Robert Thurman and Sharon Salzberg are icons of American Buddhism, and they are joyful, longtime friends. They challenge us to reframe our anger by seeing love for our enemies as an act of self-compassion.
Robert Thurman: There’s a word in Buddhism called “kleshas”—or “klesa” in Pali, “kleshas” in Sanskrit—which comes from a verb root that means “to twist, something to be twisted.” And it’s translated “defilement” or “affliction” by some people. I used to translate it “affliction.”
But the best word for it actually is “addiction.” So anger and obsession, lust, these things are said to be addictions. And that immediately gets the point across. In other words, it’s something that people think is helping them because it gives them a momentary relief from something else. But actually, it’s leading them into a worse and worse place where they’re getting more and more dependent and less and less free.
Krista Tippett: Dependent because the way you’re handling it is then all entangled with the other person?
Robert Thurman: Yes, right. And partly because you believe when anger comes to you, meaning in the form of an impulse that you have internally—“This is intolerable; that person did this; this is like something.” It’s the inner thought that comes, and it seems to come in a way that is undeniable. You have to act on it. So in other words, it takes you over. And that’s where mindfulness can interfere with that by being aware of how your mind works and realizing that it’s just one impulse and it’s one voice within you. And there’s another questioning voice and an awareness voice that can say, “Well, actually, would this be a good idea to blow your top now?”
I always like to say it’s like—otherwise you’re like a TV set that has one channel only and no clicker. If you have the horror show rising up from your solar plexus, then you’re going to have a horror show. Whereas, you can click to the nature show. You can watch the minnows frolicking in the lake in the summer. So I’m saying we are very clickable. We’re very switchable in our moods and minds.
And then the key is, the hopeful thing for some people who like their anger—and some people do like their anger. The hopeful thing is that that energy of heat, kind of like a heat—and actually in Buddhist psychology, anger is connected to intelligence, to analytic and critical intelligence. So that energy—a strong, powerful energy of heat, force—can be ridden in a different way and can be used to heal yourself. It can be used to develop inner strength and determination. And that is really something much to be ambitious for. That is a great, great goal.
More information and the full transcript can be found at OnBeing.org