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Daily Connect: Can You Get Enlightened and Still Be A Big Old Grouch? The Answer is NO
Submitted by Ethan Nichtern on Wed, 5/4/2011, 2:37pm
Some people seem to just be grumpy, angry, mean ole crankypants. Some people who meditate on compassion also seem to be in a consistently bad mood. Even some Buddhist teachers just seem to have dour demeanors as their default factory setting, and seem prone to fits of anger and rage over minor details going awry.
Over a great conversation with meditation teacher Kenneth Folk and his wife last night, we wondered together if it is possible to attain realization, clarify all confusion, and get "enlightened" while still somehow being a grouch worthy of an Oscar. A few Buddhist teachers seem to think it is. Kenneth is a pretty accomplished practitioner, so he seemed a good person to ask.
We seemed to generally agree that the evolution of our personal practices had made us nicer, more considerate, and less likely to be angry as a general truth. Personally, it has gotten much harder to make me "lose my shit" in frustration, so to speak. Which is interesting, because the more leadership responsibilities I get, the more seems to go wrong. I am hoping to go even further down this path of having more and more go wrong and losing my shit less and less often. I'll let you know how it goes.
On the one hand, there's the truth that awakening is not about having certain emotions and losing others. Awakening is a fully stabilized way of meeting whatever arises, no matter what our mind or the world throws at us. But sometimes people take this theory as a bypass, to justify the fact that they are really easily perturbed and are holding onto a rather narrow comfort zone. The truth is that 99% of anger and frustration are not naturally occurring mind-states. Rather, 99% of our bad mood is produced by fixation on our mind, and on trying to make other sentient beings into our personal marionettes.
At the same time, the tradition is full of stories of teachers and masters who got angry, sometimes even violently so. It is also full of stories of teachers who seemed allergic to smiling or saying kind words about others. However, these stories almost always purport that this was not necessarily the master's true personality, just a skillful way of working with students who were committed to him or her and needed to be pushed to let go of their own fixations more.
In general, I would challenge and push back against the notion that freedom from fixation doesn't mean you get nicer and smile more. I think it can and should mean just that. A face covered with a permanent scowl is not the face of the awakened state of mind.
If you are grumpy, you are probably either holding onto or rejecting something that is happening in your mind or heart. And if you are holding on, that fixation is not enlightenment. If you're a grouch, you aren't close to being a Buddha. Just my two cents.
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