Improving Our Behavior with the Help of the Guru - Part 3

Part 3 of 7 - Continuing Bodhinatha's first Guru Purnima class on the role of the guru, Bodhinatha says that worship and meditation are important in spiritual life, but a significant part of it should also be focusing on the weakest areas and improving them, improving our behavior through self-reflection. Next we talk about understanding and controlling anger as an important part of ahimsa. There are many rungs on the ladder of anger, from very subtle to the most significant, gross forms of anger.

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Questions? Bodhinatha is the successor of "Gurudeva," Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. If you have questions on subjects about spiritual life you will find answers in Gurudeva's books and teachings. Learn about ways to study these teachings by visiting The Master Course site or writing to mastercourse@hindu.org.

Unedited Transcript:

OK, that is pretty good!

The idea is that no one would think of making spiritual progress. Sometimes we just think about all the wonderful, uplifting parts of spiritual life, meditations and being in blissful states, going to the temple and experiencing the Deity and so forth. But, an important part of making spiritual progress is to improve our weak areas. Just like a dancer. Now, how does a dancer become a better dancer? By focusing on the weakest areas and improving them.

So, sometimes it is hard to want to do that when it comes to ourself. It is hard to want to look at our weakest areas but it is important. This exercise of using the yamas and niyamas is a simple way of improving our behavior through self-reflection. Meaning, we don't have to have anyone else's help. We can do it ourselves, it is quite useful.

Moving on, we are still in Ahimsa. We are moving on to a related topic, which is anger.

Non-injury and anger are closely related. There is a tendency to respond to the challenging situations by becoming upset, angry and finally harming others with our fists or our words. Therefore, understanding and controlling anger is an important part of practicing ahimsa.

Here is a story to illustrate anger. This really happened right here, not in this room but out back.

The monastery is a very controlled spiritual environment. So, the first hand experience of anger is rare. Where am I going to find an example of anger? However, a few years ago there was a great opportunity for first hand observation which was when two carpenters were building a house next door to the monastery. One of the carpenters was more prone to anger than the other. Every few minutes when something didn't work right, he would start loudly swearing at length. This really happened. Then, about once a week there would be a huge argument and he would stomp off the job and drive away, with his tires squealing in defiance. It was definitely a very interesting study in anger and human nature.

Gurudeva in 'Living with Siva' makes reference to the eight forms of anger from the book, 'Angry All the Time'. These are called the eight rungs on the ladder of violence. So that is the sheet we are passing out to everyone. I will read that.

Step 1: Sneaky anger: The goal of sneaky anger is to totally frustrate somebody. For example, regularly forget what someone wants you to do. You can be angry without even having to admit to the person you are mad at him or her. This, of course, is the most subtle form of anger and may be hard for the other person to even realize that you are angry at them, being so subtle at it. They ask you to do something and you always forget or you purposely do it and leave out something. You are purposely not fulfilling things in a correct way because you are angry at the person. It is called sneaky anger.

Step 2, The cold shoulder: "I am mad at you and I am not going to talk about it. So there! That will show you." That is more obvious. "No way are we going to discuss things, I am just mad." Cold shoulder.

Step 3, Blaming and shaming: Angry people often blame others for their problems. It takes the form of saying that, "There is something wrong with you. I know it, I am going to say it. I want you to feel bad because I am angry with you."

Sometimes that happens from parents to children. The children just frustrate the parents so much, they blame and shame just out of frustration, not really on any factual basis, just getting angry.

Step 4, Swearing, screaming and yelling: The previous step of blaming and shaming was verbal but it was controlled. This step involves losing control over our speech. This is where we are starting to lose control, which is an important part of serious anger because the more angry you get, the more control you lose over yourself.

Step 5, Demands and threats: This is again verbal and involves demanding that someone behaves as you want or threatening you they will do something pretty drastic if you don't. Of course, the most drastic thing is, "I will kill myself. If you don't do this, I will kill myself."

People actually get in that state. I get emails occasionally saying the very same thing. "He threatened to kill himself or she threatened to kill herself. She got so angry."

It is amazing. It is a state of mind that everyone can go through. No one is immune from it and everyone experiences pretty much the same thing. They lose control.

Step 6, Chasing and holding: This is the first step that involves physical contact, that consists of restraining someone against their will.

Step 7, Partially controlled violence: This is physically striking someone but without losing control.

Step 8, Blind rage: This is physically striking but with total loss of control and sometimes memory too. You don't really remember what you did clearly. You lost so much control that you lose it so.

Of course, we are not thinking that any of us are down here in Step 8, 7, 6 or even 5. But the top four are something that people who come to Gurudeva do occasionally or regularly experience, depending on their nature. People are very different when it comes to anger. Some people just never anger and other people are always angry to some degree, even though they are interested in spiritual life.

So the idea here is that, one of the stages can easily degrade into the next.