Don’t Let Hatred Destroy Your Practice
His Holiness the Dalai Lama takes an in-depth look at how we can work with anger and hatred.
The first verse of Shantideva’s “Patience” chapter, in his Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, reads:
Whatever wholesome deeds, Such as venerating the buddhas and [practicing] generosity, That have been amassed over a thousand aeons, Will all be destroyed in one moment of anger.
The implication of this first verse is that in order for the individual practitioner to be able to successfully cultivate patience and tolerance, what is required is a very strong enthusiasm, a strong desire, because the stronger one’s enthusiasm the greater the ability to withstand the hardships encountered in the process. Not only that, but one also will be prepared to voluntarily accept hardships that are a necessary part of the path.
The first stage, then, is to generate this strong enthusiasm, and for that what is required is to reflect upon the destructive nature of anger and hatred, as well as the positive effects of patience and tolerance.
In this text, one reads that the generation of anger or hatred, even for a single instant, has the capacity to destroy virtues collected over a thousand aeons. Another text, Entry into the Middle Way by Chandrakirti, states that a single instant of anger or hatred will destroy virtues accumulated over a hundred aeons. The difference between these two texts is explained from the point of view of the object of one’s anger or hatred. If the object of one’s anger or hatred is a bodhisattva on a high level of the path, and the person who is being hateful or angry is not a bodhisattva, then the amount of virtue that will be destroyed is greater. On the other hand, if a bodhisattva generates anger toward another bodhisattva, maybe the virtue destroyed would be less.
"When hatred and anger are generated they have the capacity to destroy one’s virtue and calmness of mind."
However, when we say that virtues accumulated over aeons are destroyed by a single instant of anger, we have to identify what sort of virtues are destroyed. Both this text and Entry into the Middle Way agree that it is only the meritorious virtues—not so much the wisdom aspect but rather the method aspect of the path—that are destroyed. In particular, these include virtues accumulated through practicing giving or generosity as well as virtues accumulated on the basis of observing an ethically disciplined way of life. On the other hand, virtues accumulated through the practice of wisdom, such as generating insight into the ultimate nature of reality, and virtues accumulated through meditative practices, wisdom acquired through meditation, remain beyond the scope of destruction by anger and hatred.
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.
Generally speaking, there are many afflictive emotions such as conceit, arrogance, jealousy, desire, lust, closed-mindedness, and so on, but of all these, hatred or anger is singled out as the greatest evil. This is done for two reasons.
One is that hatred or anger is the greatest stumbling block for a practitioner who is aspiring to enhance his or her bodhicitta—altruistic aspiration and a good heart. Anger or hatred is the greatest obstacle to that.
Second, when hatred and anger are generated they have the capacity to destroy one’s virtue and calmness of mind. It is due to these reasons that hatred is considered to be the greatest evil.
According to Buddhist psychology, hatred is one of the six root afflictive emotions. The Tibetan word for it is zhe dang, which can be translated as either “anger” or “hatred” in English. However, I feel that it should be translated as “hatred,” because “anger,” as it is understood in English, can be positive in very special circumstances. These occur when anger is motivated by compassion or when it acts as an impetus or a catalyst for a positive action. In such rare circumstances, anger can be positive, whereas hatred can never be positive. It is totally negative.
Since hatred is totally negative, it should never be used to translate the Tibetan word zhe dang when it appears in the context of tantra. Sometimes we hear the expression “taking hatred into the path.” This is a mistranslation. In this context, hatred is not the right word; one should use “anger”: “taking anger into the path.” So the Tibetan word can be translated as either “anger” or “hatred,” but “anger” can be positive; therefore, when zhe dang refers to the afflictive emotion it must be translated as “hatred.”
The last two lines of the second verse read:
Thus I should strive in various ways To meditate on patience.
Since the goal is the enhancement of one’s capacity for tolerance and the practice of patience, what is required is to be able to counteract the forces of anger and hatred, particularly hatred. One should use all sorts of techniques to increase one’s familiarity with patience. These include not only real-life situations, but also using one’s imagination to visualize a situation and then see how one will react and respond to it. Again and again one should try to combat hatred and develop one’s capacity for tolerance and patience.
Source: Perfecting Patience: Buddhist Techniques to Overcome Anger, by the Dalai Lama (Shambhala 2019)