Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Anger on the Forest Path

Posted by Gary
at Forest Wisdom

This week I had a sobering experience at work: I lost it with one of my colleagues. I made a quip to one work mate but a second teacher thought I was talking about him, and objected by shouting and swearing at me. I tried explaining that I was simply joking in reference to the floods that had occurred that morning in Ubon, but to no avail. The enraged fellow continued to bellow foul language at me, and I snapped. I stood up and confronted him nose to nose, and waited for his response; he didn’t react violently, but still didn’t refrain from issuing obscenities. So, I let him have it…verbally, that is!

In no uncertain terms I told him to back down and grow up. I swore at him, telling him to go somewhere alone and shout at himself, and that if he didn’t apologize foe his poor behavior by the end of the day, he’d be ‘screwed’ (or another word to that affect!). No apology was forth coming. This colleague is renowned for his hot temper, so I should have used more wisdom in my dealing with him in this volatile situation. To my regret, I didn’t.

I’m not into putting my (illusory) self down, however. Things happen in life, not always in line with how we’d like them to, and that includes the complicated workings of our minds. Emotions, memories, opinions, and convictions can get all mixed up and work against each other, exploding into the world. Even great Buddhist monks, famous for their peaceful wisdom can sometimes fall victim to their own wayward egos - at least in the earlier part of their monastic careers. Take the following story of Luang Por Sumedho, for example.

Way back when Ajahn Sumedho was still a young monk, he was practicing strict vegetarianism, which is not easy in Northeast Thailand where so much food contains meat and fish products. Despite this, Ajahn Sumedho was generally looked after well, and received decent enough vegetarian food on most days. One day, however, when he was helping to dish out the food to the other monks, another monk got to the vegetarian food first and proceeded to give Ajahn Sumedho a very small portion. Knowing that the monk knew that he was vegetarian, when Luang Por Sumedho gave out the rather strong fermented fish sauce, he splashed it all over the other monk’s food, making it nearly inedible! Ajahn Sumedho has commented that it’s just as well that there are strict rules proscribing violence between Buddhist monks!

Learning from our mistakes is an important part of walking the forest path of wisdom, and sometimes we’ll wander off the straight and narrow. Finding our way back to the path, and making our way through life’s forest can be enriched in the long run by the understanding that grows out of realizing the limitations (and breaking points) of the mind. Hopefully, the incident with my work colleague will prove to be one of those occasions, and not a prelude to a teacher’s boxing match!

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