Everybody gets angry. Whether
it’s mild irritation or flaming rage, we experience it every day and there are
few of us for whom this is not, at some point, a serious problem. By “problem”
I mean “soul sucking, productivity leaching, blood pressure soaring, jaw
clenching, dark aftermath generating” state. This is what, in more genteel
Buddhist parlance, is called an “afflictive emotion”, or in other words, a
mental state that causes suffering.
Eliminating suffering is the
raison d’etre of Buddhism. In the Buddha’s own words: “Both formerly and now I
teach only one thing: the nature of suffering and it’s ending.” And anger does
cause suffering. You might at this point object that we need anger. Perhaps.Yet most of the things we think we need anger
for — fighting injustice, fleeing danger, protecting ourselves — are actually
better done when not angry. When we are calm, collected and ruled by love
instead of anger we are actually more insightful, more effective, more vital, and
more enduring in confronting problems whether public or personal. We need, then,
a way to free ourselves of angry mental states when they arise. Here are five
ways that the Buddha suggested we do that.
1) Consider what anger does
As the Buddha pointed out, an
angry person wishes that their enemy should sleep badly, suffer losses, be ugly
and have people turn against them. Yet all of these things are what in fact
happen to the angry person! The angry person sleeps poorly. Their work suffers.
They don’t enjoy what they have. People avoid them. And there is nothing uglier
to look at than an angry person. If you don’t believe that, the next time you
are angry look at yourself in the mirror. (Kodhana Sutta, AN 7.60)
2) Find some good in the one
you are angry at.
This takes humility. So much
so that the Buddha used the metaphor of someone who is very thirsty coming
across an elephant’s footprint in the jungle. Just happened to you the other
day, right? Anyway, the footprint is filled with rainwater. So they get down on
their hands and knees and drink the water. When we are angry the other person
often looks distorted to us — ill-intentioned, stupid, willfully bad. We do not
see any good in them, and this biased perception just feeds our anger. If we
can humble ourselves in our righteous anger and kneel down, metaphorically, we
can find the good in our “enemy”, and when we do that they will inevitably
appear to us less like an enemy. Calm can be restored and healing can begin.
3) Remember something good
that they did to you.
As well as not being
entirely evil (chances are) this person has most likely, at some point, done
you a good turn, even a small one. The truth is that considering the people we
get most angry with are often those closest to us, they have probably done you
more than one good turn. Remembering this has the same effect as the previous
reflection — it takes the wind out of the engine of demonisation at work in
The Buddha was pretty
intense on the non-anger thing. He said that even if someone were to cut you to
pieces with a two-handed saw, if you got angry you wouldn’t be a true disciple
of his (Kakacupama Sutta, MN 21). After setting that bar the Buddha
advised that one meditate like the earth, like empty space, like a flowing river.
One should visualize oneself as like the earth: no matter what people put on it
or how they dig in it, it is still the earth. Likewise, one should remain
oneself in the face of anger: vast and calm like the earth.
“Empty space and a flowing
river” are alternative visualisations that work in the same way: space is not
stained, and a river does not stop flowing or change colours. Of course, in our
current time of massive pollution, “space, earth and river” may atually be
overcome by what they come into contact with. Perhaps if the negativity we are
exposed to seems likely to pollute us beyond our ability to cope, we should
visualize ourselves like someone riding away into the sunset and gently take
This is the meditation of
preventive medicine. In some streams of Buddhism it is traditional to begin and
end every meditation session with something called “metta bhavana”, or “the
cultivation of loving kindness”. In this meditation exercise you evoke feelings
of goodwill, or love. You start with yourself, thinking, “May I be well. May I
be happy. May I be at ease.” It may help to picture yourself radiantly happy
and at your best. Then extend this wish out to others, starting with those you
know and love and moving out in ever-widening circles to those you know less
well, don’t know at all, and finally, those you dislike or are angry with. Visualize
them well, happy, and at their best and think, “May they be well. May they be
happy. May they be at ease.” Remember that if people you dislike, or those who
have hurt you, were as well as you are currently wishing them, they would no
longer be unlikeable and would be less likely to hurt you, or anyone else, again.
By practicing the
cultivation of goodwill in this way you strengthen your reserves of goodness
and begin the all-important work of altering your worldview, moving it into
accordance with a deeper truth, one that reminds you of the latent similarities
at the core of all human experience– that all beings desire joy and freedom
from suffering — and this will help to clear your vision and your mind, making
it less likely that anger will arise in the first place, and enabling your
detachment from it when it does.
This post was republished
5 Buddhist Ways Successful People Deal With Anger4.55SEEKER Friday, 2 September 2016 By: Matthew Gindin. Everybody gets angry. Whether it’s mild irritation or flaming rage, we experience it every day and there are few of...