Hostility toward others actually inflicts injury upon ourselves. Here is Nelson Mandela’s inspiring story about the moment when he was set free–and the author’s personal lesson about liberation from the prison of anger, given by her mother, a survivor of the Holocaust.
When Nelson Mandela was released after decades of political imprisonment, he described his walk past his prison guards into life as a free man. Upon seeing the guards, anger flared for a moment in his mind. At that moment, he made a choice. He realized that these people had imprisoned him for over twenty years and that becoming angry with them would simply delay his freedom further. He was not going to give the guards one more day of his life by becoming a prisoner of anger. Leaving prison behind, he walked into life ahead, a truly free man. This is the way to be wisely selfish. If we care for ourselves and want to be free, we will protect ourselves from the consuming flames of our anger.
When I was thirteen, I relied on angry outbursts to release the tension mounting within. One day, I came home from school fuming over an interaction with a teacher. Looking for a place to vent, I sought out my mother. I began raging about my day at school.
“I hate my teacher! I hate her!” I shouted. Until this moment, my mother had remained silent. Then, looking at me across the infinite expanse of the human heart, she spoke. “If you hate someone, it is your own life you destroy.” I was stopped. Her words, in a moment, disarmed me. My indignant world turned inside out. If hate were ever just, I knew no one who was more entitled to it than my mother. She had watched her life go up in Nazi smoke. Auschwitz. Just uttering this one word is enough to deliver me to unfathomable depths of human hatred and anguish. The Holocaust, a conflagration, destroyed a world. That world lived in my mother, and now she was giving me the golden elixir of her passage into darkness.
Many years later, I became involved in Buddhist practice and first heard about an unbroken lineage of teachers comprising a “living tradition.” The uninterrupted flow of realization from one human being to another via body, breath, and heart is what makes a teaching transmission “alive.” This was the secret power in my mother’s message. It was alive. She was passing on her living truth.