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He Made Me So Angry That I…

angry_wet_catQuestion:

My question has to do with anger in the Buddhist practice. One of the main reasons why I turned to Buddhism is to get better control of myself. I have been genetically cursed with a hot temper. I have been attempting to learn to control it all my life and I thought perhaps Buddhism may help with this. I wondered if you could tell me about how anger fits into the Buddhist practice and perhaps point me in the direction of some practices or places of help to better control my anger. Thanks so much!

Answer:

Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. — Jedi Master Yoda (All the great quotes can’t be by the Dalai Lama can they?)

Buddhism has something called the three poisons, Greed, Ignorance, and Anger. These poisons are the easiest way to never reach Enlightenment. They’ll mess you up worse than just about anything else on the Path. Greed is obviously bad, most of what is written is there to combat Ignorance, so let’s focus on anger today. Buddhists try to limit their anger. Note I said limit, not eliminate, as anger is a normal human emotion. We all get angry sometimes. The trick is not to get carried away with it and understand where it comes from.

One common phrase we have all heard is, “He made me so angry!” No, he didn’t make you angry, YOU made you angry. It is a choice, one that can be controlled and limited. The first thing you need to do the next time you get angry, preferably before you get angry, but if it’s too late, then immediately after you calm down, is to think on why you became angry.

angryWas there some kind of attack on your ego? Remember, Buddhists do not believe in a self, and therefore an ego is a very bad thing to feed. Was there, as Yoda suggests, some kind of fear involved? Nothing is permanent, things do change, fear of change is paralyzing, and getting angry when things do change is futile. Whatever the reason is for your anger, you need to think it through and recognize the root cause of the anger, and it’s not that other person; it never is.

Once you have figured out why you chose to become angry (notice how I worded that?) you’ll be able to calm down and deal with the cause of the anger. After you have done this a few times, you’ll amaze yourself with your new-found ability to spot anger coming on, analyze it, and defuse it before it gets the better of you. That sounds like a tall order, but it is actually possible, and many people do it everyday, not just the most enlightened folks.

Exploring the causes of your anger is simply a mental exercise you do when the situation arises. Doing some form of meditation and mindfulness training on a regular basis will also help with this. Nothing builds patience and calmness like lots and lots of meditation. With a clear, calm mind, you’ll have far better control of your emotions. I can say this all day and you may not believe me, but work at it and see whether or not I am right; it’s easy enough to prove.

There’s been plenty written on the topic of anger management and Buddhism. In fact, most of what I have heard about anger management courses seem to teach exactly what I have said above. Check out the book, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh http://www.amazon.com/dp/1573229377/?tag=askdrarca-20

Oh all right, maybe the Yoda quote was a bit much. Here’s the Dalai Lama, who gets the final word this time:

When reason ends, then anger begins. Therefore, anger is a sign of weakness. — Dalai Lama

12 comments to He Made Me So Angry That I…

  • Your Incredible Hulk image calmed me down, actually, with a smile. The Dalai Lama is always smiling, and there is something about smiling that seems to defuse my anger. And, I don’t mean smiling out of sarcasm, but smiling because it creates a total atmosphere of warmth around you and others to promote positive relationships and, hopefully, less anger.

    Also, it is somewhat ironic that the new Incredible Hulk film with Edward Norton shows Norton (aka Bruce Banner) using some form of Buddhist meditation to calm his anger.

    Jinglett

  • Scott

    The Rivers Path

    Flowing in the spring
    Solid in the winter
    It cannot be measured
    It’s source cannot be found
    In the emerald creek
    The water hides the wisdom
    of the dragon
    And on it’s wake
    Lives the bright full moon
    And beside it a path
    That must be taken by all
    To find oneself.

  • Mat

    My own way out of anger was to gradually become more aware of the bodily sensations that accompany anger. By being more mindful of these I gradually was able to (a) detect anger arising in me before I expressed it to others (giving me a chance do do something else instead); and (b) made me more aware of the energetic/bodily experience of anger and not get so drawn into the negative spiral of thoughts that accompanied them.

    Staying with the whole of my experience made it easier (over a number of years I might add) to see that I need not necesarily react to these feelings and thoughts but instead just know anger as it arose – and to know it fully. And also, to see that it changes and ultimately goes away.

    By not engaging so much with the thoughts and starting to justify my own position (why I was right and they were wrong etc…) I slowly started to take myself a little less seriously and see that I could choose not to be angry. It can sound like a simple choice (to be angry or to not be angry) but its not so easy in the moment and takes practice. Many times I still get it wrong.

    I would suggest seriously questioning whether it is really true you are a genetically angry person, and instead look into why you get angry – just as Brian suggests. For me one of the main triggers was not having things the way I wanted, however that shows up. Meditation certainly makes me a more pleasant person to be around!

    Good luck, with patience things will change.

  • Abe Simpson

    For me, who has been known to be hot blooded, it is exactly as Brian mentioned, it is ego. I am attached to the desire to be right, I am attached to the self image I have created, I am attached to persuading others to see it my why. When these things are jeopardized, I get angry. When I let go of this concept of self, which takes practice, I find that I am happier.

    So let me say it this way‚ĶAttachment causes anger, anger causes hate, hate causes suffering OR attachment causes suffering. See, Buddha and Yoda aren’t too different 😉

    My mantra for this is a great Thich Nhat Han quote, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

    And when that emotion floods you faster than you expect, Thich Nhat Han says, “Smile.Breathe.Go Slowly.”

  • ‚ÄúSometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.‚Äù– Thich Nhat Hanh

    OK, now THAT is the best quote I’ve seen all day.

    Smile!

  • Timothy Hilgenberg

    Let me add my tuppence worth too – Brian is right on the money, meditation, meditation, meditation – you can get as angry as you like while mindfully meditating (I’m paraphrasing Gil Frondale from ICM), the trick is to, as others have said, see what it is that gets your goat, what is the trigger that makes you angry – there is no genetic disposition to having a hot temper it’s a learnt response and if you want to change what you get out you need to change what you put in.
    As to the smile thing, I seem to recall reading a few years ago that if you could manage to smile for more than 60 seconds you’d have generated enough endorphins to actually make you smile happily – something to do with facial muscles and others triggers.
    Welcome to the path, remember, Buddhism isn’t the solution, you are!

  • lee

    For me I have found that once anger begins to rear it’s head it seems to have a course it flows… it rises and takes some time to relax. Training has allowed me to notice it’s rising much earlier in it’s coming and if I am ‘willing’ I can sit and allow it to pass quickly or to not even manifest. Notice I said ‘if I am willing.” therein lies the rub. I am not always willing. In my early training my anger actually got worse as I was seeing things around me happening that I thought should not be happening. “If these idiots only knew they didn’t have to be this way!” but that passed. My wife would say “I thought meditation would make you calmer.” I said “I never said that, as I never knew what to expect.” Willingness to keep on working, willingness to let go, willingness to open ones eyes… willingness to see my own greed, hate and delusion…. has been the key to my own ability to let go of anger (as well as a host of other things.)
    Gashho

  • Candace

    How nice this comes up when I’m experiencing it this morning. A couple people I work with just irritate me to no end (not purposely I know, its just their personality, I suppose). What do you do when the anger(or in my case, irritation) is just being around someone?

  • Subjectivity9

    One thing that has helped me with my anger is to “take ownership of my own anger.” What I mean by this is, that I have decided not to blame others for what I feel, and to look directly into my very own self for what is the problem that is manifesting itself as anger. This small decision has put me in the drivers seat. Let’s face it, when we blame others for our anger, what we are actually trying to saying is that we are a victim of others or events and not really responsible for how we feel or what we do with these feelings.

    The reason that we want to get rid of anger is that it is painful. Oh sure we may feel like we have a momentary release when we blow our top, or blame others for how we feel, but all of the feelings in and around this so-called release are really quite unpleasant. This doesn’t even touch on the further unpleasantness that comes back around at us, if not immediately then over time, from those we mistreat around us.

    Life doesn’t just happen any old way. Life is a skill. This skill called life is made up out of many, tiny skills that are learned moment by moment. So that most things are not settled in a ‘once and for all way,’ but require do diligence on our part over the whole of our lifetime. But like any skill, this attention to detail does pay dividends. Wouldn’t it be nice not to be blown around by every wind that comes our way?

    One technique that has really helped me is attention to my breath. I simply watch my breath go in and out. This seems to give me the distance that I need to stand back from myself, and events, in order to view them with more clarity and peace of mind. Some might say that in this way, I am keeping myself centered.

    Subjectivity9

  • lee

    subjectivity9 …. very nice… understanding we are responsible for our reactions to events.. that we in fact allow it to happen … to understand that we sometimes encourage it (anger) … is liberating. It helps me be more willing to allow it to pass… to follow the breath… to begin meditating again… as practice continues i find it easier to let it pass without encouraging it.
    gashho
    Lee

  • Buddha said “anger is its own punishment” for several reasons:

    1. Anger sets off and releases all kinds of harmful chemicals (ie. adrenaline) in the body, which puts stress on the cells that make up the body. This stress weakens the body and immune system, and sets one up for all sorts of illnesses and diseases. Why cling to anger if it’s creating health problems?

    2. It creates negative karma in our life. Our thoughts, emotions, attitudes, opinions and beliefs literally manifest as our “external” life’s happenings. Getting angry will create more things in our life to be angry about because by choosing to be angry we’re showing that’s how we want to live our life. The universe gives us exactly what we want.

    If ya like, just click on my name to read an entire article of mine on the topic of overcoming anger.

  • jrm2003

    The Yoda quote was not too much. the Dalai Lama almost quoted Yoda himself in his Importance of a Compassionate Attitude speech. “fear, anger, jealousy these based on self-centered attitude” replace self-centered attitude with the dark side and boom, it’s yoda.

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