This Buddhist story was read to me last week by my psychologist as we were talking about anger and insults, and how best to understand it so we don’t take on other people’s blackness – and to help me understand my own anger. It’s funny how life often brings us our lessons when we really need them.
The Story of the Angry Young Man
One day, the Buddha and a large following of monks and nuns were passing through a village. The Buddha chose a large shade tree to sit beneath so the group could rest awhile out of the heat. He often chose times like these to teach, and so he began to speak. Soon, villagers heard about the visiting teacher and many gathered around to hear him.
One surly young man stood to the side, watching, as the crowd grew larger and larger. To him, it seemed that there were too many people traveling from the city to his village, and each had something to sell or teach. Impatient with the bulging crowd of monks and villagers, he shouted at the Buddha, “Go away! You just want to take advantage of us! You teachers come here to say a few pretty words and then ask for food and money!”
But the Buddha was unruffled by these insults. He remained calm, exuding a feeling of loving-kindness. He politely requested that the man come forward. Then he asked, “Young sir, if you purchased a lovely gift for someone, but that person did not accept the gift, to whom does the gift then belong?”
The odd question took the young man by surprise. “I guess the gift would still be mine because I was the one who bought it.”
“Exactly so,” replied the Buddha. “Now, you have just cursed me and been angry with me. But if I do not accept your curses, if I do not get insulted and angry in return, these curses will fall back upon you—the same as the gift returning to its owner.”
The young man clasped his hands together and slowly bowed to the Buddha. It was an acknowledgement that a valuable lesson had been learned. And so the Buddha concluded for all to hear, “As a mirror reflects an object, as a still lake reflects the sky: take care that what you speak or act is for good. For goodness will always cast back goodness and harm will always cast back harm.”
– From Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents (Condra Enterprises, 2005).
You can have your insults and accusations back, I don’t accept them. You tell me you used to blame yourself for what happened to Jessie, but you don’t anymore because she was with me – it’s my fault and I’m an unfit mother. It’s so easy to lay blame and judge when you’ve chosen not to be around. The one time I did call you needing help years ago, you got your girlfriend to call back saying I had the wrong number. Two days later legal aid called saying you wanted contact – it turned out all you wanted was paternity testing done, but I’m still waitng for the test! You can have your hurtful, spiteful, nasty insults back.
Your audacity to continue contacting me, and feeling of entitlement angers me. But that is something I need to work on. The philosophy of this story helps me understand that all your hatred belongs to you, as mine does me.