Whenever I meet lama in town at night, lama always told me not to carry a knife and to take it home. But I feel safer with a weapon. It gives me a feeling of strength. Please advise me more.

Rigzin, Thimphu      

YOUTH IN FOCUS: Well, Rigzin, when you carry a weapon you raise the level of aggression. You may not plan to use your knife but only want to carry it for protection. But when other guys see your weapon they will feel threatened and will also pull out a knife. Anger levels will rise and, if some guys have used alcohol or taken drugs like N10, then a very simple incident can quickly escalate into a fight where people suffer life-threatening injuries.

Actually, many guys feel that it is cool or tough to carry a weapon. In reality, the opposite is true. It is a sign of weakness. Fighting and, for that matter, habitually taking drugs and alcohol are symbols of fear. Someone hurts us and we need to escape the mental pain. We just can’t take it. It is like someone firing an arrow at us. A person who fights is similar to a guy who fires an arrow back, whereas someone who takes drugs or alcohol is like a person who hides behind a rock. Both are clear statements that we have been hurt and can’t take the pain. We need to escape. Yet, these responses don’t solve the problem.

You fire an arrow back. You hit the target, and so for a time you feel safe. Then, a few days later another guy fires another verbal-arrow. His words hurt and you again retaliate. This goes on forever. There are too many guys out there firing arrows. Even if we fight every night, the problem will not be solved. It is the same with drugs and alcohol. They protect us from mental pain, but only for as long as the effect of the drug or alcohol lasts. Once the affect wears off, we again get hurt and so need to drink or take drugs. It is a never ending cycle. Like fighting, taking drugs and alcohol are not a solution to life’s problems. Why? Because the problem is not outside, but inside our own hearts and minds.

Instead of fighting or taking drugs every time we feel hurt, why not learn to dissolve the target (us). And, the best way to do that is to let the verbal-arrows hit us and not react. To do this, we just observe the physical sensation.  When we are hurt by people’s words we say that we ‘feel disturbed’, ‘feel hurt’ or ‘feel angry’. Where do we feel these sensations? Is it in the chest or in the head? Find the place and observe the sensation. Without judgement, just watch it. It is not easy, but over time we can learn to observe rather than react. Learning a basic meditation technique will help.

Later when our minds’ are calm, we can examine the reasons behind the feeling of hurt. We can consider why certain words hurt us. If they are true, then openly admit it. Having faults doesn’t make us bad, but human. If the accusation is wrong, then let it go. Ultimately, it is just someone’s opinion. In this way, instead of attacking or hiding from the person who criticises us, we learn to dissolve the target (us).

It takes real courage not to run away from a feeling of mental pain. Fighting and taking drugs are common responses. They are escapes – easy options. Only a genuine warrior has the strength not to run from the pain, but to instead face it. To repeat, we let the pain penetrate to the heart and just observe the physical sensation without reacting.  We don’t run away. Later, we reflect on why the words hurt. Instead of waging an outer war, we embark on an inner journey of discovery.

If we can do this, the verbal-arrows will slowly burn away the target. When this happens, we no longer have to protect ourselves. In fact there is nothing to protect. The target has gone.  Our minds are like a wide-open sky, and nothing can hurt the sky, right? Millions of people can fire arrows at the sky, but it is not damaged. It is undisturbed. If we can learn to do this, we become a real warrior – humble, kind-hearted, disciplined and absolutely and totally fearless. We are the coolest guy or gal in town. This is true strength.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes.

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