One City

In a shocking twist, I’m not going to post the Guns ‘n Roses video here. The lyrics just don’t have that much to do with what we’re talking about. We’ve been discussing the Six Paramitas, as they’re called in the Mahayana tradition and how they can help us in our careers.

(Brief interlude for a bad joke: Come to Mahayana Motors for a Great Vehicle.)


So many of us spend more than half our waking hours at work. Why not use those hours to bring happiness to ourselves and others? Kshanti paramita refers to patience or forbearance. Jon Kabat-Zinn points out that just underneath the surface of impatience is anger. “It’s the strong energy of not wanting things to be the way they are and blaming someone (often yourself) or something for it.”

Ever find yourself angry at work? I know I have; someone does something they shouldn’t have, at least from my perspective. But even when we’re absolutely sure that our anger is justified, we need to understand how destructive it is and work to eradicate it. As Lama Marut says:

“If you’re harboring the idea anywhere in your mind that there’s something good about anger, you will continue to suffer. You will continue to be unhappy. And you will continue to bring unhappiness to others around you… you can’t be angry and happy at the same time. Impossible. This town ain’t big enough for both of them. Somebody’s got to go. It’s a showdown at the OK Corral. Between happiness and anger. Big smackdown. Rage in the Cage. If you want to be happy, you’ve got to smack down anger.”

So often, though, we convince ourselves that this is the one time that our anger is justified, that it’s okay to be angry, and our anger builds upon itself, causing wrong speech and wrong actions. Our “inner Johnny Cochran,” as Ethan recently called it in class, is really, really good at convincing us that our anger is necessary, that we’ve encountered the one person who’s truly, independently wrong and who deserves our rancor. We need to understand how destructive it is, not just intellectually, but in our bones, so that the next time anger arises, our inner Johnny Cochran doesn’t pull the wool over our eyes.  

Don’t just take my word for it; Thich Nhat Hanh devoted a whole book to the subject, and he points out the futility of our angry actions:

“When someone says or does something that makes us angry, we suffer. We tend to say or do something back to make the other suffer, with the hope that we will suffer less. We think, ‘I want to punish you, I want to make you suffer because you have made me suffer. And when I see you suffer a lot, I will feel better.

Many of us are inclined to believe in such a childish practice. The fact is that when you make the other suffer, he will try to find relief by making you suffer more. The result is an escalation of suffering on both sides. Both of you need compassion and help. Neither of you needs punishment.”

He points out how counterproductive reacting in anger is:

“If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned down your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. That is not wise. You must go back and put out the fire. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.”

What’s interesting to me is that when we react from anger, we lose any ability to choose our actions. Our actions become driven by anger; they’re reactions, really. But by cultivating patience, we can make clear, mindful choices.

How do we do this? Kabat-Zinn teaches us to understand the roots of anger:

“If someone hits you with a stick, you don’t get angry at the stick or at the arm that swung it; you get angry at the person attached to the arm. But if you look a little deeper, you can’t find a satisfactory root cause or place for your anger even in the person, who literally doesn’t know what he is doing and is therefore out of his mind at the moment. Where should the blame lie, or the punishment? Maybe we should be angry at the person’s parents for the abuse they may have showered on a defenseless child. Or maybe the world for its lack of compassion. But what is the world? Are you not a part of that world? Do you yourself have angry impulses and under some conditions find yourself in touch with violent, even murderous impulses?”

As Thich Nhat Hanh tells us:

“You can make a mistake only when you forget that the other person
suffers. You tend to believe that you are the only one who suffers, and
that the other person is enjoying your suffering. You will say and do
mean and cruel things when you believe that you are the only one who
suffers and that the other person does not suffer at all.”

Through our practice, we can cultivate patience and learn to choose our actions rather than reacting out of anger. When we are in the grips of anger, we’re “out of our minds,” and our actions lack mindfulness. Imagine how beneficial it would be to our careers if we could choose our actions, instead of always being on automatic pilot.

Because here’s the thing: stuff’s always gonna happen. Traffic makes you late for work. A customer is dissatisfied. Someone you count on gets the flu. By cultivating patience, you gain the ability to work within these situations, to make the most appropriate choice in the moment, and give yourself the best possible chance of success. Not to mention happiness. 

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