From 1981: Public and Private Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:
That evening Lama Yeshe led a puja at Tara House. Two days later he gave a weekend course to eighty people on Nagarjuna’s Letter to a King. This was a letter written by one of Buddhism’s most highly realized scholar-practitioners to a king in India nearly 2,000 years ago. During the teaching Scott Brusso picked random questions from the audience out of a basket. “While he was answering one question, I was picking out the next,” said Scott. “I read it then decided it wasn’t very good. So I put it back and went to choose another. This was all quite invisible to everyone else and done below the lip of the basket. But Lama stopped in mid-sentence, turned to me and said, ‘Don’t discriminate! Give it to me now—that one!’”
From Lama Yeshe’s teachings on Nagarjuna’s Letter to a King in Melbourne, 1981:
Nagarjuna explains how we control our anger by actualizing the paramita (perfection) of patience. He also says how it is very important in the first place that we not open up the door of any situation that may lead to anger. Why? Because the minute that we generate anger energy, its characteristic is to react again and again and again, thereby leading us into a miserable life. Simple, isn’t it?! So, on the other hand, Nagarjuna quotes Shakyamuni Buddha himself, who said in the sutras that if one abandons anger, there’s no need to worry about entering any situation; there is no need to worry about having a miserable life. Shakyamuni promised, and Nagarjuna quotes from Shakyamuni’s teaching. That’s interesting for me. At this particular place Nagarjuna says, “Shakyamuni says that if you don’t have anger, you don’t have to worry about entering any miserable life situation during this life or your next several lifetimes.” Interesting, isn’t it? I feel that this is really very important. Anger is the worst karma to have. Not only does it destroy your good-quality peaceful joyful life right now, but it also destroys your good quality next life as well. There is a reason that we are born in an unpleasant place, isn’t there? Due to causation, the mental energy of anger irritates and results in our physical situation, our physical bodies. Buddhists believe that everything has a reason, that everything has a history and an evolution.
So for us it is very important to control our anger as much as possible. Anger is our worst enemy, you know, our worst enemy. I think that anger destroys all the good qualities of our human dignity. For this reason, it is very important to control it. For example, one moment of anger can destroy a good friendship of twenty or thirty years, a long-time relationship in which the friends shared everything. Anger can destroy this in just a moment. The angry mind has no appreciation for any of this. Can you imagine? It’s unbelievable, but even the shortest moment of anger can destroy the collected energy of twenty or thirty years of friendship and lead to misery. All these things are part of human experience, aren’t they? Therefore, since we like to be happy, Buddhism places much emphasis on the importance of controlling anger, so we can be happy. By controlling our anger we’ll receive only a human rebirth and we’ll go from happiness to happiness, from bliss to bliss. I think this is very sensible understanding.
Patience, on the other hand, is the opposite of anger. To be patient is to not be irritated or angry. But in order to be patient, one must first understand the anger situation. In one of Shantideva’s verses, he writes, “If somebody beats me and punches me and then I become angry and punch him back…” He says that this is nonsense. “By reacting with anger, does the pain of the punch you already received disappear? Or not?” Shantideva sort of scientifically analyzes the situation. Maybe your nose is already broken. By reacting in anger, your nose doesn’t get fixed, does it?! In just this way you can analyze all the details of the situation. And because of this kind of analysis, Buddhist anger control is unique.
Now I’ve been talking about control, controlling our anger. But is this the correct word? Sometimes I have a problem with language, with finding just the right word in English. Here, control does not mean you repress your anger. Control refers to a way to understand, a way to express.
In Buddhism, it is highly advised that we not manifest anger physically or verbally. Because by the time it manifests it is already super strong, super intense. So before we express our anger verbally or physically, somehow we need to stand up and control it. Somehow we need to digest or abandon the emotion of anger, through meditation, through analytical wisdom, through whatever method we can use.
Nagarjuna explains how to deal with situations in which strong emotions arise. Each human being has the aspect of a different element, which manifests as a way of thinking, a way of perceiving, a kind of mentality. There are three basic types. Our mind is like the surface on which we make a drawing. Sometimes the mind where we draw an object is like water, sometimes it is like earth, and sometimes it is like rock or stone. Okay. So when this kind of superstition or delusion arises in the mind, sometimes it’s like drawing on water, isn’t it? It arises suddenly, and then phew! It disappears almost immediately. Sometimes it’s like drawing in earth; the delusion only disappears slowly, slowly. But sometimes, the impression left on the mind is like a drawing on rock or on concrete. In that case, it seems to stay; it seems like it is always there, doesn’t it? In the instance of drawing on the water, that kind of mind is unstable. Therefore, whatever deluded minds or emotions arise—anger or whatever—as much as possible we should try to make this like drawing on water. Okay? This is what Nagarjuna said. But when the profound wisdom that touches reality arises in the mind, you should make this like drawing on stone. You should develop this kind of stability so that you can become liberated. That’s very important.