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In the Kakacupama Sutta, the Buddha says the following

"Monks, even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who let his heart get angered even at that would not be doing my bidding. Even then you should train yourselves: 'Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading these people with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.' That's how you should train yourselves."

I always believe in the value of 'healthy anger' as a way of defending yourself and protecting your boundaries. Many times, abusers will keep abusing you and escalate if you remain unaffected. They see your lack of retaliation as a sign of weakness, or a signal to escalate the abuse. The only thing they respond to is consequence. Yet this teaching seems to imply that you should remain unaffected 'even if bandits were to carve you up savagely'.

Shouldn't I demonstrate some aggression or anger to make the abuser back off, rather than allowing him to accrue even more negative karma by abusing me? Isn't it a lose-lose scenario to allow myself to be 'carved up savagely'?

I know there is also the parable of the Buddha giving up his body to feed a starving tiger out of compassion in one of his past lives.

I'm far from reaching the Buddha's level of compassion. This means I still suffer, even if a bit, from the abuser's words and actions. In such a situation, shouldn't I retaliate (skillfully)?

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I think the scenario painted with the bandits is when there is no escaping death. The victims are facing misguided bandits who are bent on carving them up. In that scenario, rather than waste time generating hatred, I think the advice is to practise the Brahmavihara instead as it would help the victims to achieve rebirth in the Brahma realms.

I couldn’t find the links but in other occasions, there were errant monks who refused to be taught and reform their pride. The Buddha instructed the Noble Silence to be given to these monks. One such monk was formerly a relative of the Buddha and more senior (a granduncle if I recalled) to the Buddha while he was a prince. He was proud and arrogant could not be taught. The Buddha instructed to the Sangha that if this monk refused to change his ways after his Parinibbana, they will give him the Noble Silence.

I agreed that in certain situations continuing to engage with misguided people can be both harmful and dangerous to those people and ourselves. Harmful to those people because it encourages them to indulge in their wrongful ways. In such situations, I think giving them the Noble Silence is an appropriate approach. Even if these people threaten bodily or verbal abuse, there is no point getting angry with them. There are laws for harmful and anti-social behaviour, rules/regulations and punishments in companies and schools for unacceptable behaviour. Just stay calm and report them to the appropriate authorities for actions.

The question is our anger going to change the abuser’s ways? If not, what is its purpose? To let us have an outlet and let off some steam is good but what is the next course of action? I think eventually we realize that bashing someone into a pulp will not change their ways. Yes, they will be very afraid of us and may change in our desired manner. But inside their mind, nothing changed. Sooner or later, they just go back to their old ways.

In such a situation, shouldn't I retaliate (skillfully)?

It is difficult to see skillful options when our mind is suffering and filled with hatred. I would suggest create some space and time to let the mind settle down first before acting, to react from a position of hurt and anger usually causes unskillful actions.

When our mind is calmer, we can then consider; if the abuser doesn’t change, can we change instead? By asking ourselves this question, suddenly we find ourselves regaining control again. There could be many options depending on the situation. First, we could disengage and remove ourselves from the antagonist. This maybe difficult if they are in the same household or classroom or company, in such cases, we can still give them the Noble Silence without anger or hatred; with the understanding this is the best option for everyone. Second, can we change the abuser’s way? That depends on the abuser’s motive for their abuse. From here, it gets complicated and depends on your motivation too.

When our mind is peaceful and equanimous, we might sometimes catch a glimpse of reality; an aspect of reality where all difficulties in life are actually opportunities to grow ourselves mentally, emotionally, spiritually and develop our paramitas. With Metta.

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There's this rule from the Vinaya

Whatever monk, angry, displeased, should give a monk a blow, there is an offence of expiation.

It's a rule for monks but perhaps it's good advice for everyone: "don't hit someone because you're angry or displeased."

It goes on to say:

There is no offence if, being in some difficulty, he gives a blow desiring freedom

I understand that to mean, for example, if your person is seized by a bandit.

This means I still suffer, even if a bit, from the abuser's words and actions. In such a situation, shouldn't I retaliate (skillfully)?

Maybe anger cannot be skilful.

"Retaliation" puts me in mind of the Akkosa Sutta: Insult (SN 7.2).

See also What is a wrathful Buddha?

I found that being shouted at makes me suffer after a while i.e. hurts my ears -- at that point I wasn't angry, I was "desiring freedom" i.e. to be able to leave the room.

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I think the question needs to be asked why we (personally) find ourselves in the company of 'abusers'?

In the stories about the Buddha, when people were attempting to kill the Buddha, the monks wished the Buddha to have a guard, but this he refused, saying that it was impossible for anyone to deprive a Tathāgata of his life.

Above, the Buddha is different to us because the Buddha had supernormal psychic powers (as described in MN 86) & could foresee the proposed plans & actions of others. Here, the Buddha was always able to avoid the intended abuse of others.

For us, this is an example. The scriptures (DN 31; Snp 2.4) refer to Buddhist laypeople avoiding:

  • bad friends
  • foolish people
  • residing in an unsuitable locality
  • having a non-peaceful occupation.

The Kakacupama Sutta is for extreme scenario as painted with the bandits; is when there is no escaping the abuse.

To conclude, as modern lay people, we try to avoid bad friends, bad people & bad situations, which can also include invoking law enforcement, the civil & the criminal law when necessary.

When if the law cannot help us, we have no choice as Buddhists but to fall back on the principles of the Kakacupama Sutta (which is good for us to envisage practicing because our social world is growing in totalitarianism).

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