from “Love Meditation” from the book “Teachings on Love”, Thich Nhat Hanh
May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.
“To identify” means to recognize the presence of something. “To see the sources” means to understand its nature –where it came from, what circumstances made it arise, and how long it has been there. This is a process of deep looking.
There are poisons inside us, including craving, anger, and delusion. Craving is the greed that makes us chase after fame, advantage, wealth, and sex. Delusion is ignorance, the lack of understanding. In addition to these three poisons, there are others, including arrogance and suspicion. We have to practice mindfulness in our everyday lives to know craving, anger, and delusion are present in ourselves and to see how much suffering is caused by these poisons (and not just by outside circumstances). The Buddha asked, “How can anger arise in one who has no anger?” The primary cause of anger is the seed of anger in ourselves. Two people might hear the same words and see the same things, yet only one becomes angry. Words and events only stimulate what is inside us. If there were no seeds of anger in our store consciousness, anger could not arise.
We need to master our own anger before we can help others do the same. When the flames of anger flare up, we tend to lash out at those who have watered our seeds of anger. It is like finding our house on fire and, instead of putting out the flames, chasing those we think started it. Arguing with others only waters the seeds of anger in us. Do not think, you will feel better if you can make the other person suffer too.
This is a dangerous way of thinking. In their anger, the other person might respond even more harshly, and the anger will escalate. The Buddha taught that when anger arises, close your eyesand ears, return to yourself, and tend to the source of anger within. Transforming your anger is not just for your personal liberation. Everyone around you and even those more distant will benefit if you succeed.
Mindfulness of anger
Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something, just as anger is always anger at something. When you drink a glass of water and are aware that you are drinking a glass of wa ter, that is mindfulness of drinking water. In this case, we produce mindfulness of anger.
Breathing in, I know I am angry.
Breathing out, I know that anger is in me.
First the energy of anger arises, and second the energy of mindful ness arises. The second energy embraces the first in order to soothe it and allow it to subside. We do not produce mindfulness to chase away or fight our anger but to take good care of it. This method is non-dualistic and nonviolent. It is non-dualistic because it recognizes that mindful ness and anger are both parts of ourselves. One energy embraces the other. Don’t be angry at your anger. Don’t try to chase it away or suppress it. Acknowledge that it has arisen and take care of it. When your stomach hurts, you don’t get angry at it. You take care of it. When a mother hears her baby crying, she puts down what she is doing, picks the baby up, and comforts her. Then she tries to un derstand why the baby is crying, whether it is because of some physical or emotional discomfort.
Look deeply at your anger as you would at your own child. Do not reject it or hate it. Meditation is not to turn yourself into a battlefield, one side opposing the other. Conscious breathing soothes and calms the anger, and mindfulness penetrates it. Within fifteen minutes of light ing the heater, the warm air pervades the cold room, and a transformation occurs. You don’t need to discard or repress anything, not even your anger. Anger is just an energy, and all energies can be transformed. Meditation is the art of using one kind of energy to transform another. The instant the mother holds her child, the child feels the energy of love and comfort and begins to feel relief. Even if the cause of discomfort is still present, being held in mindfulness is enough to provide some relief.
This is the practice of looking deeply. “Breathing in, I know I am angry. Breathing out, I know that the anger is in me.” First, you practice recognition. “Hello, anger, my old friend.” Then you look deeply to see its source. “Why am I angry?” The first thing you will dis cover is that your suffering has its roots in your store con sciousness, in seeds that are already there, seeds of anger, delusion, pride, suspicion, or greed. The other person is only a secondary cause. The next thing yon will see is that the other person is also suffering. You may have thought you were the only one suffering, but that is not correct. When someone spills that kind of suffering onto you, you know that he is suffering. When you understand this, love will well up in you, and you will want to help. Understand ing is the key.
Thanks to the practice of mindfulness, your anger will re turn to your store consciousness. The next time it arises, practice the same way, and eventually that seed of anger in you will weaken. This is the practice of facing your anger, and, thanks to mindfulness, transforming it into the ener gies of love and understanding.
Looking deeply into others suffering as children
It is important to look deeply into the suffering of others. Someone whose actions are unkind, whose thoughts are unwholesome, whose speech is unwholesome is certainly suffering a lot. When you look deeply and see this suffer ing, your heart will open and the key of understanding will reveal itself.
So many people in our society were molested as children, and they continue to suffer their whole lives. Their fear and hatred never cease, and their self-esteem re mains very low. If such people can learn to look deeply at their abuser’s pain, if they can see the source of these un wholesome acts, see that their abusers are prisoners of a mind poisoned by anger, craving, and delusion, their hearts may open and their fear and hatred will gradually subside.
Four years ago, a young man carne to Plum Village who was extremely angry at his father. At that time, the residents were practicing love meditation and writing letters to those with whom they had difficulties. There is an exercise in The Blooming of a Lotus about meditating on a five-year old child: “Seeing myself as a five-year-old child, I breathe in. Smiling to the five-year-old child, I breathe out.” That five year old is still inside you, and he may have suffered a lot, but when you get in touch with him, your heart will fill with compassion.
A five year old is very fragile and easily wounded. So many parents raise their children without mindfulness. They dump all their pain and anger on them, and by the age of five, the child is already filled with fear and sorrow. She may try to express those feelings to her parents, but her parents do not have the capacity to hear. A child so young does not have the capacity to explain her suffering. As she stumbles over her words, her mother might interrupt her or even shout. Such language is like ice water thrown over a tender heart. The child may never try to confide in her parents again, and the wound remains deep. Parents repeat acts like this over and over until their connection with their children is severed. The cause is the lack of mindfulness. If a father doesn’t know how to control his anger, he may cut off communication with his son, and the son may suffer for his whole life, and himself be unable to communicate with teachers, friends, and, later, his own son.
I asked the young man to meditate on himself as a five year old for one week, and then I gave him this exercise:
“Breathing in, I see my father as a five-year-old’ child. Breathing out, I smile at the five-year-old child my father was.” We all have an image of our father as an adult, but we forget that he was once a little boy whose feelings were also easily hurt. Please practice this meditation. If it helps, find a photo of your father as a five year old and look at it. Breathe in and out and smile at your father as a five year old. You will see that your father carries wounds in himself just like yours. In that moment, you become your father.
You become one with the object of your contemplation, in this case you become your father. If you look deeply, you will understand that when he was a five-year-old child, your father was deeply hurt by the cruel behavior of others. If he was hurt as a child and never learned how to transform those wounds, it is only natural that he will inflict his pain on others, including you. His own child becomes a victim of his suffering, just as he was the victim of his par ents’ suffering.
To practice this exercise, begin by learning to touch the positive seeds that lie within you, and also the seeds of suf fering. Recognize that they are there, and look deeply to understand their nature –their root causes. Once yon Un derstand the roots of your suffering –your anger, your hurt, your frustration- your heart becomes peaceful, calm, and light. The roots of anger in you are transformed, and it becomes easy to accept and love. You have succeeded in extinguishing the fires in yourself, and you can help others do the same. Touching the seeds of joy and happiness in our selves, identifying and seeing the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in ourselves, we truly become peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit; safe and free from in jury; and free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.
Acceptance means accepting the other person exactly as they are and not expecting them to be different.
Conflicts in relationships arise from two main sources: expectations – preconceptions that we have about what the other person will or will not do (or be) – and wrong perceptions, simple mistakes in our thinking due more to our own internal formations than to real evidence. These are conflicts which derive from our own failings, but conflicts clearly also arise from the other person’s similar failings. During our daily lives we have many misperceptions. If I don’t understand you, I may be angry at you, all the time. We are not capa ble of understanding each other, and that is the main source of human suffering.
“A man was rowing his boat upstream on a very misty morning. Suddenly, he saw another boat coming downstream, not trying to avoid him. It was com ing straight at him. He shouted, “Be careful! Be careful!” but the boat came right into him, and his boat was almost sunk. The man became very angry, and began to shout at the other person, to give him a piece of his mind. But when he looked closely, he saw that there was no one in the other boat. It turned out that the boat just got loose and went downstream. All his anger vanished, and he laughed and he laughed. If our perceptions are not correct, they may give us a lot of bad feelings. Bud dhism teaches us how to look at things deeply in order to understand their own true nature, so that we will not be misled into suffering and bad feelings.”
Thich Nhat Hanh from Feelings and Perceptions from the book “Being Peace”
Whenever a conflict arises, our mind naturally looks for the opportunity to blame the other person, so that our explanation usually has us as victim, as innocent. It is healthy to ask ourselves what we have done which has watered the seed of violence in the other person. Although this is difficult to accept, it is the starting point of liberation, because in most circumstances of conflict, the only person we can change is ourselves.
Once we recognise our part in the conflict, and also that it takes two to tango, we can unilaterally disarm; we can stop taking the action which is our part of the conflict.