September 25, 2010

Taming Anger

Today’s Daily Dharma,

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.”

-Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, "Taming a Crank"

Read the complete article here.

Photo ©William Klein

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Dominic Gomez's picture

@ Mark-re: " it’s easier to sell an angry person a line of bull."

And, in our collective anger after 9/11, didn't we take hook, line and sinker the sales pitch that we had to take out Iraq because they were hiding WMD's!

Mark's picture

I'm (too) heavily involved in politics, a field in which righteous anger is a primary motivation. Since I've been practicing I've become more aware of its limitations. First of all, when you're angry you can't think straight, and this is why anger is so often and cynically cultivated in political discourse -- it's easier to sell an angry person a line of bull. Second, anger shuts off lines of possible progress. If your opponent is stupid, ignorant or evil (which is supposedly why you're angry), it's harder to accept that they are acting in perceived self-interest just as you are, and that there might just be a place where your interests can meet. Finally, anger arises from a sense that the world shouldn't be the way it is right now -- it's always a manifestation and reinforcement of the egoic self, cut off from the ideal world it imagines. It is possible to contend with others without anger by trying to remain mindful that, however much you wish they would behave differently, your adversaries are mired in the same samsara you are and have the same ability to wake up. If you can open up just a little space to see your "enemies" as your brothers and sisters, it's harder to be angry at them, even while you may be working at cross purposes in the practical realm.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Hi Dean,
I was thinking more along the lines of a type of sublimation, wherein the energy of anger is "steered" away from destructive impulses. I used to glare threateningly, raise my voice, and on rare occasions strike my child when I became angry at her contradictory behavior. After much chanting of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo about our problems in parenting as well as receiving counseling, I've been able to transform the destructive energy of my anger into positive support and encouragement of my child's efforts to "do the right thing". Certainly it takes much effort and focus, but the result of revolutionizing myself is quite rewarding for both me and my child.

Janet's picture

It's unrealistic to think that we can ever completely eliminate anger. Can we even imagine a healthy human relationship without negative as well as positive emotions?

Dean Crabb's picture

Dominic,

While I understand you perspective I don't necessarily agree with it, mostly because I use to think like this too. Typically we justify anger because we want to justify to ourselves that we aren't wrong. Beneath what you talk about above is a lurking feeling of being ashamed yet pride doesn't allow us to see it, so we justify our actions in the guise of attempting to achieve something good. In admitting there is another way would mean we have to admit the anger wasn't the right way, yet pride doesn't allow us to do this. The more I've enquired into it when I've used anger I've found it is never the right way, its just the way I used at the time that I later attempted to justify to myself. Notice the tendency to rationalise anger AFTER the fact, its not a conscious choice to use anger before the fact. Just because we can justify it to ourselves doesn't make it right. There are a lot more skillful means to amend injustices without using anger, we just have to learn other ways.

Metta
Dean

raw energy's picture

There is a field beyond right and wrong.

Meet me there.

- Rumi

Dominic Gomez's picture

Anger is one of the ten life conditions that comprie human life and is therefore not surgically removable. But as illustrated by the image of a charioteer, anger can certainly be managed and directed towards the creation of value, towards good causes. Anger about and doing something to amend injustice is a good example.