Earlier this week I saw the movie Milarepa for the first time. Blinded by her ignorance of karma, Milarepa’s mother seeks revenge on her dead husband’s family who strip her of her wealth leaving her destitute. She doesn’t realize that the dramatic downturn in her life is the ripening of her past negative actions. She blames her husband’s family and the villagers and ends up isolated and obsessed with revenge.
In his commentary on Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche explained the importance of generating patience to those who harm us. Our enemies are precious like treasures because they give us an opportunity to practice patience and accumulate virtue. All our misfortunes are due to our own previous misdeeds, so there’s no point in getting angry at others. Getting angry doesn’t make things better. Instead of seeing her situation as an opportunity for spiritual growth, unfortunately, Milarepa’s mother demands that he destroy the village using sorcery. As a result of the brother-in-laws selfishness, the mother suffered, because she suffered, all those around her suffered until there was no peace.
Milarepa’s sorcery teacher thinks that the village deserves to be punished, he feels that the action is justified and encourages Milarepa to do it. But after he succeeds, Milarepa is overcome with remorse and realizes that revenge only makes things worse. The sorcery teacher admits that Milarepa faces dire negative consequences and suggests that Milarepa seek a teacher who can help him purify himself and attain Buddahood. The teacher himself and his son, however, both choose to continue practicing sorcery even though they have some understanding of karma. Maybe the point is that so few people have the courage to renounce this life as Milarepa did even when they know they’ll suffer greatly in the future. The story is sort of ironic because if Milarepa’s mother hadn’t urged him to commit murder, he probably would have learned a trade, gotten a job and had a family — he might never have attained Enlightenment and inspired so many to follow in his footsteps.
We can all relate to a certain extent with the mother’s burning desire for revenge — that awful churning feeling that refuses to go away, the relentless cries for recognition, the demands for an apology, the wish see the enemy exposed and punished. Once such a strong negative emotion develops, it is very difficult to bring under control. Even if a negative experience happened in the past, we often still find it impossible to forget. Instead a trivial incident can sometimes get worse and worse as the years go by like a festering sore.
So it’s very important to stop negative thoughts the minute they arise — the instant someone starts to get a little annoying, or we criticize someone even a tiny bit. Try to understand the person and the karma that brings you together. Above all think about emptiness, as Lama Zopa Rinpoche always says, “May I who am empty from my one side, Free all sentient beings who are empty from their own side, By myself alone”.