Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Appreciating Anger: Tenpa's Tree

It happens that we sometimes feel ourselves so injured, or insulted, that we cannot help ourselves, and anger arises. Sometimes, anger arises for no reason at all. For example, people might say, "Oh, he got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning." It has happened to you and it has happened to me. Why should we deny this? More likely than not, it will even happen again.

The next time it happens, try to remember the photograph above. You see in this photograph that the tree is quite barren, but the clouds give the appearance of foliage. This tree grows in the midst of different fields that are in various stages of cultivation. In the distance, you see a tree that is not barren. Although I don't have any sense of ownership or attachment to this tree, if it helps you remember, you can call it Tenpa's Tree.


Many, many times in this life, I have entered other peoples' anger with them, to dance with the energies. For most of my life, I thought that was an appropriate and even quite helpful thing to do. I thought it was particularly useful to demonstrate how anger can be extinguished in the midst of anger. Sometimes, I would even fuel their anger to the point where it could not be contained, and violence would break out. I felt myself able to do this because I had been taught to enter my own anger in order to extinguish it, and I believed I had been able to do this rather successfully.

So, it became a dance. An anger dance. Sometimes we would waltz, sometimes we would tango, sometimes we would rock and roll.

As time went by, I started to believe that although this approach had been successful in some cases, it had been a costly failure in others. I asked myself why. Maybe I had not extinguished my own anger, after all. Maybe I was alone on the dance floor. Maybe I was not a dancer. This was something to think about.

I was very much a product of the "take the emotions as the path" school of transactions, so I kept standing up every time I heard the music. This becomes more and more difficult as one grows older, to the point where one simply runs out of stamina.

However, one does not run out of interest. If you see two people fighting, there is still the little glimmer that makes you want to walk over and separate them. If crap starts up, there is still the wish to jump around, maybe even step on somebody's toes, maybe trip and fall down all by yourself, and thereby demonstrate the futility of starting crap.

Because you have become a dancer, don't you see? A tired dancer, but still a dancer. A worn out dancer, actually, but still a dancer.

So, the thing is to retire from dancing?

When people retire, they take up hobbies. When I retired from dancing, I took up painting. Anger painting. Sometimes I would paint outdoor scenes, sometimes interiors. Gradually, I learned to paint what I thought were quite realistic still lifes.

I thought if people admired my creations, they might become mirrors. However, you cannot sit back and predict how people will view the paintings. One person will see a cloud. One person will see a tree. Not many will see a mirror. Anyway, one person's mirror is another person's hell. What one sentient being sees as shit, another sees as sugar. Nevertheless, I was still interested, so I kept painting, and I kept hoping for a masterpiece.

I want to tell you: that is a mistaken approach. There is still hope and fear in this approach. We are looking for the absence of hope and fear. This is not an empty hopelessness; rather, this is a rather rich and full aspiration. The masterpiece is actually already here, already painted. In truth, it paints itself anew with each moment.
"The identity of anger is empty. The very moment after anger has blossomed into hell, there is nothing more for that anger to grow into, so nothing further is grown. The object of anger is empty, so nothing grows from that either. Anger is empty of an individual identity and so has neither shape nor color, matter nor substance, and therefore dissolves into itself without having to be rejected. Anger causes no harm when it arises, and there is no benefit from it not arising. Anger naturally dissolves within the expanse of dharmata."
How beautiful! That is Padmasambhava speaking, and when I look at the photograph of the tree, I think it illustrates his words. You can look at the photograph and draw analogies until the cows come home. It is absolutely perfect.

This photograph was not "painted." It was not "composed." It composed itself, and the photographer merely snapped the shutter, carrying the image back to us, seemingly like a report from somewhere to somewhere. Yet, for the moment we look at this photograph there is no "somewhere, " no transportation.

Not created, not composed, not contrived, not captured, not carried, not presented: there is only the extent of our effortless awareness.

Ordinarily, it is a mistake to compose clouds and contrive foliage, but in this case, it is helpfully arising anyway, because playfully speaking, this is the subject and object of anger disappearing right in front of our faces, through the effortless creativity of wisdom and means.

Anger extinguishes itself in the midst of anger in exactly the same way. It just naturally dissolves. Since there is a point when it begins, there is certainly a point when it ends. It is precisely like the clouds and the tree trunk. This situation will pass of itself. The clouds will blow away, and the tree will go back to being a tree. This I absolutely promise you.

It depends on your view. It depends upon where, in the variously cultivated fields, you happen to stand; where you happen to look, how you happen to look. If the photographer was taking a photograph of the distant tree, the one with foliage, he would not have seen this tree. If he were standing to the left, or the right, the clouds would not have appeared in juxtaposition to the limbs the way they do. If he had snapped the shutter a moment before, or a moment after... it goes on and on like this.

So how do we extinguish anger in the midst of anger without dancing or painting? It seems we don't have to, doesn't it?

I think I am in a field. You think you are in a field. What do we see? What are we looking for? What is beginning? What is ending? What are we holding? What are we trying to throw away? Isn't the holding and throwing unnecessary? How do you take pictures of something that by itself is already gone?

E Ma Ho, wonderful autumn! Tenpa's perfect cloud tree has already disappeared all by itself.

Go ahead, axe me another one....

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1 reader comments:

Anonymous said...

my intro to buddhisim was thevajra room of the maitri rooms at naropa. and i got it first time. the beautiful beginner with no idea of what to expect(but a good grounding in shamanistic journeying)and i exoerienced for about a day, being a mirror in all things , now im still ordinary and have no particular qualities that anybody might see as better or different and i still have problems with anger and its expression.What to do with it? sometimes i stand outside it and direct it as it seems appropriate, sometimes it carries me away, sometimes i can say'oh there it is ,that thing' and leave it. Its interesting. Mary Fitzsimons