Wisdom to Soften our Hearts

Feel the Burn–Burning Up the Seeds of Aggression

“In her book, Practicing Peace in Times of War, Pema Chodron asks the question, Why is it that we all want a peaceful existence, yet our actions or reactions produce just the opposite. We seek peace and happiness by going to war. This can occur personally with those close to us. Or it can happen in the world theater with country against country.

We want to be compassionate and loving to those around us, but many times, we react in anger and with judgmental behavior. Our small self feels injured or betrayed, and we strike back, in a fashion we are accustomed to. The script is written for us according to our karma. The end result of our negative reactions is more suffering, and even more karma. This aggressive human tendency to react in anger may be the root of all wars and suffering.

Pema Chodron tells us the antidote to anger is patience. When a rude driver yells out his window at you, there is a moment when you have the choice how to react. These moments require patience combined with compassion. fearlessness, and a great deal of energy. She advises us to go cold turkey, watch the anger, don’t suppress it, but also don’t react to it. Pema asked her teacher Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist Master, why this moment was so uncomfortable if we don’t give into anger. He said it was the burn, burning up seeds of aggressive behavior. We are burning the seeds of negative karma and planting the seeds of peacefulness.

We need to learn to soften our hearts. In order to end war, both globally and personally, we must be willing let go of the doctrine of being right and soften the rigidity of our heart, to find solutions that benefit both sides of the conflict. This is why the peace and reconciliation movements were so powerful for South Africa and Ireland.

Pema counsels that we have endless opportunities to dissolve the seeds of war where they originated in the hearts and minds of individuals like you and me. The Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King was an example. It was based on love, love that excluded no one and, it brought great changes in this country’s culture.

We find ourselves again in a period of great change. We can help birth positive change by allowing ourselves to think compassionately, not only of those who have suffered great loss, but also those who are engulfed in hatred, revenge or divisive behavior. This is true Bodhisattva action, caring for all sentient beings. May all Beings Be Happy! ”

– This message is from Jamey and Darlene Potter at New Renaissance Bookstore in Portland Oregon



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  2. As a soldier and a student of Pema, I found that it was difficult to maintain mindfullness and compassion in Afghanistan. It would take incredible bravery to face my emotions, allow myself to feel natural human compassion for my enemy(when I am expected to shoot him) and lower the cocoon of fantasy I wove for myself in theatre, 100% of the time. Especially after I was wounded.
    It becomes even more difficult to do these things when the pervasive culture of the army is to substitute fear and sadness with anger, harden the heart to the enemy and hang on (avoid groundlessness) to the idea that we are doing the right thing rather than question our hearts. The biggest fears I have are that 1) the only truth a human may find in combat is that in death, we are all equal. 2) we must all come to the conclusion that there is no value in war.
    I, however, chose to cling to the belief that a warrior may acheive what the Japanese call satori through the sword, even in our liberal secular age. Maybe this is what is at the heart of all those humans who follow the path of the soldier/spirtual warrior. I will suffer for my expectation. Those who are strongly against war, please try to have compassion for us soldiers too. We are also on a quest for turth, whether we know it or not. Remember that all life on this planet struggles for survival, conflict is enevitable and it is the difficult people who may teach us the most about ourselves.

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