Dear Still Water Friends,
When I worked in the Pentagon, I occasionally heard men brag, “I don’t get mad. I get even.” We hardly need to be reminded that this is a long way from the teachings of Thay, the Buddha or others in this tradition. We are taught, and largely believe, that empathy and forgiveness are better ways to deal with things that upset us.
Yet as much as we believe these things to be true, we are faced with a world in which people do hurtful things to us. There are many reasons. Sometimes people are just careless. Sometimes they are self-centered and just looking out for themselves. Sometimes they actually want to hurt us.
Whatever the reason, despite our intention to act lovingly, it is hard not to feel a sense of resentment or even anger and a desire to somehow make the person pay for what they did to us. And, if the truth be told, in the short term, it sometimes feels good to get back at them. There is a sense of justice that somehow makes things seem right.
The problem, of course, is that as events unfold, getting back at people almost never works out. The retribution nearly always comes back to haunt us. So the question is not really whether getting even is a good strategy. We all know that it is not. The real question is how we can control our impulse to do it even though we know we know we should not. It is not a moral question of whether it is or is not justified to get even. It is more practical. We end up regretting doing it in the long term, so how do we refrain from feeding our short-term impulse?
The writer of the anonymous blog, "Beyond Rivalry," summed up Pema Chodron’s position on "settling the score’ [getting even] in this way:
when we are triggered, when we don’t like or want what’s happening, we can recognize that "karma has just ripened." Rather than point the finger at someone or something external to us, the one or thing that we feel is making us suffer, we can see it simply as karma ripening. The idea is this: ‘I am feeling deep discomfort, and at some point I caused this same discomfort in another, and now I can pay that karmic debt by letting the aggression stop or I can get deeper in debt karmically, and strengthen my own habits of aggression, greed, fear, etc. I can choose to act for my own happiness and the well-being of the planet, or not.
You are invited to join us this Thursday for our sitting and a sharing on karma and "getting even."
An excerpt on Karma from Pema Chodron’s Practicing Peace in Times of War is below.
Fri. June 24 – Sun. June 26: Come Camping With Still Water has been cancelled
Saturday, July 2: Buddhist Cave Temples Exhibit and Lunch
Sunday, July 17: Lotuses, Food, and Mindful Friends
Sunday, July 24: Touching Life Deeply: A Day of Practice
by Pema Chodron, from Practicing Peace in Times of War
The Buddhist teachings on karma, put very simply, tell us that each moment in time—whether in our personal lives or in our life together on earth—is the result of our previous actions. According to these teachings, what we experience in the present is the result of the seeds we’ve sown for hundreds of years, over the course of many lifetimes. It’s also the case that the seeds you sowed yesterday have their result in your own life today. And the seeds that the United States has sown in the past year, five years, fifty years, hundred years, and so forth are having their impact on the world right now – and not just what the United States has sown but all the countries that are involved in the world situation today, being as painful as it is. We’ve been sowing these seeds for a long time.
I know many of us feel a kind of despair about whether all this can ever unwind itself. The message of this book is that it has to happen at the level of individuals working with their own minds, because even if these tumultuous times are the result of seeds that have been sown and reaped by whole nations, these nations of course are made up of millions of people who, just like ourselves, want happiness.
So whatever we do today, tomorrow, and every day of our lives until we die sows the seeds for our own future in this lifetime and sows the seeds for the future of this planet. The Buddhist teachings also say that the seeds of our present-day actions will bear fruit hundreds of years from now. This may seem like an impossibly long time to wait, but if you think in terms of sowing seeds for your children’s future and for your grandchildren’s future and your grandchildren’s grandchildren’s future, perhaps that’s more real and immediate to you. Nevertheless how we work with ourselves today is how a shift away from widespread aggression will come about."