Practical Dharma

Is Buddhism a religion or is it a philosophy of life? Generally, a religion has a deity to whom one directs worship and devotion. In addition, a strict code of conduct exists; obeying these rules is the path to eternal salvation. Buddhism has neither of these. Shakyamuni Buddha was a human being, not a god nor a prophet. The Eightfold Noble Path provides the framework for the life of an enlightened being. There is no promise of eternal salvation, only a path to liberation from suffering in this life. This focus on the present life is the essence of Buddhism.

One of the root causes of suffering is anger. Anger arises as a response to the actions or words of others. Shortly after the Buddha’s death, a new disciple asked Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin, “Did the Buddha ever get angry?” Ananda replied, “Of course he did. He was only human. But he forgot it immediately.” This recognition that it is not the anger that causes suffering, but rather our actions in response, is the practical teaching. A modern example is road rage. You are driving along enjoying the day. Suddenly, someone cuts you off, almost causing an accident. Anger rises within you. At this moment, you have choices. You can let the anger pass, be thankful no accident occurred, and go back to enjoying the day. Another choice is to remain upset, reliving the incident repeatedly. Even worse, you can retaliate, thereby guaranteeing an increase in suffering.

The words of others are another cause of anger. This anger comes when we perceive these words as an insult. During his lifetime, other religious leaders said many false and slanderous things about the Buddha. A disciple came to the Buddha and asked why he never seemed bothered by these insults. The Buddha replied, “If someone offered you filth on a silver platter, would you take it?” “Of course not,” the disciple answered. “Then, who would have the filth?” queried the Buddha. “The one who offered it,” replied the disciple. “So it is with an insult.”

As a child, we were all familiar with the rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me.” Little did we know that we were expressing the Buddhadharma. As children, our ego has not fully developed. We have a sense of self; however, we are not as concerned about the words of others. By the time we become adults, our ego is strong. We view insults and criticism as an attack. We become defensive and feel we must respond. The founding minister of our temple, Rev. Gyomay Kubose, wrote in one of his books, “If some one criticizes you, look at it. If it is true, act upon it. If it is not true, ignore it. It has nothing to do with you.” Anger is inevitable. The question is do you cling to it? You alone determine your suffering.

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