful to our enemies, for it is they who can best help us develop a tranquil mind!

Imagine you have been verbally abused by someone.

If we feel inclined to anger on account of the pain this causes us, should not the focus of our feelings really be on the words themselves, since these are what is actually causing us pain? Or should we rather direct our anger toward what drove that person to abuse us: their afflictive emotions?

But we do not become angry at the words but rather the person uttering them. We may feel right to blame the person who caused the pain by speaking the words. But if we examine the situation we will realize that we should focus on the afflictive emotions that led that person to speak harmfully to us: We know, if we stop to consider, that they would not act harmfully if they themselves were calm and at peace.

If we are burned, there is no sense in being angry with fire. It is in the nature of fire to burn.

Yet of these three factors — the words which hurt, the person uttering them, and the negative impulses which drive them — it is toward the person that we direct our anger. But anger toward them would be pointless. Better to remind ourselves that under different circumstances, the same person who is causing us pain could become a good friend. Ethics for the New Millennium

Have you been upset at what someone has said or done, but afterwards feel positively towards them and recognize what caused them to act harmfully? Have you had a bad impression of someone or heard of their bad name only to find you like them?

You can come at this insight from the other side. Have you acted harmfully toward another? Do you hope that they will not become angry at your words or judge you a harmful person but rather recognize the conditions that caused you to act destructively?

Reflect on how someone else's afflictive emotions become the fuel for ours — if we let it.

And, if in fact, the person who is acting harmfully towards us really can't do otherwise, isn't anger towards them futile?

Cultivating patience

When we see our mind drifting toward angry thoughts of someone we dislike, we must catch ourselves; we must change our mind by changing the subject. It is difficult to hold back from anger when provoked unless we have trained our mind to first recollect the unpleasant effects such thoughts will cause us. It is therefore essential that we begin our training in patience calmly, not while experiencing anger. We must recall in detail how, when angry, we lose our peace of mind, how we are unable to concentrate on our work, and how unpleasant we become to those around us. It is by thinking long and hard in this manner that we eventually become able to refrain from anger.