One moment of anger destroys a thousand eons of wholesome deeds, says Shantideva. At that rate, I at least have probably destroyed more eons of wholesome deeds than you can shake a stick at. On the other hand, I probably don’t have above an eon or two of good deeds to destroy. Humour aside, what are we going to do about it? For it is one thing to be angry through ignorance. It is another to continue to indulge in anger after one has been fortunate enough to come across the Buddhist teachings, among other philosophies, and so to finally realise one’s (awful) mistake. Shantideva does not leave us up in the air as to the answer. The second verse reads:
There is no evil like hatred,
And no fortitude like patience.
Thus I should strive in various ways
To meditate on patience. (2)
Patience then is the virtue we need to disarm anger. (After humility, that primordial virtue. But humility presupposes patience, since humility does not put itself forward). We need patience in the face of all the kinds of suffering we meet in this life. If you are prone to anger or impatience (and even if you are not), I highly recommend you study Healing Anger, by the Dalai Lama. In it he discusses the many verses of Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life that dissect the nature and causes of anger. We are shown how we can skilfully cultivate patience and tolerance so that we can transcend the bad situations we encounter.
For example, when someone causes us harm, we may get angry because we feel they did it ‘on purpose’ or because ‘they are like that’. But this is a mistake:
Even if it were the nature of the childish
To cause harm to other beings,
It would still be incorrect to be angry with them,
For this would be like begrudging fire for having the nature to burn. (39)
Will getting angry put out a fire? On the other hand, even if we know the person is not to blame or has made a mistake, we may still get angry. What then?
And even if the fault were temporary
In those who are by nature reliable,
It would still be incorrect to be angry,
For this would be like begrudging space for allowing smoke to rise in it. (40)
By meditating on these insights, we become more skilful and aware in handling situations that annoy and anger us. And this enables us to react with compassion instead of anger. It also enables us to ‘keep our treasure’.