Instructions for Equalizing and Exchanging Our Attitudes about Self and Others
Munich, Germany, November 1982
Session Four: Questions on How to Deal with Anger, Difficult Situations, and Pride
Participant: She says sometimes it’s a problem for her, when people react a long time very negatively toward her, to still have this feeling of love and kindness toward this person. Sometimes she feels she has to be hard against this person, it can’t go on like this. She just asks how to deal with that situation.
Serkong Rinpoche: You shouldn’t feel badly about this because all these attitudes that I’ve been discussing for developing compassion are things that you can’t develop just all at once. You have to actually clean out your heart and your mind and develop and train yourself to have these attitudes with a very long and continuing practice. If you can’t, you have to persevere in these methods that I’ve been discussing, and if you can’t think to help and feel kindly toward these people who are hurting you, then at least you should restrain yourself from hurting them back.
If you practice, you will be able to gain any ability and talent. Abilities don’t come without practice. You have to practice and train yourself. If you look at some people, they practice by hitting their hand against pieces of wood and bricks and eventually they are able to smash their hand through a wall without feeling any pain, and this is something that you can’t just do all at once, just walk up to a wall and hit it, but you have to practice and train over a long period of time.
For instance, consider if there was somebody who was always hurting us and whom we always felt great hatred for. If this person came up to you one day and said, “I’m very, very sorry for everything that I’ve done. Please accept my apology. Here’s a present of some money,” and was very nice to you, would your anger subside or not? Would you still be angry?
Participant: Probably not.
Serkong Rinpoche: If your anger would go down if somebody did that to you, and apologized and tried to make nice, then likewise the same thing would happen if you did that to the other person who you had difficulties with. If they won’t accept your apology you can take your money back. The other person then will feel very sorry that he didn’t accept your apology. Then that person will look out of the window and try to see where you went. Isn’t that so? The other person really lost his chance to get any money. Now what would you like to ask?
Participant: If we should do this puja or initiation all together or if we should do only one?
Serkong Rinpoche: If you’re meditating on the four deities you can, or if you’re visualizing the deities in front of you, then you can either do them one at a time or visualize all four together and say their mantras one at a time. But if you’re visualizing yourself as a deity, you can only visualize yourself as one at a time.
Participant: In the West there’s a concept that if you don’t express anger you get ulcers in the stomach. Okay? I would like to ask Rinpoche to comment on this.
Serkong Rinpoche: I agree that it’s not good to keep anger inside, that it is proper to express it, but you have to be very careful and skilled in choosing the proper time to express your grievance. You should never talk or say anything when you’re in a fit of anger. You have to first of all try to calm down yourself. It’s very good when you’re in a fit of anger and feeling very bad to go for a walk, or go and spend some pleasant time with friends and then when you’re calmed down, you can say something. Likewise you should see the situation of the other person, and not speak when likewise they’re in a fit of rage, and also wait until they’re calm.
You also have to examine honestly who is wrong. If you yourself were wrong, then you should be brave enough to be able to admit it. If it was something that the other person did which was wrong, then when the situation is proper, then you should explain very carefully and skillfully that "I did like this and you did like this, and that was perhaps incorrect" and discuss it in a calm situation. But you should never get into this type of discussion when you or the other person are both in a fit of rage and very angry.
You should give an example for a type of anger or grievance that you would keep inside of you and that would cause you so much grief that it gives you an ulcer. So, please give an example.
Participant: I wasn’t talking about myself. I was speaking more about the theory.
Serkong Rinpoche: If someone is very, very angry and upset and they can’t even eat, and you go and you talk to them and say "What’s the problem that’s making you so upset that you can’t eat?" that person would need to be able to explain what was troubling them.
Participant: Before I wasn’t talking about myself because I express anger so I don’t get an ulcer, but it’s especially…
Serkong Rinpoche: If there were three people together and two of them pour themselves a cup of tea and they don’t serve the third person, the third person could get very hurt and angry, is this a type of example?
Participant: They say here in the West that cancer is caused by a kind of swallowed anger. This was what I was aiming at.
Alex: You have to give him an example; answer the question.
Participant: I don’t know. Okay, he gave the example of one person getting problems with parents because the youngsters don’t behave as the parents want, and the parents tell them, "We get ulcers because you don’t behave like we want." The question is what should the young people do in that situation? Should they is they just leave the parents’ house? Should they quit the relation? What should they do?
Serkong Rinpoche: What is it that you’re doing that annoys your parents?
Participant: The problem is the type of work he does, the money he earns, all his income goes to lamas – his father doesn’t like it.
Serkong Rinpoche: Your father doesn’t like you to go to teachings of lamas?
Participant: Sometimes. His father thinks he should be concerned with worldly affairs, earn a lot of money, employ a lot of people, kind of exploit other people more. It’s not that he said you shouldn’t see this lama, so it’s kind of more general. He doesn’t take it seriously what he’s doing.
Serkong Rinpoche: What would be wrong if you tried to do both? To make a little bit of money that would please your father and then also follow a spiritual path as well?
Participant: He tries to more and more find a middle way how to do it.
Serkong Rinpoche: That’s the right way of doing it; that’s very good.
Participant: But he gives himself kind of bad feelings because his father said, "I’m sick because you don’t do this."
Serkong Rinpoche: You should say to your father "Please don’t worry. You shouldn’t feel sick or like that, because I am doing what you ask me to do” and in that way you do some work. But as was explained before, the main thing in spiritual practice is to work on your attitude, on your heart, on your mind, and use your speech, your verbal energy in terms of mantras and whatever work you do doesn’t harm that. This means Dharma things, spiritual things are something that you do privately for yourself.
Participant: There’s another question. What does Rinpoche think about the case when people or countries are very suppressed in their material living conditions, and suppressed in their freedom, suppressed in their material living conditions. Is it okay for them to unite and even to use violence in order to improve their living conditions in order to alter the situation for the better?
Serkong Rinpoche: If your aim is to get rid of the suffering and difficulties for everybody, then it is permitted to use whatever means are necessary. But if it’s only for yourself to get ahead, then that wouldn’t be proper. The example was given before; you should relate it to that, of the example where the Buddha himself killed someone. The Buddha in a previous lifetime killed someone who was going to kill five hundred merchants in a boat. The Buddha killed this person himself to prevent all this harm happening and took on the negative consequences himself. If you have that type of bravery and courage to do something like that to help everybody and accept the consequences yourself, then that’s okay.
Alex: Are there any other questions?
Participant: Is there a danger that exchanging self and others could lead to another evil concept where I just get a lot of attention from others because I’m so nice and so kind to them?
Serkong Rinpoche: It is true that danger does arise when you might feel that you’re so wonderful that you’re helping everybody, but that’s the reason why it’s always stressed that this process of changing your attitude with respect to self and others, all this type of practice should be done in a concealed manner and privately. You shouldn’t tell people what you’re doing; it’s just something that you do privately by yourself in terms of working on your own attitude. You don’t advertise what you’re doing.
If, for instance, our mother or father were to die we would cry. Likewise, if a moth flies into the flame of the candle and dies, if you were to cry in that situation as well, that would be alright, that would be good. But if you were to cry like that over a moth in front of other people, that wouldn’t do at all. That would look ridiculous. Because then you’re sitting and putting on such a pretentious appearance of doing this kind of practice, you just look absurd and ridiculous. This is just an example.
Participant: She says the whole world is there, if I tell them or not; so even if I practice in secrecy I can get to the attitude and say well, I’m wonderful, so beautiful…
Serkong Rinpoche: It’s not as bad to feel that way in private, but when you go around and tell people how wonderful you are, that’s something which is much worse. But to just feel like that by yourself when you are alone is something that you just contain that within yourself. It wouldn’t be as negative, and also because there are no other people around you to feed that, then it doesn’t get so great. That’s why it’s very important to start off in terms of trying to get rid of your obsession with things for this lifetime. In general there are various worldly types of feelings which are very difficult to overcome; but, you have to work on them.
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