Precious Energy

The Ninth Zen Precept: Not Being AngryNancy Baker

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Practice: Working with Anger
To make the practice of working with anger personal and precise, it is useful to explore the following kinds of questions. (This can be done as a solo inquiry, or with another person asking you the questions, then silently holding the space while you answer.)

First, find out on what kinds of occasions you get angry:
• When do I get angry?
• What makes me angry?
• Do I get angry when I’m criticized? Ignored? Not getting my way? Do I get angry at someone who treats others badly?
• Do I ever displace my anger onto the wrong person, or take anger at myself out on someone else?
• What happens when I get angry? Does angry language pop out of me?

Next, inquire into the flavor of your anger:
• How do I typically get angry? Is my anger hot or cold? Is it quickly discharged or a slow burn?
• Is my anger suppressed, denied, or hidden?
• Do I walk around with simmering resentments day after day?
• How is my private anger different from my anger at public figures or institutions?

If you have difficulty expressing anger or even recognizing that you’re angry, ask yourself:
• When do I have difficulty expressing anger?
• With which sorts of people am I reluctant to express anger? Family members? Friends? Men? Women? Employers? Authority figures?

Finally, ask yourself about any old angers you’ve been carrying around for a long time. (Sometimes we have to dig deep to uncover them.)

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jackelope65's picture

As a teen and young man, anger dominated me, either suffering with suppression or feeling guilt after exploding. The worst incidence was when my mom was in our hot 3'rd floor tenement, with multiple locks and was not answering as my brother and I, then 18, fumed in the hallway heat after a hot hard day of construction work. I punched the door so hard the locks and hinges broke knocking my mum out because she was behind the door; i though i killed her but fortunately not, but when she woke, i began the process of awaking myself. At first my wife helped me greatly, married at 18. We looked at my childhood: decorating the X-mass tree at midnight, my mum swearing at my dad for coming home late, drunk, searching for a suitable gum tree(Australia) with flashlights.'Father' punched walls breaking his hand once after hitting a beam, lacerating the radial artery hitting a glass window; my brother, then 14, learned how to drive racing Father to hospital. Tipped over meal tables, mum throwing pots and pans and so forth. Surprisingly, I really did not consciously feel anger towards them knowing my mum saw my grandmother whipped and my dad killing Japanese silently by knife or with his german shepherd during pre invasion missions setting up ammunition dumps where noise resulted in death. I knew they loved me by showing keen interest in my life by helping me with school and attending all of my sporting and scout family events. My mum, while i was in Vietnam, got me back into college( The first time i attended college my GPA was 1.2). When i applied she had Senators Pastore & Pell write me letters for medical school accounting my service and GPA improvement. The cause and effect went back in my family as far as I could look. But with my wife's help and sitting in meditation, I began to unravel the cause and effect relationships and see that i did not have to be "the angry person" that i thought i must be, that anger was evanescent and ephemeral when unattached, and that i possessed tremendous compassion from my family's suffering. I wanted to break the chain of anger and 'exploding doors' in my children. After i became an MD, i chose to be with my patients in a not very lucrative practice of spending long periods of time with them, treating those with the greatest suffering: severe burns, severe trauma, para/quadriplegia, head injury, amputees,stroke and so forth. often with the worst insurance. My beloved patients taught me compassion & humility, as did the wonderful nurses and therapists. Wife, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha in that order, helped me so much and it seems the energy used for anger fuels my compassion now. I am grateful for my family whose love, compassion, and anger taught me so much, nothing good or bad, but providing the fuel for the contemplations best described by Shantideva.

stevenorthcounty's picture

Thank you for this helpful piece. BTW Listen is correct - Slim Pikens rode the H-bomb down.

kentc33's picture

How our conditioning is passed on:
“Looks like what drives me crazy
Don't have no effect on you--
But I'm gonna keep on at it
Till it drives you crazy, too.” -
Langston Hughes

kentc33's picture

Here's an excerpt from Pema's "No Time to Lose", p. 161: "there are times ... when anger is appropriate, but hatred is never justified. Anger can be motivated by compassion, but hatred is always accompanied by ill will." Nice distinction. Intention is paramount.

toonteo's picture

Thank you so much Ms.Baker.very useful teaching & very practical one,especially I am so pleased when I saw the poem of the Rumi,our great poet I have the chance to read it in original language (Persian).
But I have a question ,about the "useful anger"it remind me of the Medieval sacred anger of"Crusaders",or recent sacred anger of Muslims in the Middle east,or proletarian Anger of the Russian ,they somehow rationalized their anger against others as useful one,
My question is how we can protect our self from this kind of rationalization,which our "ego " is very skillful in that.
with best regards

celticpassage's picture

It all sounds nice, but I think it highly unlikely that a person can reach the stage where anger becomes pure energy to be constructively used, unless of course one is a Buddha,
as illustrated in this quote:
"Suzuki Roshi was once asked if anger could be like a pure wind that wipes everything clean. He said, 'Yes, but I don’t think you need to worry about that.' He said that he himself had never had an anger that was like the pure wind..."

rajilukkoor's picture

"...get so close to our anger that we no longer know or feel it as anger."

wow. That really got my attention. Thank you for the terrific article, Nancy. I find myself examining my anger in a completely different light, sans shame or denial.


Leo Pezzementi's picture

This simple teaching and Buddha's parable of holding on to a hot coal allowed me to see the source of the anger I was holding onto and let it go.

Two people wait for a late bus.
One is frustrated,
while the other takes it easy...
Thus, the source of frustration cannot be the bus.
Is there an evil bus-driver out there to be angry at?
The seed of anger lies within.
The "late buses of life" are only conditions which
ripen our anger.
In the end, it is you who cause your state of mind.
The causes of (un)happiness are within your mind.
Take care of your mind then.
It is a garden -
you decide what seeds to plant and nurture.

jchristopherjennings's picture

Thank you.

lumeischa's picture

I liked what you wrote a lot! Thank you for helping me deepen what I've learnt from the article.

dswilliams65's picture

Thank you for sharing this parable; it is one I will hold onto and contemplate daily as I work on pulling out the weeds in my mind so I may plant a beautiful, nurturing garden ~*~

Leo Pezzementi's picture

For some reason, I clicked on your reply on the left side of the tricycle page and saw it was in response to the Mind Garden!

robertomainetti's picture

very helpfull....than you very to take care of my angry like my child...obserrve him and take care of him and learn from him...thank you to the comunity that to know about all of that who make the effort...i do not feel that lonly prioritasing this work...thank you

Bobbyhearts's picture

All emotions are legitimate. Be mindful of the emotion and understand its true meaning. Anger with just cause needs to be understood and played out not repressed. It is an honest feeling if treated honestly and not taken to extremes or violence.

boiester's picture

Sometimes an event will allow us to show the anger we have held close to our heart for a long time, but also allow us to further hide the anger within our response to the event. Knowing the anger is understanding how complex the ego can be! Thank you for this wisdom.

emedae's picture

The poem by Rumi reminds me of the theme I always associate with this poet. "The light of my love will always trump my anger. Even anger that I feel is justified." This is my thought, not Rumi's.

ulisesh's picture

Great article:)

jshanson's picture

I was talking with a psychiatrist several years ago about a personal violation that really hurt and made me very angry, the anger disturbed me. He replied "if you weren't angry something would be wrong with you." So the anger is real at times in our life, from there a skillful response is needed that is more than just being angry.

alalaho's picture

we are taught that it is all mind. all phenomena are just projections of mind. so it seems what is projected, in a sense, is a reflection. for me it is very important to be accountable for what is displayed. although it can be very challenging to connect with that when the energy is at a high level. nevertheless, it is accessible. and this becomes more and more easier as we take the time to sit.
i read this article yesterday and was strongly impacted and moved by the beautiful words of Thich Nhat Hanh on getting to know our anger. this morning i was pleasantly surprised by receiving Tricycle's Daily Dharma. it was these same words by Thầy. ..a beautiful reflection.

Listen's picture

Don't get angry, but Dr. Strangelove wasn't the one riding the bomb.
Great piece, thank you!

bricklin's picture

"Anger is always a lesson and to the degree we stay angry we are not learning it." Sciousness

beemindful's picture

Beautiful! This seems so true to me, one who has a long history with anger. Thank you so much.

Tharpa Pema's picture

Thank you, Ms. Baker, for the lesson. I've found myself unconsciously quoting some of your main points in recent posts.
My appreciation to you, LInda