June 20, 2007

Passion and Aggression

Aggression is bad. We get that, no worries. “Anger, fear, aggression, the Dark Side are they,”—Yoda

So what about passion? Sounds risky to me. Passion can lead us willy-nilly chasing pleasure. It can inspire attachment, envy, and clinging. It can inspire blindness to anything which contradicts our passion, as in the case of passionate beliefs, or hatred for anything which threatens the object of our passion, as in the case of jealousy or covetousness.

Yet passion has an eagerness to it, an energy, which can grant us the power and motivation to carry out difficult tasks, if it is directed truly. It can bring great joy and joy to others. Half of compassion is passion. Compassion is not only “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress” but also “a desire to alleviate it.” (Miriam-Webster Online)

Wait a minute – desire? I thought desire was bad, too?

“But according to the view of vajrayana Buddhism, desire is also the working basis of compassion. Desire’s very eagerness to please carries intelligence, which when liberated from self-centered preoccupations, resonates with the emotional experience of others. Desire becomes empathy as we develop our capacity to recognize the different styles of suffering…

"In order to work with our self-centered desire, we train in the foundational vehicle, the hinayana, in which we learn self-restraint, renunciation and simplicity. However, after disciplining ourselves in this way, we retain a residue of aggression: we have rejected too much of the intelligence of desire, and have cut ourselves off from the suffering of others.

"In the broad vehicle, the mahayana, aggression is seen as the strongest obstacle to the practice of compassion, we cannot benefit beings if we are angry toward them or toward their suffering. With mahayana training, aggression is transformed into patience and care, and we are able to begin to relieve the suffering we encounter. But while the mahayana acknowledges the close relationship between desire and compassion, there is the danger that desire can lead to ‘idiot compassion,’ a kind of compassion tainted by our own personal agendas.

"So having completed the training of the first two vehicles, we discover a residue of blindness or obliviousness which inhibits our further development. In avoiding painful emotions, difficult life passages and underlying habitual patterns, we have become enamored with the idealism of our compassion.

"When we continue our training in the ‘diamond vehicle,’ the vajrayana, we address directly this oblivious quality. Vajrayana training and practice give us immediate proximity to all aspects of our experience, removing the blinders which remained from the previous practices.

"This time the residue that remains is passion. However, it is now said that passion need not be an obstacle to spiritual growth. By this time, it has been refined through spiritual training and represents the warm heart combined with the intensity of vajrayana experience and practice.” – “Pure Passion”, Judith Simmer-Brown, Shambhala Sun, July 1999.

So when we were screaming like idiots at the soccer match on Monday, was that aggression or passion? The hallmarks of aggression are hostility, an intent to injure, unprovoked attacks, attempts to dominate, and actions rooted in frustration or anger. The hallmarks of passion are emotional, as opposed to reason, a strong desire, devotion, driving intensity, ardor, affection, enthusiasm, and zeal. Passion also has links to anger. It seems, anger is the key.

We lost that soccer game 6-3. It was hard fought and the win well deserved by the other team. Afterward, some questioned our screaming, chanting, flag waving behavior on the sidelines as not very Shambhalist, not very Buddhist. I think they were right to question because it brings our behavior into focus. We were aggressive or passionate? If we were passionate, was it born of anger or enthusiasm?

I noted a strong lack of anger, a kind of happy rueful contentment. No one seemed to mind that we lost. We all groaned as the other team scored and cheered as our team scored, but in then end I think everyone acknowledged the joy of playing. Yet, the Dhammapada warns us:

“The winner sows hatred

Because the looser suffers.

Let go of winning and loosing

And find joy.

There is no fire like passion,

No crime like hatred,

No sorrow like separation,

No sickness like hunger,

And no joy like the joy of freedom.”

-- Dhammapada, 15. Joy

Fire both warms and burns.


greenfrog said...

Today at lunch, Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche (Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior)counseled me this:

"...drala is energy beyond aggression." The only way to contact that energy is to experience a gentle state of being in yourself. ... To connect with the fundamental magic of reality, there has to be gentleness and openness in you already. Otherwise, there is no way to recognize the energy of nonaggression ... in the world.

p. 108

Can there be passion without aggression? I think so. Can there be real competition without aggression? I'm not as sure, but on the battlefield setting of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna insisted to Arjuna that it was possible: wholehearted action without attachment to results. It's something that I work on in my law practice.

Stuff said...

Kent W. said he played basketball with a bunch of visiting monks here in Lincoln once, and said they play really hard - they go all out to win.
But he also said that when something funny happened (one of them threw the ball quite hard and accidentally thumped another monk on the head), that they all fell to the floor laughing their heads off. He said he'd never seen anything like it.

Monica said...

That's pretty cool. I have seen film from the monestaries in Tibet, Nepal, and India and I have noticed the little boys, the youngest monks, still run around and chase each other and beat on each other just like American kids do.