ANGER AND AVERSION
"It is natural for the immature to harm others.
Getting angry with them is like resenting a fire for burning."
A BAG OF NAILS
Once upon a time there was a little boy with a
bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that
every time he lost his temper, he should hammer a nail in the fence.
The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. But gradually,
the number of daily nails dwindled down. He discovered it was easier
to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.
Finally the first day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at
all. He proudly told his father about it and the father suggested
that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able
to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally
able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father
took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.
"You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence.
The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger,
they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man
and draw it out, it won't matter how many times you say 'I'm sorry',
the wound is still there."
definition of Aversion is: Exaggerated wanting to be separated
from someone or something. (Exact opposite of Attachment.)
Because the label of "unpleasant" is very relative and based upon
limited information, aversion includes an aspect of exaggeration
The definition of Anger is: Being unable to bear the object,
or the intention to cause harm to the object. Anger is defined as
aversion with stronger exaggeration.
A BIT OF BUDDHIST PSYCHOLOGY
The basic problem according to Buddhism, is that
emotions like anger and hatred are based on projections and exaggeration,
not on objectivity or wisdom, and thus basically incorrect.
There is little need to explain what anger and hatred do to ourselves
by means of the laws of karma; the misery we cause others
will come back at ourselves. Nobody wants suffering, so next is
a summary of methods which can not only reduce but even eliminate
anger and hatred from our minds.
It must be emphasise that to completely eliminate these negative
emotions from our mind is a lengthy psychological process, requiring
study, mindfulness, reflection and honest observation of one's own
mind. To begin with, meditation is an ideal method to review a situation
in which one became angry (see the page on meditation).
This has the advantage that one is not exposed to the actual situation,
but one can review it much more objectively. When regular meditation
gives some insight into what anger is and what happens to oneself
when feeling angry, then one can gradually try to apply it in real-life
situations, preferably of course before one is already under complete
control of anger. It is a slow process, but the change in your life
and the ones around you can profoundly change for the better.
As His Holiness the Dalai Lama mentioned:
"When reason ends, then anger begins.
Therefore, anger is a sign of weakness."
Is anger or hatred ever justified? A direct answer
from Allan Wallace in 'Tibetan
Buddhism from the Ground up':
"'Righteous hatred' is in the same category
as 'righteous cancer'or 'righteous tuberculosis'. All of them
are absurd concepts."
This does not mean that one should never take
action against aggression or injustice! Instead, one should try
to develop an inner calmness and insight to deal with these situations
in an appropriate way. We all know that anger and aggression give
rise to anger and aggression. One could say that there are three
ways to get rid of anger: kill the opponent, kill yourself or
kill the anger - which one makes most sense to you?"
And as Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche mentioned:
"Some people feel patience is showing weakness or pessimism.
But, actually, patience shows the strength and clarity of mind,
which are based on wisdom and compassion.
Without proper wisdom and compassion, one cannot practice patience."
But of course not only Buddhism recognises the
shortcomings of anger, in the Bible for example in Psalm 37, 14-16
"The angry ones draw their swords, the angry
ones aim their bows
To put down the poor and the weakened and to kill those who walk
on the path of righteousness.
But their sword hits their own heart, their bows will be broken.
With his poverty, the righteous one is richer than all the angry
ones in their abundance."
"Holding on to anger is like grasping a
hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are
the one who gets burned."
"If subconscious anger had a parallel in
Buddhist writings, it would have to do with what is called mental
unhappiness or dissatisfaction. This is regarded as the source
of anger and hostility. We can see subconscious anger in terms
of a lack of awarness, as well as an active misconstruing of reality."
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
"If there are sound reasons or bases for
the points you demand, then there is no need to use violence.
On the other hand, when there is no sound reason that concessions
should be made to you but mainly your own desire, then reason
cannot work and you have to rely on force. Thus, using force is
not a sign of strength but rather a sign of weakness. Even in
daily human contact, if we talk seriously, using reasons, there
is no need to feel anger. We can argue the points. When we fail
to prove with reason, then anger comes. When reason ends, then
anger begins. Therefore, anger is a sign of weakness."
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, from 'The Dalai Lama, A
Policy of Kindness: An Anthology of Writings by and About
the Dalai Lama', Snow Lion Publications.
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Please take a moment to take in the following message:
What forgiveness is
"Forgiveness is a form of realism. It doesn't
deny, minimize, or justify what others have done to us or the
pain that we have suffered. It encourages us to look squarely
at those old wounds and see them for what they are. And it allows
us to see how much energy we have wasted and how much we have
damaged ourselves by not forgiving.
Forgiveness is an internal process. It can't be forced, and it
doesn't come easy. It brings with it great feelings of wellness
and freedom. But we experience this only when we want to heal
and when we are willing to work for it.
Forgiveness is a sign of positive self-esteem. We no longer identify
ourselves by our past injuries and injustices. We are no longer
victims. We claim the right to stop hurting when we say, "I'm
tired of the pain, and I want to be healed." At that moment,
forgiveness becomes a possibility-although it may take time and
much hard work before we finally achieve it.
Forgiveness is letting go of the past. It doesn't erase what happened,
but it does allow us to lessen and perhaps even eliminate the
pain of the past. The pain from our past no longer dictates how
we live in the present, and it no longer determines our future.
It also means that we no longer need resentment and anger as an
excuse for our shortcomings. We don't need them as a weapon to
punish others nor as a shield to protect ourselves by keeping
others away. And most importantly, we don't need these feelings
to identify who we are. We become more than merely victims of
Forgiveness is no longer wanting to punish those who hurt us.
It is understanding that the anger and hatred that we feel toward
them hurts us far more than it hurts them. It is seeing how we
hide ourselves in our anger and how those feelings prevent us
from healing. It is discovering the inner peace that becomes ours
when we let go of the past and forget vengeance.
Forgiveness is moving on. It is recognizing all that we have lost
because of our refusal to forgive. It is realizing that the energy
that we spend hanging on to the past is better spent on improving
our present and our future. It is letting go of the past so that
we can move on.
We all have been hurt. And at one time or another most of us have
made the mistake of trying to run away from the past. The problem
is that no matter how fast or how far we run, the past always
catches up to us-and usually at the most inopportune time. When
we forgive, we are dealing with the past in such a way that we
no longer have to run.
For me, learning how to forgive wasn't easy. But I did learn,
and my life is better for it - even here on death row."
Michael B. Ross
"To be angry is to let others' mistakes
To forgive others is to be good to yourself.
By His Holiness the Dalai Lama
"The destructive effects of hatred are
very visible, very obvious and immediate. For example, when a
strong or forceful thought of hatred arises, at that very instant
it overwhelms one totally and destroys one's peace and presence
of mind. When that hateful thought is harboured inside, it makes
one feel tense and uptight, and can cause loss of appetite, leading
to loss of sleep, and so forth.
If we examine how anger or hateful thoughts arise in us, we will
find that, generally speaking, they arise when we feel hurt, when
we feel that we have been unfairly treated by someone against
our expectations. If in that instant we examine carefully the
way anger arises, there is a sense that it comes as a protector,
comes as a friend that would help our battle or in taking revenge
against the person who has inflicted harm on us. So the anger
or hateful thought that arises appears to come as a shield or
a protector. But in reality that is an illusion. It is a very
delusory state of mind.
Chandrakirti states in Entry into the Middle Way that there might
be some justification for responding to force with force if revenge
would help one in any way, or prevent or reduce the harm which
has already been inflicted. But that is not the case because if
the harm, the physics. injury or whatever, has been inflicted,
it has already taken place. So taking revenge will not in any
way reduce or prevent that harm or injury because it has already
On the contrary, if one reacts to a situation in a negative way
instead of in a tolerant way, not only is there no immediate benefit,
but also a negative attitude and feeling is created which is the
seed of one's future downfall. From the Buddhist point of view,
the consequence of taking revenge has to be faced by the individual
alone in his or he future life. So not only is there no immediate
benefit, it is harmful in the long run for the individual.
However, if one has been treated very unfairly and if the situation
is left unaddressed, it may have extremely negative consequences
for the perpetrator of the crime. Such a situation calls for a
strong counteraction. Under such circumstances, it is possible
that one can, out of compassion for the perpetrator of the crime
and without generating anger or hatred, actually take a strong
stand and take strong countermeasures. In fact, one of the precepts
of the Bodhisattva vows is to take strong countermeasures when
the situation calls for it. If a Bodhisattva doesn't take strong
countermeasures when the situation requires, then that constitutes
an infraction of one of the vows.
In addition, as the Entry into the Middle Way points out, not
only does the generation of hateful thoughts lead to undesirable
forms of existence in future lives, but also, at the moment that
strong feelings of anger arise, no matter how hard one tries to
adopt a dignified pose, one's face looks rather ugly. There is
an unpleasant expression, and the vibration that the person sends
is very hostile. People can sense it, and it is almost as if one
can feel steam coming out of that person's body. Indeed not only
are human beings capable of sensing it, but pets and other animals
also try to avoid that person at that instant.
If we examine how anger or hateful thoughts arise in us, we will
find that, generally speaking, they arise when we feel hurt, when
we feel that we have been unfairly treated by someone against
These are the immediate consequences of hatred. It brings about
a very ugly, unpleasant physical transformation of the individual.
In addition, when such intense anger and hatred arise, it makes
the best part of our brain, which is the ability to judge between
right and wrong and assess long-term and short-term consequences,
become totally inoperable. It can no longer function. It is almost
as if the person had become crazy. These are the negative effects
of generating anger and hatred. When we think about these negative
and destructive effects of anger and hatred, we realise that it
is necessary to distance ourselves from such emotional explosions.
Insofar as the destructive effects of anger and hateful thoughts
are concerned, one cannot get protection from wealth; even if
one is a millionaire, one is subject to these destructive effects
of anger and hatred. Nor can education guarantee that one will
be protected from these effects. Similarly, the law cannot guarantee
protection. Even nuclear weapons, no matter how sophisticated
the defence system may be, cannot give one protection or defend
one from these effects. The only factor that can give refuge or
protection from the destructive effects of anger and hatred is
the practice of tolerance and patience."
The Dalai Lama from Healing
Anger: The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective:
Question: "Where does hatred
Dalai Lama : "That is a question which requires long
hours of discussion. From the Buddhist viewpoint, the simple answer
is that it is beginningless. As a further explanation, Buddhists
believe that there are many different levels of consciousness.
The most subtle consciousness is what we consider the basis of
the previous life, this life, and future lives. This subtle consciousness
is a transient phenomenon which comes about as a consequence of
causes and conditions. Buddhists have concluded that consciousness
itself cannot be produced by matter. Therefore, the only alternative
is to accept the continuation of consciousness. So that is the
basis of the theory of rebirth.
Where there is consciousness, ignorance and hatred also arise
naturally. These negative emotions, as well as the positive emotions,
occur right from beginningless time. All these are a part of our
mind. However, these negative emotions actually are based on ignorance,
which has no valid foundation. None of the negative emotions,
no matter how powerful, have a solid foundation. On the other
hand, the positive emotions, such as compassion or wisdom, have
a solid basis: there is a kind of grounding and rootedness in
reason and understanding, which is not the case with afflictive
emotions like anger and hatred.
The basic nature of the subtle consciousness itself is something
neutral. So it is possible to purify or eliminate all of these
negative emotions. That basic nature we call Buddha-nature. Hatred
and negative emotions are beginningless; they have no beginning,
but there is an end. Consciousness itself has no beginning and
no end; of this we are certain."
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HOW TO TAKE INSULT
On one occasion, the Buddha was invited by the
Brahmin Bharadvaja for alms to his house. As invited, the Buddha
visited the house of the Brahmin. Instead of entertaining Him, the
Brahmin poured forth a torrent of abuse with the filthiest of words.
The Buddha politely inquired:
"Do visitors come to your house, good Brahmin?"
"Yes," he replied.
"What do yu do when they come?"
"Oh, we prepare a sumptuous feast."
"What do you if they refuse to receive the meal?"
"Why, we gladly partake of them ourselves."
"Well, good Brahmin, you have invited me for alms and entertained
me with abuse which I decline to accept. So now it belongs to
From the Akkosa Sutta
The Buddha did not retaliate but politely gave back what the Brahmin
had given Him. Retaliate not, the Buddha advised. "Hatred does
not cease through hatred but through love alone they cease."
PATIENCE - THE MAIN ANTIDOTE
Patience is the main antidote to anger. As common
wisdom says: just count to 100... During this time, any of the below
methods can be effective. The most effective method will depend
on the actual situation. Especially in our age of rush and intense
change, patience may not be seen as a positive quality, but take
a minute to think impatience can easily give rise to a general feeling
Patience is like a beautiful ornament. When you
become a person with great patience, it brings a certain element
of charm to your life. You are loved by others, and you give no
problems to your friends. You bring an element of joy, happiness,
and calmness to other people's lives - your friends, your family,
and the community. You do not have to ask to be accepted; everyone
longs for your presence. Everyone looks up to you and respects you,
not because you have worked for that or expected it, not because
you were competing for their favor, but simply because of the nature
of patience. You are respected and trusted, and you acquire dignity
with the practice of patience. When you are honored, it is with
sincerity, and it is something you can live up to.
"Just hearing about patience does not mean
you are experiencing it now or will easily develop it. To lay
the ground for training the mind, you must first tame the mind.
To tame the mind, it is extremely important to do the basic shamata
[tranquility meditation, calm abiding] practice, which develops
calmness and tranquility. Then you can add the practice of patience,
understanding the benefits of patience and reminding yourself
to take advantage of the available antidotes."
Paths by Ven. Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche
HANDLING ANGER - APPLYING ANTIDOTES
Below is a summary of various approaches to anger.
They obviously will be most efficient when used with a calm and
concentrated mind, either during meditation or at the moment you
realize that something needs to be done about your anger. Obviously,
the problem during an actual difficult situation is to have a calm
and concentrated mind - a regular meditation practice can be of
great help then! One of the best ways to really make progress with
understanding and changing the functioning of our own mind is to
try out analytical meditation, combined with these clues, see also
ANTIDOTE 1 - Patience.
Patience is the main antidote to anger. As common wisdom says: just
count to 100... During this time, any of the below methods can be
effective. The most effective method will depend on the actual situation.
Especially in our age of rush and intense change, patience may not
be seen as a positive quality, but take a minute to think impatience
can easily give rise to a general feeling of anger.
ANTIDOTE 2 - Realisation of the Noble Truth
Once one understands that problems and frustration is a basic fact
of life, it can reduce our impatience with our own unrealistic expectations.
In other words: nothing is perfect, so don't expect it.
If I believe that things should be perfect, it is almost unavoidable
to feel disappointed and hurt.
ANTIDOTE 3 - Understanding Karma.
As explained in the page on Karma, the
real reasons for our problems are our own actions, which are in
turn caused by our own negative states of mind. If someone makes
us angry, it can have a sobering effect if we dare to think that the
real reasons for this situation are our own past actions, and the
person is just a circumstance for our own karma to ripen.
ANTIDOTE 4 - Changing or Accepting.
Basically, we can find ourselves in two types of unpleasant situations:
ones we can change and ones we cannot change.
- If I can change the situation, I should do something about it
instead of getting all worked-up and angry. Not acting in such a
situation will cause frustration in the end.
- If I cannot change the situation, I will have to accept it. If
I don't, it will only lead to frustration and a negative and unpleasant
state of mind, which will make the situation only worse.
For some reasons unclear to me, Westerners (including myself) appear
to have big problems with accepting unpleasant situations which
we cannot change. Could this be a result of impatience (a form of
anger) with imperfection (an unrealistic expectation)?
Do consider the wisdom in the following remarks (from an online
discussion - forgot the writer.):
"How does this effect my Buddhist practice?
These reported events are like an arrow shot at my heart but it
lands at my feet.
I choose not to bend over, pick it up, and stab myself with it."
ANTIDOTE 5 - Realistic Analysis.
For example: someone accuses me of something.
- If it is true, I apparently made a mistake, so I should listen
- If it is untrue, the other person makes a mistake. So what? Nobody
is perfect. I also make mistakes, and it is all too easy to label
the other as "enemy", in which case a helpful discussion or forgiving
It may also be worthwhile searching for the real underlying reason
of the problem. Of special importance is to evaluate one's own role
in the situation: my own fears, insecurity, being very unfriendly,
or not being blameless (like leaving home much too late for an appointment
and blaming the 5 minutes delay of the train).
ANTIDOTE - Realisation of Emptiness.
See the page on Wisdom. To summarise
it briefly, if one deeply realises the emptiness of inherent existence
or interdependence of the other person, the situation and oneself,
there is nothing to be angry about. The realisation of emptiness
is therefore the ultimate means of ridding oneself of unrealistic
negative emotions like anger.
ANTIDOTE 7 - Equanimity.
Equanimity means that one realises the basic equality of all sentient
beings; others want happiness, just like I do. Others make mistakes
just like I do. Others are confused, angry, attached just like I
often am. Is the other person happy in this situation, or just struggling
like I am?
ANTIDOTE 8 - Openness
Be prepared to be open for the motivation of others to do what causes
you problems. Talking it over and being prepared to listen can suddenly
make a problem acceptable.
Did you ever notice the difference when a plane or train has much
delay and nobody gives any reasons for it? People very quickly become
irritated and hostile. Then when the driver or pilot explains there
is a technical defect or an accident, suddenly waiting becomes easier.
ANTIDOTE 9 - Relativity.
Ask yourself if this situation is actually important enough to spoil
your own and other people's mood. Is this problem worth getting
upset in a life where death can hit me at any moment?
ANTIDOTE 10 - Change Your Motivation.
In case a situation is really unacceptable, and another person needs
to convinced that something is to be done or changed, there is no
need to become upset and angry. It is likely much more efficient
if you show of understanding and try to make the other understand
the need for change. If one needs to appear angry for some reason
to convince the other person of the seriousness of the situation,
one can think like a parent acting wrathful to prevent the child
from harming itself.
In general, to be really effective one needs to reflect on quite
a number of aspects in one's own mind like; forgiveness, peace of
mind, fears, self-acceptance (no acceptance of others is really
possible without self-acceptance), habits, prejudices etc. A list
of aspects to start with is given in the page about the mind,
under the 26 non-virtuous mental factors.
ANTIDOTE 11 - Watch Your Hands.
An interesting suggestion from Jon Kabat-Zinn, from 'Wherever
You Go, There You Are':
"All our hand postures are mudras in that
they are associated with subtle or not-so-subtle energies. Take
the energy of the fist, for instance. When we get angry, our hands
tend to close into fists. Some people unknowingly practice this
mudra a lot in their lives. It waters the seeds of anger and violence
within you ever time you do it, and they respond by sprouting
and growing stronger.
The next time you find yourself making fists out of anger, try
to bring mindfulness to the inner attitude embodied in a fist.
Feel the tension, the hatred, the anger, the aggression, and the
fear which it contains. Then, in the midst of your anger, as an
experiment, if the person you are angry at is present, try opening
your fists and placing the palms together over your heart in the
prayer position right in front of him. (Of course, he won't have
the slightest idea what you are doing.) Notice what happens to
the anger and hurt as you hold this position for even a few moments."
ANTIDOTE 12 - Meditation.
Last, but certainly not least, meditation can be the ultimate cure
to completely eliminating anger from your mind. In the beginning,
one can do analytical meditations (like this
meditation on anger), but also meditation on compassion,
forgiving reduce anger as well. Ultimately, the realization
eradicates all delusions like anger.
^Top of Page
Click for a
sample meditation on anger; for more meditations, see the List
of Sample Meditations.
A couple of nice traditional stories on anger can be found at this
'Being mad' is called so as it is truly mad to be so.
Grant me the stubbornness to change what I can, the laziness to
accept what I cannot, and enough beer to sit around and endlessly
discuss the difference between the two.
Did you ever notice when you blow in a dog's face he gets mad at
But when you take him in a car he sticks his head out the window.
Anytime you point the finger of blame at someone, remember that
there are 4 fingers pointing back at you.
updated: September 11, 2011