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Anger is not synonymous with aggression and violence. It is merely an internal, organic energy and emotion. Learn how to simply experience it.
In Buddhism we call negative, unwholesome, and self-centered states of mind the five poisons or kleshas—greed, hatred, delusion, pride, and jealousy. As a teacher, I’ve discovered that people have the most trouble with the klesha (an affliction of spiritual ignorance that can block progress) of anger, which includes hatred, aggression, and basic aversion. Anger can so easily flare up and become a major affliction. It has the power to take over a personality and an entire life if a person is unprepared to deal with it or manage it in a healthy way. Anger and rage are just emotions, albeit powerful ones, and we can handle these energies, for example with Mindful Anger Management.
The Consequences of Anger
Day to day, anger can close off or burn up open communication, and assail healthy relationships of all kinds. But we need to remember that anger has its own function, intelligence, and logic; therefore, we should not try to suppress or eradicate it entirely, even if we could. Referring to acts of anger, the fifth-century Indian Buddhist scholar Buddhaghosa states in the Visuddhimagga:
“By doing this you are like a man who wants to hit another and picks up a burning ember or excrement in his hand and so first burns himself or makes himself stink.”
Anger Is Energy
Anger is not synonymous with aggression and violence, although anger can lead to them. It is merely an internal, organic energy and emotion we can learn to simply experience; we can handle it, without needing to avoid or suppress it. We learn how to just feel anger in our body as physical sensation, before we become caught up in its grip and inevitable reactivity. We can cradle such feelings lovingly, with patient acceptance and tolerance and without judgment or over-reaction. When we experience anger as a mere sensation in our body, it allows us to release the mounting internal pressure and helps us attain the healthy emotional-energetic experience of re-integration. We can process lust, anger, or even rage in this mindful way before deciding what, if anything, to do with it, and how, when, and if to express it externally.
Anger can make us sick, cloud our judgment. It can drive us to sudden, surprising actions even at the risk of our lives—actions we later regret. On the other hand, as an antidote, patient forbearance and radical acceptance help soothe and heal our hearts and untangle the knotted mind, opening the door to superior communication and inter-meditation (meditating with someone or something else—sharing spirituality beyond the polarities and dichotomies of self and other).
For Patience, Put Anger Into Perspective
Buddhism teaches that pure good and bad don’t exist, only the wanted and the unwanted. Shakespeare also expresses this sentiment in Hamlet: “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” This means everything is subjective. Buddhism encourages us to practice patient forbearance even in the face of harm and recrimination. To begin to practice patient forbearance in the face of upset, disappointment, or irritation, ask yourself:
How much will this really matter to me a year or two from now?
This practice of what I call perspectivising helps me moderate some of my most intense reactions and over-involvements. The challenge of healthy mindful emotional management is to slow down our conditioned, knee-jerk reactions to unwanted and provocative stimuli, while simultaneously sharpening and speeding up our conscious mindful awareness. How can we mind the gap between stimulus and response? How can we contemplate alternative, proactive responses as intentional actions rather than just falling again and again into habitual conditioned reactions?
TRY THE PRACTICE 6 Steps to Stop Reacting and Start Responding with Intention
About the Author
Lama Surya Das is one of the most learned and highly trained American-born lamas in the Tibetan Dzogchen tradition. Surya is the founder of the Dzogchen Center in Cambridge, MA and Austin, TX, and the author of many books, including the international bestseller, Awakening the Buddha Within (Broadway Books, 1997), Awakening to the Sacred (Harmony, 1999), and his most recent book, Make Me One with Everything(Sounds True, May 2015). He lives in Concord, Massachusetts. For more information, visit surya.org.
Adapted from Make Me One with Everything: Buddhist Meditations to Awaken from the Illusion of Separation by Lama Surya Das. Copyright © 2015 by Lama Surya Das. Published by Sounds True.