Babies and Bathwater by Oxana Poberejnaia


Since patriarchy is atrocious, and capitalism is currently driving the earth to a very real catastrophe, we can get passionate about these issues. We can get angry. We can get self-righteous.

However, as one of the most famous verses of Dhammapada goes:

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

Dhp I:5, translated by Acharya Buddharakkhita

 We may ask: why should we be patient and kind while we are the ones who are being oppressed and wronged? I don’t have an answer for that, only that through history positive change has ever been affected only by people who made more effort than the ones who wanted to keep the status quo.

Abolitionists, Suffragettes, Socialists and Civil Rights activists all had to be more altruistic, better educated, and more open-minded than their contemporaries.

In our zeal to transform people’s minds and practices we can be driven to say hurtful words and take destructive actions. By following high ideals and keeping to the principles we think are correct we can hurt people and destroy relationships.

In the West, we say “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” There is a story illustrating this principle in the Buddhist Scriptures, in Vesali Sutta (SN 54:9). The Buddha was spending half a month in solitary meditation. During that time, dozens of monks took their own lives. They went too far in the Buddhist practice of perceiving “loathsomeness of the body.”

This Buddhist concept requires detailed discussion. However, one interpretation is that it was a skilful means that the Buddha offered to his male monks who were perhaps overwhelmed by sensual desires, while the surrounding culture was too focused on external beauty.

When Ananda asked the Buddha to offer the monks a different method of reaching Enlightenment, the Buddha said:

Monks, this concentration through mindfulness of in-&-out breathing, when developed & pursued, is both peaceful & exquisite, a refreshing & pleasant abiding that immediately disperses & allays any evil, unskillful [mental] qualities that have arisen. Just as when, in the last month of the hot season, a great rain-cloud out of season immediately disperses & allays the dust & dirt that have been stirred up, in the same way this concentration through mindfulness of in-&-out breathing, when developed & pursued, is both peaceful & exquisite, a refreshing & pleasant abiding that immediately disperses & allays any evil, unskillful [mental] qualities that have arisen.  

(translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

The Buddha did not reproach the monks who had taken their lives, nor did he declare the concept of unattractiveness of the body wrong. He spoke of a seemingly unrelated matter, that is, mindfulness meditation.

I believe that the Buddha was making the point that true spiritual development is so transformative that it will not allow any wrong judgement to arise. Mindfulness meditation brings peace that immediately disperses all negative tendencies.

Thus, it is through spiritual practice that the truest weapon against oppression, inner peace, can be gained. However righteous anger might be, it is still anger. Anger, be it directed at others or ourselves, will only lead to further trouble and suffering.

 

Oxana Poberejnaia is a frame drummer, writer and an artist at http://poeticoxana.wordpress.com. She was an Officer of the University of Manchester Buddhist Society while studying for a PhD in Government, and had been involved in organising the Manchester Buddhist Convention. Oxana is exploring the Sacred Feminine through frame drumming, working with her menstrual cycle, and shamanic journeying, while keeping the practice of Buddhist meditation. Her frame drum band can be found here.

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Categories: Activism, Buddhism

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3 replies

  1. Are anger and hatred the same thing? I would say not. Anger is an immediate feeling. Hatred is one of the things that can be done the feeling of anger.

    If I remember correctly, Rita Gross attempted to add nuance to the Buddhist teachings on anger. She argued that anger, including feminist anger, is valid if wrong is being done to the self or others. The point, she said, is not to stop feelings of anger, but to direct them in skillful ways, not to hold onto them, and not to deny them, but rather to creatively transform them into action that may change the original situation of injustice in which the anger arose. Do you agree with her? Or are you saying something different?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. It sure is hard not to be angry these days, also pretty depressed. Mindfulness meditation helps us who use it. But will our mindfulness have any effect on those hateful, hate-filled, hating people with the torches in Charlottesville last weekend? Or the Troll-in-Chief? I agree with Rita Gross that righteous anger can be useful when it’s transformed and directed at injustice.

    Thanks for writing this and making me think first thing in the morning.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ditto, Carol and Barbara. I believe that anger, like fear, is a message that something needs to change. The route to change is channeling that anger in some way ( letter to the editor, telephone call, demonstration, etc.).

    Liked by 1 person

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