The Wrath of Love

A basic fact of unconditional love is that it surfaces any condition we would place on love. If we develop our capacity to love unconditionally, we will inevitably have moments that will challenge our illusory assumptions about love. This is as it should be, since most of us have adopted such illusions as truth. We express these delusions through flowery ideals of romantic love involving attachment and clinging. Unconditional love has no such ideals.

From the perspective of Vajrayana Buddhism, love has both peaceful and wrathful aspects. The outward visualization forms of the tradition appear as the peaceful and wrathful deities (archetypal images). When one first experiences the practices of Vajrayana, this can be a bit confusing. On the one hand, images like Green Tara and Medicine Buddha appear as kind, nurturing forms. On the other hand, Vajrakilaya and Vajrvarahi are figures who wear necklaces of severed heads, and tromp upon poor souls (egos) cowering below. The tantra perspective shows both faces of love without reservation.

In the case of wrathful compassion, love is shown to liberate ego fixations through direct and fierce activity. This may be difficult to experience for the faint of heart. But if we are honest, the wrathful deities present us with a true picture of love’s ability to transform our afflictive emotions into compassionate activity. They do so through “matching” the energy of our wild and uncontrolled thoughts while redirecting them toward benevolence. In other words, an emotion such as anger can be converted into “fierce compassion.”

The wrathful form of compassion is particularly important now. Dudjom Rinpoche mentioned that practices such as Dorje Drolö were specifically designed to deal width the energies of volatile times. Rather that defending against anger and divisiveness, Dorje Drolö has the capacity to help us redirect aggravation and rage toward beneficial action. Of course, this requires proper instruction and practice. It also requires us to drop our illusions about love. Most of us have experienced a relationship that challenged those illusions—perhaps a mentor who pushed us beyond our imagined limits.

The wrathful practices stretch us beyond our imagined limits by pointing out they are only imagined. We see the arbitrary projections of mind into the world and begin to recognize the lunacy, the craziness of our assumptions about reality. We can lovingly receive a benevolent ‘ass kicking,’ and offer a humble, “Thanks, I needed that.” We notice the emotions following our thoughts become ‘burnt up’ and liberated. The conditions we place on love are equally unbound and we become more skillful in serving ourselves and others.