Practicing the patience of not retaliating


Anger has many faults:

  • Anger is a painful state of mind.
  • Anger robs us of our reason and good sense.
  • Anger causes us to act in ways that harm others.
  • Anger is poisonous to our relationships.
  • Angry people die bitter and alone.

Anger arises whenever we encounter something unpleasant or fail to obtain what we want, the way we want, or when we want it. To overcome anger, we must recognize it quickly and apply the appropriate opponent of patience. Anger arises like a spark. If the spark is nurtured, it grows into a fire or blazing inferno consuming everyone in its path. If the spark is extinguished through practicing patience, our minds regains its peaceful tranquility. Patience is a mind that fully accepts whatever occurs without resistance. When we practice patience we are wearing the supreme inner armor that directly protects us from physical sufferings, mental pain, and other problems.

In the Bible, Matthew 5-38-40, Jesus is quoted “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” In The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, the Buddhist master Langri Tangpa says “When out of jealousy others treat me badly with abuse, insult and the like, I shall practice accepting defeat and offering the victory to others.” Both of these quotes are instructions on the practice of patience.

This isn’t a pacifist manifesto. The Dalai Lama said, “Where it says that we should accept defeat and offer the victory to others, we have to differentiate two kinds of situation. If, on the one hand, we are obsessed with our own welfare and very selfishly motivated, we should accept defeat and offer victory to the other, even if our life is at stake. But if, on the other hand, the situation is such that the welfare of others is at stake, we have to work very hard and fight for the rights of others, and not accept the loss at all.” Unfortunately, most of us do the opposite. We generally expend a great deal of energy defending our sense of self and personal honor, but we don’t care enough to bother standing up for the rights or happiness of others.

The patience of not retaliating is a commitment to not seek revenge under any circumstances. If our minds know we will never take revenge, it won’t generate vengeful thoughts, and anger will subside. In this way, the patience of not retaliating is like a warning sign on a door. The door is the barrier that separates us from anger, hatred, and the inevitable non-virtuous behaviors that follow from those minds. If we choose to open and step through that door, we know the bad results that are sure to follow. If we heed the warning sign on the door and chose to practice the patience of not retaliating instead, we leave that door closed and avoid all the negativity that comes from indulging in anger, hatred, and vengeance.

The best way to overcome our desire to retaliate is to practice patience acceptance with compassion. When someone harms us, we should think, “He is not in his right mind, and in hurting me, he is also hurting himself.” If a mentally ill homeless person accosted you for food, would you become angry, or would you feel compassion? Even a normally intelligent and rational person becomes mentally unbalanced when overcome with anger, and he or she is equally deserving of your compassion.

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I am Anattā. Not my real name, of course, but that’s the point. I selected the moniker Anattā because in Buddhism, my primary spiritual practice, the term anattā refers to the doctrine of “non-self”. In more practical terms, I chose the name Anattā because by writing anonymously, it’s far easier to be completely candid and honest. Further, there is no danger of my writing becoming tainted by any desire for self-aggrandizement. I write primarily to improve my own understanding of these topics, but my deepest desire for writing on this site is to help others.