By Acharya Samaneti
I am often confronted with people that come to me in the hopes of being able to control and eventually stop their experiencing of anger and all the suffering that follows once they have acted out as a result of it.
I am a prison chaplain; to say that anger is one of the main emotions that I work with, would be an understatement. Anger is a big one for most people, it is probably the emotion that brought me on the cushion at first, with sitting I got to see how interconnected most of my difficult emotions were with anger as its root.
In prison, anger is a very common emotion (the place is kind of set up to cultivate and nurture these kinds of emotions with harsh conditions which further support violent actions), it is usually what brings the men to the cushion, because they are tired of feeling this emotion and all the repercussions that follow when they react from that place. So how do I usually approach it with them?
Anger is big, it is layered, and comes in many forms: employing patience is the most useful way to approach anger because it helps them to get some space, and calm their impulsive actions which usually feed the fires of anger within them.
As a chaplain, we have the role of the witness—the witness that listens with an open heart and mind, is seen as a container of safety in a threatening and violent world, support by holding what must be witnessed and acknowledged, and finally be patient with all the external factors that try to block all the advocacy that we try and provide for the inmates.
I have developed an incredible amount of patience due to the occupational hazards of working in a prison, this has translated in my work but also in my personal practice and life outside of the institutions. I endeavor to be a beacon of peace by becoming patience personified, that no matter what obstacles arise. I face the inmates with patience and openness which remind me that the most effective we can be for others’ freedom is by exercising our own human manifestation of that freedom.
I was very happy to see Dzigar Kongtrul’s new book Peaceful Heart: The Buddhist Practice of Patience, which felt like an opportunity to learn more about the practice of patience and a tool I may be able to bring to the incarcerated men whom I serve. My Buddhist name is Samaneti, which translates as “Conveyor of Peace.” Peace is exactly what I am trying to help the men I serve experience in their hearts and minds.
During my ordination, I took the bodhisattva vow as part of my commitment to the practice and path. The fact that Dzigar Kongtrul was expanding the patience chapter of The Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva felt fortuitous to me.
The practice of patience is the most effective antidote to some of our most problematic states of mind, especially anger.
The main object of patience cannot be other people or situations, but our own minds and hearts. We must train ourselves to sit with the restless energy inside us, being present with the irritation and anger which makes us feel like lashing out and exploding. I often tell the men that this is not about white knuckling through it. It is about re-framing our attitude towards discomfort and learning to relax within the fire that is our anger and other emotions that make us feel we are on the edge…
Patience should be understood as tolerance or forbearance, in other words—not getting agitated by what we are feeling.
For most people, anger and other feelings like jealousy, injustice, sadness, etc. are lived as impatience; it is from this impatience that they lash out on fellow inmates or other victims. As a result, we are left with the task of cultivating peace and what Dzigar Kongtrul mentions throughout the book—tsewa, the innate quality of a warm, open heart. He states that when we are caught up in the busyness of life, caught in the outer activity day and night, it is difficult to connect deeply to ourselves and others.
If we want to move beyond this disconnected state, we need to find gaps within our day-to-day life where we can pause and look within. It is those moments where we can breathe into space and ask the important questions about what we are trying to achieve, what we fixate on, what happens within us moment to moment. These moments are not about finding a quick answer, but going deeper and allowing ourselves to genuinely discover where we are in the moment without creating a problem of it.
The book is all 134 verses of Shantideva’s important work, explained, expounded on, and made clearer for the reader. Through Dzigar Kongtrul’s analysis and explanations, we get a more in-depth understanding of the seminal work and how it relates to the practice of patience in particular.
This book is set on the aspiration that these teachings are engaging and rewarding to those who read it, and that the reader may discover infinite benefits—for ourselves and others—of the practice of patience.
The practice of patience is not easy; but it has proven to be transformative (I can personally vouch for that, my life has drastically changed since I have taken this practice as a main focus) by those who are open to its instructions and learn to follow them with confidence.
I recommend this book to anyone who feels the need to develop more patience in their practice/lives, or who just want to continue exploring The Way of the Bodhisattva and deepening their understanding of the precious teachings. This collection is one that can hopefully help us all be more peaceful and therefore be of great benefit for all who choose to engage with it.
The practice of patience is crucial for all bodhisattvas, this is a great foundation for exploring this quality for all of us aspiring bodhisattvas.
Acharya Samaneti is a prison chaplain, philosopher, a lover of the written word, and truth seeker. The contemplative life called him early in his life; an only child, Samanetti found comfort in silence, reflexion, and personal inquiry. Samaneti is interested in bearing witness to the oneness of suffering and the loving actions that awaken hearts; this mission draws him to work with the incarcerated and other marginalized populations.
Photo: Shambhala Publications
Editor: Dana Gornall
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