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A Thanksgiving Vow

It is that time of year again in the United States, when our thoughts turn toward our lives
in a more general way. We try, amidst the struggles of our daily routines and activities, to
see a bigger picture inclusive of those around us, and also our circumstances in life.

With all manner of disasters from earthquakes and tsunamis to economic crashes and
housing and so on, it can be difficult to focus in on our immediate associations, relatives,
and family. As a Buddhist, I cannot allow myself to differentiate between earthquakes
across the world, and the relationships I have in my immediate surroundings. I cannot
allow it, but that does not mean it does not occur. I am not always proficient at following
my own imperatives…

It is in this spirit that I wish to make, or rather to re-affirm, an ongoing vow of effort and
vigilance. This year, as it closes, I want to make this vow again to prepare for the renewal
and start of the New Year. So, this could also be a new year’s resolution. I wish to
dedicate this resolution to all of you, and to my brother John, sister Diane, dear friend
Roy, and Colleen. I especially hope my father will take time to read this.

My resolution is about anger. I do not think anger can exist without fear. The question
always is from where or whence the fear? Rather than to psychoanalyze this endless
debate, I will deal straight on with anger.

Anger comes fast; like a kick to the liver, the whole body cascades waves of anger. So
fast is the manifestation of this emotion that often we sit as spectators in a crashing car as
words spit from our mouths and limbs fly in all direction. This is our monkey mind at its
most furious; jumping from limb to limb, free of reason or restraint. We, that is the “we”
that knows better, seem helpless to catch or even refrain this rampant emotion. Our
societies are globally relinquishing themselves to this chaos. Even worse, it is constantly
nurtured in video and computer games, movies and television. It has become a romantic,
almost fashionable state of being!

For myself the story starts at about age 13. That is when I first realized that my father, a
man for whom my entire childhood, like all young boys, was a minute-by-minute attempt
to gain favor, approval, and identity queues from; was actually training me in anger. For
my father, one of 22 children, competing daily for everything, I was revenge. I, the rival
male in his family, would be required to survive every torture of body and mind he could
invent for the benefit of his entertainment and the satiation of his anger and contempt for
“maleness”, in his life. Without delving into specifics, I cannot imagine that my life is
singular in this respect. Certainly there are varying degrees. When I realized what was
happening, I had already formulated myriad defense mechanisms. It was not until much
later that, although I consciously, very consciously, determined not to behave in any way
like my father, my mechanisms were destined to be identical with the same anger disease.
Depression followed, relationships constantly falling apart; Love, an elusive and foggy
desire. Somehow, I kept at it. Over the years I saw improvement in myself. But all it
would take was a moment of realization in an awkward moment at work, or in a
conversation, and the flood of doubt and self-deprecation would absolutely destroy any
value I held for myself.

It was not until after my sister’s death, I was age 30, that I came to understand that this
sticky, unshakable, and ugly disease was not just in me, nor was it something I caught
from my father, who in turn caught it from his, but that this condition was both something
universal, and a condition I must confront, eliminate, and replace within my own mind. I
had been trying to retrain this thing for years, but now I understood that anger retrained is
an illusion. It simply manifests in other ways, like manipulation, backstabbing,
humiliation, annihilation, war, insult, and so on. No, anger must be wiped away,
somehow sated, appeased, and lulled into a state of non-being. But how?

I have been a practicing Buddhist for over twenty years now. In my study of the Buddhist
teaching it became obvious to me early on that Buddhism is a science of the mind.
Buddhist don not believe in external influence, like gods or circumstances, or “others”
affecting our lives. Rather, the Buddhist view is that everything we experience is first
created within our own life, through our minds. And so this study renders the example of
the “monkey mind” I used earlier. The goal is to catch the monkey before it jumps. Catch
the anger, the bad thought, the negative reference, the sense of violation, before it sets off
into its unstoppable explosion. Sounds easy, but it is far from. However, just knowing
that is incredibly empowering. Just being aware that this is possible makes it so. I cannot
share with you the vast number of times when I sensed, felt, saw coming a burst of stupid
behavior that I already knew I would regret later, and fully conscious of this I remained
in my passenger seat as the rage spit venom from my mouth. Oh, I might catch it enough
to alter the words just enough to soften the sting, but the intent was intact.

So here it is, my vow, my renewed vigilance, and my quest. I am redoubling, re-tripling,


re-whatever-ing my efforts to trap that monster “anger”, and appease it, simply give it no
motive or reason to rise. The more I do this, the more I affect my life, the life of those
around me, and by natural progression, the global community. This is how we change the
world my friends. It may be a small cause in the universe, but it is a cause non-the less.

I hope this Thanksgiving story gives you at least hope, cause for reflection, or just a
warm feeling, and at best the motivation, the courage, the determination to be happy.

Warmest regards,

Namumyohorengekyo, Namumyohorengekyo, Namumyohorengekyo

Sylvain