Anger is the view of an innocent victim

Feb 15, 2024


The Buddha talks about thousands of afflictions, delusions, and he summarizes all of them into the three poisons, the three toxic emotions of ignorance, attachment, and anger. Anger is the grossest one of these three: the response when attachment doesn’t get what it wants. And attachment is the response to the belief in a separate me, its main voice. There’s a hierarchical and very intimate relationship between these three.


If you personify anger, what it’s saying is, “How dare you do that to me!” Anger is this outrage: “How dare you do that to me! I don’t deserve it.” Analyze how we feel. It’s the pain we feel when people do bad things to us. It’s, “I don’t deserve it.” We literally go mad from that one.


Let’s analyze “I don’t deserve it,” which is the vividest feeling we have when bad things happen. This is not criticizing; this is just analyzing from the Buddhist point of view why we suffer so badly. “I don’t deserve it” is a really amazing concept actually. Factoring in the natural law of karma, it’s got no basis whatsoever in anything real. It’s fantasy. So let’s analyze it.


Let’s say I’ve got a garden, and – this is the point – it’s my garden. We know that the words, “my garden,” imply that what’s in it is mine: they’re my weeds and my flowers. Obviously I mustn’t have pulled out the weeds and it goes without saying that I must have planted the flowers. 


Nobody would ever say when they look at their garden, “How dare there be weeds in my garden? I don’t deserve it.” You would never say that because you know it’s your garden, and you are responsible. 


And the same if you look in your bank, you don’t say, “How dare there be no dollars in my bank? I deserve dollars.”


This concept of “deserve” plays a massive role in our daily lives of suffering, and we believe it totally. Think about it. The implication of “deserve” is that somehow we’re the recipient of someone else’s action. When you say, “I deserve dollars,” it implies you think there’s someone out there somewhere who should put dollars in your bank. It’s absurd. It’s got no meaning. It’s your bank, and we know that, by definition, what’s in that account is what you put there or what you didn’t put there. By definition, your garden is what you put there or what you didn’t take out of there. This is really obvious.


You’d never say, “I don’t deserve weeds,” because that implies someone else snuck up and stuck weeds in your garden! It’s absurd!


Now, this is exactly how we feel about our self. We really believe that someone else made me, someone else put me on this planet, somebody else gives me happiness, somebody else gives me suffering. We really believe I’m this innocent victim who got plonked on this planet by someone else, that I have no say in the matter, no say in my happiness and no say in my suffering.


No wonder we suffer!


This is the meaning of “deserve,” and it’s the most primordial feeling we have. “I deserve to be loved,” we say. “I do not deserve people to be mean to me.” We really believe that we don’t play a role in it; that it’s all done by someone else.


We really do assume that someone else made us. We assume, if we’re Christian, that God did it, and we assume, if we’re materialists, that Mummy made me – and, in both cases, you have no say. 


There’s no view like that in Buddhism; it has no logic.


For the Buddha, our own self, just like our garden and our bank account, is a dependent arising. What we are, what the garden is, is necessarily the fruit of previous causes. 


For the Buddha, my life is my garden: what’s in it, I necessarily put it there – just like we know for our actual garden. My mind is beginningless, and every millisecond of what I think and do and say sows seeds in my mind that will produce the weeds and the flowers that ripen in my garden. I come into this life with the seeds that I planted, and now they’re ripening right in front of me every day.


This is such a powerful view, and when we can begin to take on karma – if we choose to, no one says we have to – what comes is such an incredible sense of responsibility that you don’t ever use the word deserve because you know that whatever is in your garden, you put it there, so you have the courage to own it. That’s the shift that happens. This really takes time.


A friend of mine, years ago, a Tibetan, Jigdrol, was involved in ’87 in the first big uprising since ’59. All the young Tibetans – all the young monks and nuns mostly – were the radicals, all demonstrating, and then they got smashed down. 


He said his mother and father had thirteen babies. They decided they’d make as many Tibetans as possible!


Anyway, he was a monk, he was involved in these demonstrations, he got arrested, and he got tortured; then he was released again; then he demonstrated again, and his friend had his head blown off, and different things happened; and then he finally realized he had to leave the country.


He was telling me this story thirty years ago at Kopan Monastery. He was sad – there were tears – because his brother got murdered, his father got murdered, all these things. So I said to him very casually, “Jigdrol, do you ever get angry?” And, equally casually, he laughed and said, “Angry? What for? It’s our own fault.”


Now, these words are very shocking for us in the West; it sounds like self-blame. No. He’s got the view of karma. For Tibetans, the view of karma is in their bones, has been for twelve hundred years, in the same way that materialism, and brain science, and Mummy made me or God made me are the views deep in the bones of our being– they’re the truth. For them, karma’s the truth; it’s just the way it is.


With this view of karma, cause and effect, if things happen to me, good or bad, they’re from causes that I created. If there are flowers and herbs in my garden, they’re from causes that I created. It’s logic.


It takes time to live with this view, but when we can, it’s transformative.


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