Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Cross-eyed angry or wrathful compassion?

I struggle with anger. At least 2-3 times daily I blow up. I should clarify that statement.  I don’t become angry on my own behalf: I’m okay when people don’t like me, or think I’m too poetic, too crazy, too liberal…:) I become passionate, however (and vocal!), when faced w/ injustice. And yet it’s always seemed to me that anger is, w/out exception, a negative state, a painful condition, and basically something to overcome.

So imagine my happiness at learning the term ‘wrathful compassion.’ YES! Found: a term to describe the way I go off, as everyone who knows me knows, on social injustice. It drives me NUTS when people’s individual (and collective) rights are abrogated in the name of, oh, profit. Racism. Greed. Ignorance. Or just plain stupidity (don’t underestimate that one). And I keep thinking (despite much evidence to the contrary) that people want to KNOW about these injustices. That they want to FIX them.


There are actually deities in Tibetan Buddhism whose ‘jobs’ revolve around actively protecting faithful Buddhists from evil, inside & out. Palden Llamo is one of my favourites, the only female among the 8 Dharampalas. She is the protector of Buddhist governments, but is also a rabid pacifist, sacrificing her own child to force her war-monger husband to acknowledge the grief of loss. I’m not quite that pacificistic, but you have to admire the woman’s principles. Wasn’t it Jefferson who said that to keep one unnecessary soldier was a crime?


Another Dharampala I respect is Mahakala. Consider him the flip side of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion. Mahakala is the active principle, uprooting negativity. I wish I thought that when I get so angry, I was Mahakala. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I’m more harpy than Buddhist diety…

So what can I do? How to balance compassion w/ the need to change wrong-doing in the world? How does an engaged Buddhist walk the very narrow line between anger and wrathful compassion? If my ‘job’ — my mission? — is:


the understanding of the complete yet complicated interdependence of all life. It is the practice of the bodhisattva vow to save all beings. It is to know that the liberation of ourselves and the liberation of others are inseparable. It is to transform ourselves as we transform all our relationships and our larger society. It is work at times from the inside out and at times from the outside in, depending on the needs and conditions. It is is to see the world through the eye of the Dharma and to respond emphatically and actively with compassion.

then how do I accomplish that?

Lately I’ve just gone to ground. More than a week has passed since I’ve blogged. Instead? I’ve worked in my garden, finding grapes beneath the damn grapevine smothering the climbing roses (great metaphor, that!). Watching birds feed their young. Listening to spring in full orchestra. And going back to meditation practice, which I have to remind myself is not nearly as effective when you just think about it… In other words, returning to that still point of balance. It helps me sift the chaff of anger from the useful wrathful compassion that can actually do some good.

I SO wish it was easier being a beginner….

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