To deal with feelings of anger and fear and frustration, we can start by finding relationality. As the Lakota Indians say, Mitakuye oyasin: "All beings are my relatives." When I'm particularly mad at George Bush and company for warmongering, I remember that in another lifetime he was my mother, and that even the most evil people were at some point my errant siblings. That immediately takes a certain edge off the anger.
COOL HEROISM - RESPONSE TO OUR CRISIS OF VIOLENCE
The second step is to realize that we too have the potential to be demonic. Given certain conditions and confusions and insecurities and fears, any of us could do bad things. It might start with an imperceptible change; we wouldn't think we were being bad - just a little naughty here and there. Pretty soon we would take it too far and be really bad. People can become deluded like that.
Third, we develop real sympathy for the people who are doing harm, because if they bomb people, if they pollute, if they poison the food chain, they will have the bad karma of having banned so many people.
By taking these three steps - finding one's relation to all beings, acknowledging the evil potential in one-self, feeling sympathy for the evil person - one gets the strength and energy to be an activist and to try, by voting and organizing, to stop harm caused by others. This is cool heroism: developing a tolerant, deliberate, and wise energy.
People are afraid that if they let go of their anger and righteousness and wrath, and look at their own feelings - and even see the good in a bad person - they're going to lose the energy they need to do something about the problem. But actually you get more strength and energy by operating from a place of love and concern. You can be just as tough, but more effectively tough. It's like a martial art.
ROBERT A.F. THURMAN is the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, and co-founder and President of Tibet House US. He writes and lectures frequently on Buddhism, Asian history, and critical philosophy. A personal friend of the Dalai Lama for over 40 years, his latest book is Why the Dalai Lama Matters: His Act of Truth as the Solution for China, Tibet and the World.
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