A Question of Anger – from Jataka Tale #21

The Buddha was once born as a bodhisattva into a prosperous, noble Brahmin family.  He did not enjoy the life of a householder as he was accustomed to wisdom and renunciation as a bodhisattva of numerous lifetimes.  The noble Brahmin decided to set such a life aside and become a renunciate in the forest.

His wife, who loved him very much, was determined to join him. By telling her of the difficulties of being a homeless ascetic, he tried to dissuade her.  But she did not turn away and so went with him, like two geese that pair for life.

A local king happened upon them in the forest. Struck by the wife’s beauty, the king wanted her for his own. But the king was fearful of the ascetic’s curse. To test if he was a real bodhisattva, the king thought to look for signs of attachment.  If he were a true renunciate he would show no sign of anger or attachment. If he did show signs, there would be no powers to fear.

The king asked the renunciate what he would do if someone carried off his wife.  The bodhisattva replied, “If anyone were to act against me here, he will never escape while I live.”

When the ascetic showed such attachment and hostility, the king thought he could not have true magical powers.  So, the king ordered his men to carry off the wife.  At this the bodhisattva showed no signs of distress.

“You claim to vanquish whoever acted against you, yet here you sit without lifting a finger,“ said the king.

“The one who acted against me here has not escaped me,” replied the bodhisattva. “Listen great king. There is a demon that causes untold harm wherever it finds refuge. Its name is anger.  It is the enemy within, who turns men to evil.  Knowing this who would not vow to vanquish it? This I have done.  Can you say the same?”

Hearing the words of the bodhisattva, the king fell to the great man’s feet and begged forgiveness. The wife was returned and the king became the bodhisattva’s servant.

Any time you have anger, figure out why you get upset. There is a tiny thing that you have attachment to. It could be your name, it could be your pride, it could be any kind of attachment. So when you have attachment you get upset. It looks like the bodhisattva had love and compassion, but didn’t have attachment. That’s why even though he didn’t like it, the action that happened couldn’t trigger his anger. At that point the king was so shocked. Normal people would be doing all kinds of crazy things, as we can see everywhere. But this guy looked very strange and the king approached him and said, “Three minutes ago you said you would be doing a lot of things and not let go of the person who harms you. Now I am harming you and you are not doing anything. What happened?”

The bodhisattva said, “When I said I won’t let it go I was talking about anger, which you don’t see now. I never let anger take me over.”

– Demo Rinpoche, Jewel Heart Ann Arbor, January 24

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