When Shakyamuni was in the Jetavana monastery, a young Brahman suddenly verbally attacked Shakyamuni by rebuking and reproaching him.
Shakyamuni quietly listened to the slanderous complaints, and then inquired, "When your family has prepared a banquet, and no one eats the food that is served, what happens to it?"
"Then it becomes mine," the young man replied. Shakyamuni then calmly said, "You have just tried to shame and criticize me, but I have not accepted your comments. So to whom do your abusive statements and anger belong?"
Our daily life closely parallels this anecdote from the sutras.
You may have had the experience of being the target of someone's rage, or on the contrary becoming angry because things did not turn out as you expected or feeling righteous indignation over some injustice. These days, everyday life can be very stressful, so generally speaking people seem more likely to be moved by feelings of anger and at the same time are required to persevere and endure hardship on many occasions.
At such times the short exchange between Shakyamuni and the young man holds an invaluable lesson for us.
Above all Shakyamuni did not blame the angry young man. And even when he was confronted by explosive anger, he deflected it and did not respond with similar anger.
Someone once said that anger, in a manner of speaking, is a paroxysm of defilements, really nothing more than a natural phenomenon. More so than the momentary anger itself, what is truly wrong is returning anger directed at us with anger and letting resentment and hostility build up along with wrathful emotions. Shakyamuni's calm response to the intensely emotional young man clearly shows us what it is to be patient.
Shakyamuni next said, "Do not return anger with anger; instead, control your emotions. That is what is meant by diligence."
Recognizing the Truth
Anger becomes the cause, even if there may be a just reason for it, that at its worst leads to wars and is the power behind destruction. On the individual level, anger alienates one from friends and family, leading one to experience the suffering of solitude. This illustrates the mental state of the hells in the ten realms of existence as taught in Buddhism.
The important challenge put to us, therefore, is controlling our anger every day, just as Shakyamuni did.
The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings contains the phrase "makes an angry one give rise to the mind of forbearance"; that is, through forbearance we are taught to control our anger and bitterness, and the first step toward forbearance is being calm and silent. Then, when our emotions have at last settled down, we often are able to see that we became upset over something quite trivial.
Furthermore, when we express gratitude toward people who caused anger in us and treat them gently, our anger can be soothed. In other words, forbearance is more than merely enduring someone's anger; it is taking a positive approach to it and accepting it for what it is, which allows even one's sense of endurance to dissipate naturally.
What matters most at such a time is that we recognize the truth.
When we realize that the roots of all lives are one and the same and we are caused to live in this world of dependent origination, we are compelled to reflect upon ourselves as being not entirely without faults, and then we can free ourselves from the lonely isolation of anger and move toward being in harmony with others.
As is written in the Sutra of Meditation on the Boddhisattva Universal Virtue, "You must sit correctly, and meditate on the ultimate reality of all things. All sins are just as frost and dew, so wisdom's sun can melt them away." When we know the truth and open our wisdom-eye, angry thoughts evaporate.
The power of forbearance is generated by wisdom. It thus removes ignorance, nurtures a compassionate heart considerate of others, and builds a world of harmonious living.