I’m not immune to anger. None of us are. Like all thoughts and emotions, anger arises as a result of our past tendencies, our karma, and current causes and conditions.
The detrimental effect of anger
Having studied the Buddhist teachings, I understand how detrimental anger is both for myself and for those who are the object of this destructive emotion. On a practical level, being suffused with anger is never a pleasant experience. It makes us disagreeable and, in the long run, even unlikable. We’re never happy, but always weighed down by this burden of annoyance, resentment, and, sometimes rage. These untoward emotions eat us up. They have been associated with the development of heart disease and several other serious disorders. Anger just isn’t much fun. Even worse, it can cause us to harm others in both words and deeds. As a result, we might even end up punched, battered, or incarcerated in response to our impulsiveness. In the bigger picture, negative emotions and their consequent negative actions are precisely what keep us in a continuous cycle of suffering. We’ve all heard the adages, “What goes around, comes around” and “What you reap, is what you sow.” This is the essence of karma. Karma is not pre-destination, it is the results of our prior actions.
Working with anger
The logistics of karma are complex, not easily understood, nor easily observed. Personally, based on both logic and faith, I trust that karma is a fundamental operating law of the universe. Therefore, the question becomes, how do I respond when anger rises? Am I swept along in its powerful flow or am I committed to practicing alternative solutions? The Buddhist teachings tells us not to suppress anger, nor to indulge in it. We can simply observe when it rises and let it pass by like any cloud floating in the sky. Emotions like anger are not our true nature. They are only a temporary, passing phenomena. They only seem ’solid’ and ‘real’ if we latch onto them. Naturally, this is far easier said than done! It takes a tremendous amount of determination and practice, but what could be more important in this ever so fleeting journey called life?
Inspiring role models
There are many injustices in this world. We might easily believe that a refugee like the Dalai Lama or a political prisoner like Aung San Suu Kyi have a ‘right’ to be angry. But they're not because they see anger in an entirely different way than the average person.
They understand the harm that anger engenders for both oneself and others. They understand the true nature of reality, it's insubstantial quality, and the interdependence of all that occurs. There is never ever one single cause for anything that occurs in one’s life. It's always a complex mix of causes and conditions coming together that produce a result. Thus, there’s no single person or company or country that can be blamed. Even when we feel victimized, we are also a part of the picture.
At the same time, are these eminent beings wimps? Hardly! They speak out tirelessly for truth, justice, and non-violence, but they do so with a kind heart that does not harbor anger or hatred. It's not easy to come up to this level of wisdom by any means. The Dalai Lama has often spoken about how persistently he has trained his mind to overcome anger since his early years. It's not an easy task, but it is possible.
Training the mind to be free of anger
There are times when I feel mad at the world. Times when I feel mad at the people in charge who, in their ignorance, allow chemicals to be used. There are moments of anger toward those who, even worse, actually promote the use of chemicals! I’m not immune to anger. If even the Dalai Lama had to train his mind religiously, anger will no doubt pop up in a mind like mine again and again. The question returns: what do I do with anger when it pays me a visit? Am I swept along or do I recognize it? Do I take a step back and let it pass by? Do I soften my heart and consider an alternative response? Am I committed to training my mind to be free of anger?
I’m no saint! Anger still gnaws at me from time to time, but I now have role models, the awareness, and the tools to set it free. I know from my own experience, it takes a long time to befriend anger. We each need to go through our own process, at our own pace. Working with negative motions is a lifelong endeavor, but over time they can certainly decrease.
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