Who hasn’t had thoughts of revenge for wrongs done to us, real or perceived? Who hasn’t wanted their pound of flesh as punishment believing it will “settle the score.” Even rolling the word ‘revenge’ around in one’s mind, or saying it out loud sounds harsh. It sounds like the meaning itself, especially when said slowly, said deliberately. Delicious revenge.
But is it? Is there a price to pay? The human brain is not good at focusing on more than one subject at a time. Let’s say I’m washing my new car and thinking about a birthday gift for a friend. I see a scratch on my new car, and bam, I stop thinking about the gift and focus on how that scratch got there. Was it my neighbor’s kids while they were playing? Was it a shopping cart in the parking lot? The longer I focus on it the more entrenched my emotions get. I want satisfaction of knowing who or what to blame. Of course, it is rarely my own doing…
Revenge isn’t much different in the end. We change a focus by plotting and planning revenge. We may never carry it out, but it takes over and becomes our focus that is hard to let go. The longer we hang onto it, the more power it gains. The upshot is, even if we don’t carry out the revenge, the thinking of it may give pleasure in the short term, but what is the price we pay for that bit of pleasure?
There is an old Buddhist story along those lines of hanging onto a thought that consumes us. There was a senior monk and a junior monk traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a young woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side. The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows not to touch a woman. Then, without a word, the older monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and then continued on his journey.
The younger monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. After rejoining his companion, he was speechless, and an hour passed without a word between them. Two more hours passed, then three. Finally the younger monk could contain himself no longer and blurted out “As monks, we are not permitted to touch a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”
The older monk looked at him and replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”
Four hours long the young monk thought of nothing but how to confront the older monk. Four hours he threw away. He didn’t enjoy the walk, or converse with the older monk to gain knowledge, or just share companionable silence on their trip. He paid the price of all the many gifts he could have had but instead focused on something that gave him anger, doubt and fine honing his skills finding faults in others. He held onto, was attached to, and in a perverse way, enjoyed the pleasure of this attachment of “being right” and the older monk “being wrong.” Sound familiar?
What then is the second grave dug for when one sets out on a path of revenge? It could have many meanings, but for most of us, what we kill and bury are the precious moments of the life we are living at this moment. We squander them by giving into our egoistic greed, anger and ignorance. We kill opportunities of living the way we say we want to live by dwelling on, sometimes for years, a way of thinking that generates dukkha. Once liberated from the dukkha we create ourselves, the path of action becomes clear – just as the senior monk realized all he was doing was helping a person cross the river and nothing more. We do our best when our mind is clear and focused, and then move on.
Digging two graves is too much work. Living with wisdom and compassion is why we come to the Shin Buddhist path to learn its teachings and, with time, live by them.
Namo Amida Buddha
Namo Amida Buddha
Namo Amida Buddha