Taming a Crank

Revered Sri Lankan monk Bhante Gunaratana (affectionately known as “Bhante G.”) offers wisdom on anger in his recent autobiography, Journey to Mindfulness.

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

Anger is one of the most difficult defilements to overcome; I know this from firsthand experience. When I was a young monk in Ceylon, I gave many sermons on anger and how to control it, even as my own anger caused me to lose my temper repeatedly. I’m calling it “my” anger, but that isn’t quite right. Anger would invade my mind and overwhelm me, and I let it do that, despite the fact that inevitably it made me feel miserable. When I was angry, I felt pain in my chest and burning in my stomach. My eyesight blurred, my reasoning was unclear, and ugly, harsh words came out of my mouth.

After I calmed down, always feeling ashamed and foolish, I would reflect on the Buddha’s words about anger: “One should give up anger, renounce pride, and overcome all fetters. Suffering never befalls him who clings not to mind and body and is detached. One who checks rising anger as a charioteer checks a rolling chariot, him I call a true charioteer.” There’s also a well-known story from the Buddhist canon that illustrates the Buddha’s skill at dealing with anger. One day, a Brahmin, a person of high rank and authority, came to see the Buddha. This Brahmin had a foul temper and quarreled frequently with everyone. He would even get mad if someone else was wronged and that person didn’t get angry in response. So, when he heard that the Buddha never got angry, he decided to test him.

The Brahmin went to the Buddha and showered him with insults. The Buddha listened patiently and quietly. When the Brahmin finally stopped, and was waiting for the Buddha’s reaction, the Buddha calmly asked him, “Do you have any family or friends?”

“Of course,” answered the Brahmin. “Why?”

“Do you take gifts to them when you visit?”

“Of course I do!” the Brahmin snarled.

“What if they didn’t want to accept one of your gifts?” the Buddha asked. “What would you do with it?”

“I’d take it home and enjoy it with my family,” the Brahmin said.

“Well, then,” said the Buddha, “Friend, you brought me a gift of your angry insults. I don’t wish to accept it. I give it back to you. Take it home to enjoy with your family.”

If only I could have lived the wisdom of those words, as a young man.

From Journey to Mindfulness: The Autobiography of Bhante G., © 2003 by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana. Reprinted with permission of Wisdom Publications, www.wisdompubs.org.

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