To say that we all know anger would not seem as an overstatement but in the context of dhamma knowingness has a deeper meaning. It means understanding the arising, cessation, gratification, danger and emancipation of the particular phenomenon. Therefore a more apt claim would be that we have all felt anger whether as a fleeting annoyance or a full-fledged rage rather than actually knowing it.
Manifold Facets of Anger
Apart from being one of the three root defilements, one of the ten fetters, anger is also one of the five hindrances known as ill will (vyāpāda) and the most subtle state of anger is its existence as a proclivity (patighanusaya), the tendency to get angry. As long as these impurities exist in the mind even the most meek and subdued can lose their temper, it’s just a matter of pushing the right buttons.
What Triggers Anger?
One may come up with millions of reasons for getting angry but it all boils down to the fact that we get angry when things don’t quite go our way. Within us is the fetter Kāma Rāga, the desire for sensual pleasure that propels us into an endless journey in pursuit of pleasant forms, sounds, smells, tastes and tangibles. Yet in life, more often than not, we come to contact with unpleasant chords of sensual pleasure. We see and hear things we dislike, we smell, taste, and feel things we repel and it is this experiencing of the undesirable that triggers anger which is in other terms the fetter ‘patigha’. Simply said, as long as there are things we like, so would there be dislikes. The fetters Kāma Rāga and Patigha are like two sides of a coin, if you get rid of one you get rid of both. The bottom line is if there is nothing you like what is there to dislike? It is this feeling of indifference towards all things and all phenomena that obliterate anger once and forever; a sublime state achieved by non-returners and arahants.
Fundamental Aspects of Anger
Just as everything, anger is also conditioned and exists with reason. Which is why anger is not a lasting emotion but one that comes and goes from time to time due to various reasons.
Anger arises because of signs or objects that trigger anger (patigha nimitta) and unwise consideration (ayonisomanasikāra). If any one of these factors are taken out anger would eventually subside.
Understanding these two aspects is key in coping with anger. The sign or object that triggers anger can be both internal and external. It may be a nagging thought of displeasure of a person, or an incident that frequent your mind or something unfavourable you perceive through your eye, ear, nose, tongue or body. In either instance one may abandon anger by skillfully shifting one’s attention away from the object that triggers anger or by avoiding the situation altogether. That been said, in your daily life you may come across individuals or situations you are compelled to put up with and cannot avoid. That is when you should use wise consideration (yonisomanasikāra) to diffuse unwise consideration (ayonisomanasikāra). This means changing our thinking pattern. The average person who has not heard the teachings of Lord Buddha thinks in a way that fuels anger, greed, delusion and all other defilements that brings about the endless samsaric journey and the whole mass of suffering that comes with it. Hearing the teachings of Lord Buddha and the arahants paves the way to wise consideration. When you contemplate according to the dhamma you are replacing unwise consideration with wise consideration and thus abandoning anger.
Why are Some People More Angrier than Others?
Though we all experience anger from time to time, some are more prone to anger than others. Lord Buddha once pointed out that there are five categories of individuals. One’s who are more greedy, more angry, more deluded, more conceited and more busy-minded. We all fall into any one of these categories. Therefore some people may tend to be angrier than others.
Myths and Facts about Anger and Anger Management
Myth: I shouldn’t “hold in” my anger. It’s healthy to vent and let it out.
Fact: Anger whether held in or let out is never a healthy proposition. If you seek solace in venting your anger on others it would only worsen the situation and you’ll be flagged as an ill-tempered person among your family, friends and co-workers. If you nurture a strong dislike towards your angry state of mind and be mindful when anger crops up in your mind, anger will slowly but surely lose its footing in your mind, giving you more control over your anger.
Myth: Anger, aggression and intimidation help me earn respect and get what I want.
Fact: Respect cannot be earned by bullying, belittling and intimidating others, you have to give respect to get respect, it is as simple as that. Just because people fear you, it doesn’t mean they’ll respect you. You shall never be able to gain their confidence or corporation. In the long run you will be the one to suffer most because of your anger and aggression, in this life and afterlife as well.
Myth: I can’t help myself. Anger isn’t something you can control.
Fact: Anger can be controlled; in fact it can be totally eradicated just as Lord Buddha and the great arahants did. To do so, we can draw confidence from the teachings of Lord Buddha, such as the following,
“Bhikkhus, abandon the unwholesome, if it were not possible to abandon the unwholesome, I would not say: ‘ Bhikkhus, abandon the unwholesome!” Further the Blessed One stressed, “Bhikkhus, abandoning the unwholesome leads to welfare and happiness, if it was not so, I would not tell you to abandon the unwholesome.”
Myth: Anger is inherited.
Fact: Sometimes we may hear someone say, “I inherited my anger from my father, that’s just the way I am.” This statement implies that the expression of anger is a fixed and unalterable personality trait. But it isn’t. As per the teachings of Lord Buddha our eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind are the creation of our past kamma. Which means our state of mind; whether we are more prone to anger or not is dependent on our past kamma, not our inheritance. Therefore as all things conditioned, anger too is impermanent and can be eradicated by nullifying the causes.
Strategies to Keep Anger at Bay
Make a firm resolution as to not get angry despite the circumstances.
When you feel the first signs of anger arise within you, nip it in the bud before it reaches a flash point.
Beware of the fault-finding nature of the mind and train your mind to focus on the good in a person, rather than the bad or negative aspects.
Be mindful and cultivate awareness of the fundamental aspects of anger which are; the sign or object that triggers anger and unwise consideration.
Acknowledge that anger impairs your judgment, and can be the cause of dire consequence that breeds suffering in this life and the next life as well.
Keep in mind that patience is a virtue that goes hand in hand with loving-kindness; the antidote to anger.
Nurture a strong dislike towards anger and develop loving-kindness as an abiding passion.
Keep the following words of Lord Buddha firmly etched in your mind,
“Bhikkhus, even if bandits were to savagely severe you, limb by limb, with a double-handed saw, even then, if you were to feel angry you will not be upholding my Teaching.”
“Bhikkhus, you should keep this instruction on the simile of the saw constantly in mind. That will be conducive to your happiness and well being for a long time indeed.”
By a Venerable Thero of
Mahamevnawa Budhhist Monastery