Cultivating and spreading loving-kindness sounds so sweet and wholesome. When you look at the ads in spiritual publications, you see smiling faces and promises about how to achieve happiness and be more loving and kind. But how many times do you see the word resentment?
A great trap of spiritual practice is the failure to confront negativity. It is satisfying to talk about being good, but the most fertile ground for spiritual practice lies in the boundary between right thought, speech and action, and wrong thought, speech and action. This is where the veneer of virtue breaks down. Rather than always trying to be good, it is better to go directly to what sets us off, so we can apply spiritual principles the moment resentment and annoyance arise.
The Buddha taught that goodness is natural, that we are not born bad or sinful. Therefore goodness does not need to be cultivated. But family and social conditioning have covered our essential purity. In Buddhism, spiritual practice is about removing the clouds that hide our essential enlightenment so our innate virtue can shine through. This cloud cover is often resentment. But how can we remove resentment if we are unaware of the extent to which it controls us? We need to look into what makes us vulnerable to anger.
Each time we are offended, misunderstood, ignored or put upon, we have the opportunity to see how tightly we grasp our views, opinions and our whole sense of who we are. We can see how, when solid self-concept is threatened, we shut down or lash out, get defensive or find some target to blame for our discomfort. By simply seeing all this more clearly, we have already opened the cage door of resentment.
The point of this slogan is to stop avoiding the issue of resentment, and instead, try to understand how it arises in our bodies and minds. By doing so, we can fully experience how we cling to a solid reactive self even when doing so doesn’t help. Resentment brings physical tension. The moment we notice the painful tightening and constriction that comes when we close down is the same moment in which we can interrupt and undermine resentment’s destructive process. We can catch ourselves in the act of grasping resentment before it gets a grip on us. When we do this, we soften a reaction that seems so solid, and expose it as a mistake in our spiritual practice. Once we recognize our own small-mindedness and defensiveness we can let the resentment go. When we own our part, resentment has nothing to push up against. Instead, it dissolves into thin air.
Suggested practice: As an object of contemplation, choose one thing that provokes your resentment and notice the cascade of sensations it triggers. Let your reaction relax and then bring up the same thing once again. What are you clinging to? What are you afraid of losing? What insights arise when the haze of resentment is less thick?
This column is a long series of short essays exploring the meaning of the Lojong Slogans. It is inspired by the work of Judy Lief.
Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information, she can be reached at 250-428-3390.