In INNER KNOWLEDGE by Erik Pema Kunsang6 Comments

In nearly all cultures in our human history, slaying another human being in one’s own community has been and is still regarded as a most serious offence. A murder disrupts the harmony, creates fear and mistrust. Families grieve. There is another disturber of the peace in families, in the village or the neighbourhood and that is physical and mental abuse. It surely disturbs the peace, creates fear and distrust. Whatever the motivation, being slapped by someone you know, involves a sense of betrayal and a lapse in mutual respect. This makes it more difficult to be genuinely at ease, alone and with others.

The second best is to make up, apologize and forgive immediately.

A hurtful word, a derisive snort, a disrespectful gesture, especially from someone close, can damage more and hurt deeper than being physically struck. It is contagious, the refusal to be open and acknowledge each other as spiritual beings. The hurt lingers, perhaps it festers into a desire for revenge, to retaliate by hurting the other person back.

In action and in words, abuse has gone on for too long. We are all tired of it happening to ourselves, deeply tired. Could we just be too tired when the chance comes to hurt someone next time! In even the smallest way.

So why is it, that we find the courage and the self-importance to inflate ourselves with Holy Anger? We know from experience how deeply and sincerely we regret later, especially after we have hurt someone we love. There is a moment when the energy of frustration builds up and it feels as if there is not enough room inside to contain it, not enough air to breathe. Something knots up in the chest and tightens, the heart aches. It is in this moment that a personal disaster is about to happen, which can potentially ruin a family, a friendship, a relationship, a stable job.

Holy Anger is a mixture of taking pride in being violent, a distorted version of the brave heart, which intoxicate and entices us to feel: my wrath is just, I’m rightfully allowed, I just have to put things straight, by blowing up, losing my temper, and telling the awful truth about how wrong you are. Holy Anger is this self-righteous attitude of hatred, our personal demon disguised as a warrior, and it’s just about to ruin the peace one more time. The old villain is back, call the police! But who can arrest an emotion? Certainly not the police. A violent attitude can only be overcome by its opposite, loving kindness and compassion.

One of my teachers said, that it doesn’t help to lock the front door, while the thief is still inside the house. So isn’t it obvious that we need to soften this mind and not someone else’s? Moreover, one is possible, the other is not. That why it is said that the greatest hero is the one who has conquered the subtle aggression in his own mind.

The ancient wisdom books place slapping in the same category as killing, but with a weaker consequence. I feel from the depths of my heart, the first practical step to make, is to declare inside of oneself: I will not kill. I will not hurt another being, physically or mentally. I will say no words to hurt another’s mind, because deeply we are all connected, we are all members of the same family, sharing the same nature of mind. We are all on a spiritual path. When making this simple commitment to nonaggression our journey has a real foundation, rather than talk and fantasy.
I invite your comments from real life experience, because it’s so important, how to live together in harmony.

About the Author
Erik Pema Kunsang

Erik Pema Kunsang

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Translator of ancient Buddhist scriptures, author, bridge-builder to modern life, Buddhist teacher & meditation instructor. Board of director at 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha. Founder of Rangjung Yeshe Publications and LEVEKUNST art of life. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author. Erik's website & retreats.

Photo by PublicDomainPictures &  Takmeomeo

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    No doubt this is an ideal advice but conditioning (habits) is so strong for both (subject as well as object) that to have such mindset (not to hurt and not to get hurt) is very very difficult but not impossible…….it demands a lot of consciousness/awareness/alertness in thinking, speaking and acting. Moreover many a times hurting happens due to miscommunication between the parties concerned.

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    I am constantly bouncing back and forth from one little murder to another. I am a weak fool, judging, angry, jealous, convinced, and so on. The poison is the medicine though and when I can notice and redirect I do. Practice. So in practical terms I find the lojong slogans and the metta prayers and tonglen the best tools day to day. I try to make space in my mind to not be killing. Gentle talk, gentle touch, gentle reverence. You are right to mention it though, slipstreams of holy anger are all around us right now, but also these peaceful spaces

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    Dear Erik,
    Thank you for this article. Earlier today I have read it and thought it made perfect sense, because there was nothing really in it to disagree about. But something just happened that made me think of it again.
    In the middle of the day a prominent, young UK Member of Parliament was savagely shot and stabbed dead in a small Yorkshire village. She was a human rights activist, she was against Britain taking part in the Syrian war, and she was in the ‘Remain’ camp for the UK-EU referendum. Before attacking her, the killer allegedly shouted ‘Britain first’ :
    There is obviously a link between our ‘smaller’ acts of intolerance (e.g. chauvinism and nationalism) that are more widely spread, and singular but massive and horrific acts as the one that happened in Orlando, this one and others. It probably shows how karma works, and that there is no such thing as a ‘minor’ intolerance, ‘mild’ homophobia, ‘some’ nationalism or ‘a little’ hate or violence. If we allow an evil shoot to grow, one day it will become a poisonous tree.
    I just wanted to share this. It is all very sad, but the good news is that if we uproot hatered in ourselves, we will help the world.
    Thanks again.

  4. mike dickman

    I was brought up to imagine a slap could work… It took me years to realize how utterly wrong this was—years and much personal suffering, let alone the suffering i was creating around me!
    The slap or yell was always given with ‘compassion’ (as i understood it) and with an intention of bringing something i considered important (morally or socially) to the attention of the other, but i slowly realised that all it ever really did was make whoever was on the receiving end feel unloved and unappreciated which was not at all the case—Au contraire, in fact!—it was my love and care for them that was speaking.
    There’s a Chinese saying: ‘A good father lets many things pass without being duped’…
    I tried, but there were so many things and attitudes my kids were coming across that scared me for them, i didn’t know what to do. I knew, too, that violence was the response of someone who’s communication had reached its limit –had broken down, in fact—but, for all my reading and studying and the hours of practice, millions of mantra and months of retreat, i couldn’t find my way out of it. What they were discovering seemed dangerous and i was their guardian and this was how it worked… you explained, you pointed out the dangers, you explained again, you cajoled, and then—since you were tired and this had been going on long enough—you lost it…
    When i started getting full body cramps after slapping or even yelling at one of my kids, i really began to wonder.
    Then, into my life came the most extraordinary teacher (and i say this as a student of four or five of the most exceptional teachers of recent times)…
    A small, four–legged fellow i named Prince Tashka the magnificent, and Tagchen Chungchung, ‘Little Big Tiger’… Tashka (as he allows me to call him) has taught me many things over the eighteen years we’ve been together, and has brought home to me in actual fact what many of the teachings my human lamas had shared with me in words were trying to point to. Along with my gentle wife who is my model for generosity and courage, he is one of those lamas who has directly pointed out to me the nature of mind—his own and, by extension, mine—and who, because he knows i don’t want him to disturb my wife in her sleep, has taught me a modicum of patience as he wakes me in the early hours of each morning to feed him or let him out or comes and asks for a stroke or to tell me he’s made caca or wants me to sit with him and purr (which is how i think he reads rectitation) or just thinks i’ve done enough sitting looking at screens or books or whatever.
    I have always been quick to notice what’s wrong, what’s not going as i imagine it’s supposed to, and, though i’m quick to praise, I am equally quick to criticise, albeit—hopefully—less so now. Through Tashka’s constant training and the blessings of my extraordinary lamas, the pfennig started to drop at last and a useless ‘family tradition’ has finally bit the dust…
    I’m still sorry, embarrassed, bemused and amazed at how stupid i am; but i ammore than a little surprised and grateful at the love and trust my children (now all ‘non–consenting adults’ thenmselves) show me day in and day out.

  5. Pema Choedron

    Thank you Erik Pema – Your short essay: “Slapping is a small Killing” is deeply meaningful. From my own experience even the subtlest trace of anger caused by self righteousness is a deep assault towards other peoples and towards my own heart and peace of mind – and so, so hard to detect. Thank you for reminding me!

  6. Heide

    Thank you from the depth of my heart, Erik, for this precious reminder. This is also a very important subject for the youth, as well as the “correct” political activists and parties, for therapists – and parents. The dangerous and tricky thing about Holy Anger and righteous anger is also that it takes so long, if not forever, until recognition as such, confession, regret, remorse, and then potentially purification practice may take place, the only possible steps to repair at least a little bit of it and avoid in future.

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