Filed in Vajrayana, Lojong

Awakening to Anger

Ken McLeod

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A teacher, translator, and disciple of Kalu Rinpoche speaks with Tricycle about how the Tibetan lojong or “mind training” teachings can shift the soil in which anger grows

The essential teaching in terms of compassion is that whatever you experience, if it provokes a reaction in you, you can open to that experience. One way to do that is to practice [tonglen,] the mind training technique of taking and sending. If you are getting angry, you imagine that you’re inviting the feeling from all sentient beings into you. If you feel anger coming up, you might practice saying, “May all the anger of all beings come into me.” It’s a way of staying with your own experience of what’s happening in the process of getting angry. You thereby transfer the reactive process into a positive attitude. Just that moment of presence can change everything. It’s a tool.

Of course, this doesn’t happen spontaneously. It takes a lot of practice and training. And this process is not exclusive to mind training - it happens as a natural result of other types of Buddhist meditative training, too. As you become intimately aware of your own reactive processes, then when somebody is angry with you, from your own experience you understand what’s going on with them. When someone gets angry with you, you don’t rush to defend yourself.

The second way mind training helps with anger is by cultivating an understanding of emptiness. This occurs at a little higher level of practice. Because of meditation practice, you can experience a situation in which you might get angry as simply movement—the movement of feelings and phenomena. It’s not something solid that has to be acted on.

Once I did a one-month retreat using just the introductory meditations on love and compassion from The Great Path of Awakening, [the series of fifty-nine lojong teachings by the nineteenth-century teacher Jomgon Kongtrul the Great]. I did those solidly for a month, and then I did taking and sending. Everyone said my personality changed. I didn’t feel there was a big difference, but I certainly got a tremendous amount out of it in terms of cultivating really deep feeling. I was known to be short-tempered, very arrogant, and so forth. I’m not sure any of that’s really changed. But I do credit the practice of taking and sending with making a difference. Before that retreat I didn’t have the time to listen to anybody. But now I’m regarded as a good listener.

What makes me angry is stupidity. It’s something I’m still working with. But now when I encounter a person who isn’t understanding what I say, or who is doing something that doesn’t make any sense, even though I’m feeling angry, I let myself experience that anger. I know it for what it is - a movement in me, a reactive process. I use taking and sending, and try to see the stuff that arises spontaneously. When I encounter stupidity, I go to the breath and do taking and sending. I look and see what’s preventing this person from seeing what I’m saying and then I see that there’s nothing I can do. The next part of compassion is letting go. This is where the process clicks to nonexistence. When people are really getting angry and feel meaningless or ineffective, that links to notions of identity and self-image. If we let go of the idea that we are “solid,” then it becomes easy to let go of the anger.

If it gets to the point where I’m “dealing” with anger, it’s too late. It’s like the guy who’s entered a golf tournament and he’s practicing and the old pro comes along and says, “If you haven’t got it by now, you’re not going to get it before the tournament’s over.” It’s the same with getting angry. By the time the reactive process is underway, it’s too late. By practicing meditation and doing mind training, we can avoid being caught up in the reactivity of anger and can stay present.

Ken McLeod is the founder of Unfettered Mind, and the translator of many Tibetan texts including The Great Path of Awakening (Shambhala Publications). He lives and teaches in Los Angeles.

Image: © 1989 Peter and David Turnley

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alica450's picture

This morning I received an email from one of the guys who are going through what has been a really productive ten-Plus program. This message began as an interesting discussion that I had to share the details
angry status for facebook

jjwalker7730's picture

According to the tibetan wheel of life, the Human realm is the realm of anger. You are not alone.

claudeb's picture

"For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."  Shakespeare

Good article on how to manage the physiological state of anger once it has arrived, but may I suggest that it is eminently possible to derail the psychic movement towards anger by employing techniques from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Albert Ellis' Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) offers an elegant, powerful model that is highly complementary to meditative practice.

Most simply, our interpretation of the perception of an event, in this case another's "stupid" behavior, usually contains a demand; a MUST.  (Also present here is the needless global condemnation of the other as stupid.)

The thought that we likely, uncritically, buy-into is something like "He MUST not behave that way".  This strong absolute belief is untenable: we have no control over another's behavior, and are so bound to be emotionally disturbed by the failure of the world to meet our irrational demand.

Try replacing the the demand with a preference:  "It would be better if he were able to be act more thoughtfully";  "It is unfortunate that this person is behaving rudely"; "I wish she were more skilled at this task."  The softer internal language will engender a softer emotional response.

Best -

ereynolds's picture

I have had to struggle with the anger at what is labeled "stupidity" in others.   But I have come to realize that “stupidity” is a false and anger-inducing label. 

Everyone is at different levels of understanding or enlightenment on the infinite subjects of life.  Each individual has different abilities, techniques, experiences and distractions that contribute to their rate learning or ability to expand understanding in these various subjects.   Desire to learn and interest in the topic is a big factor.

We may see someone behaving stupidly or become frustrated with their seeming inability to comprehend our point of view.   We must recognize the anger is not with the other person but it is anger at ourselves.  It is our failure to understand where that person is coming from and what approach we need to adjust to meet the needs of the other to understand.

There is a quote commonly attributed to Albert Einstein, “ Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  Yet how often do we find ourselves and others repeating a position over and over in the same words, angrily frustrated that our AUDIENCE doesn’t “get it”.


frankalan's picture

Great article - thanks.

Have you ever read any of Brad Blantons work regarding Radical Honesty?

He posits that anger and the subsequent ego-centred lieing about the anger is one of the major causes of spiritual sickness amongst our human race. Radical Honesty is the process of burning off all the anger before it festers into something more via telling the truth, being present with your emotions etc.

Over time, anger was less and less effect on you, as do the lies. But it all starts with the acknowledgement that your mind does (well, thinks it does) control you. From there, we start to free ourselves from the prison of the ego and its ridiculous and petty anger.

Check it out - he can be pretty abraisive, but it is a good read. As with all things, take what is useful and discard the rest.


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