The Dhammapada, verses three & four: Retaliation does not lead to peace

The second pair of verses in this chapter have only one story associated with them: the story of Tissa, the stubborn monk.

3. Akkocchi maṁ avadhi maṁ

Ajini maṁ ahāsi me

Ye taṁ upanayhanti

Veraṁ tesaṁ na sammati.

‘”He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,” in those who harbor such thoughts hatred is not appeased.”

4. Akkocchi maṁ avadhi maṁ

Ajini maṁ ahāsi me

Ye taṁ na upanayhanti

Veraṁ tesū pasammati.

‘”He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,” in those who do not harbor such thoughts hatred is appeased.’

Like the first two verses, these are pretty much self-explanatory. I can definitely say that holding on to negative feelings like anger has never helped me to move on from whatever made me feel that way in the first place. Since I’m a person who hates conflict, getting closure on things that frustrate me has always been difficult. When I was young, I tried to work out negative emotions by complaining to friends and family — what most people call “venting” — but looking back, it rarely helped me actually resolve anything. After a while, what I ended up with was a.) a lot of people who were sick of my whining, and b.) a ton of resentment, bitterness, and toxic feelings way deep down.

A long time ago, I read about a very interesting study on this exact topic. In order to find out what the effects were of different ways of coping with anger, a group of volunteers was subjected to something that made them angry (I don’t remember if the scientists just used insults, or had something more elaborate in place.) After that, they were divided into two groups. Group A was told to sit quietly and try to relax for something like ten minutes. The people in group B, on the other hand, were each given pillows and told to vent their anger by punching or beating on them.

Both groups were then asked to complete a test which consisted of word puzzles. Each word had letters omitted, like this: D _ _ D. When the volunteers filled in the blanks, the group who had sat quietly wrote, for example, “DEED.”, while the group who “vented” their anger wrote “DEAD.” It went on like this: group A’s “MOTHER” for group B’s “MURDER.” “KILT” vs. “KILL.” “SCAB” vs. “STAB.” So the results of the study suggested that venting or blowing off steam doesn’t get rid of anger, it only reinforces it. The same probably goes for all negative emotions. I love it when the Dhamma is borne out by science.

This idea is illustrated in a funny way by the story of Tissa:

‘The Venerable Tissa, proud of being a cousin of the Buddha, did not pay due respect to the senior monks. When they resented his improper conduct, he took offense and, threatening them, went up to the Buddha and made a complaint. The Buddha, who understood the [situation,] advised him to apologize, but the Venerable Tissa was obstinate. The Buddha then related a story to show that Tissa had done likewise in a previous birth. Later, the Venerable Tissa was compelled to seek pardon from the senior monks.”

There are some details missing that I’d like to add here, just for context:

1. Tissa waited to become a monk until he was very old.

2. The “senior monks” in question were probably actually younger than Tissa. Seniority among monks is determined by how long you’ve been a monk, not by how old you are. That might explain why Tissa was so offended by their criticism.

3. Tissa’s reaction was so extreme that when he went to complain to the Buddha, He saw Tissa and said, “Tissa, how is it that you come to me sad and sorrowful, with tears in your eyes, weeping?” We’re talking about an elderly man throwing a tantrum like a small child.

Even though the Buddha Himself told Tissa twice to apologize, Tissa’s only response was, “But they abused me, Reverend Sir. I will not ask their pardon.” I can almost see him making a pouty little face and harumphing to himself, his cheeks all red from bawling his eyes out.

Tissa is an extreme example, but to some extent this is what we all do. Whenever we have an argument with someone, there’s always a small part of us that doesn’t want to admit we’re wrong. We try to justify it to ourselves by nurturing the very thoughts that the Buddha tells us to abandon. We need to learn to let go, not only for the sake of making peace with others, but because hatred is a poison, and it will eat away at you.

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