ivebeenanger1WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU? You’re angry!

Image: Robert Beer from Tibetan Thangka Painting: Methods and Madness by David and Janice Jackson, courtesy of Snow Lion Publications.
Image: Robert Beer from Tibetan Thangka Painting: Methods and Madness by David and Janice Jackson, courtesy of Snow Lion Publications.

If you are angry and you meditate to get rid of your anger, you will only frustrate yourself. Meditate because you are angry, not to eliminate it. Thich Nhar Hanh says we must learn how to hold anger like a baby: we need to learn how to be angry, not how to express or repress it. Whenever we take any emotion and make it into an It (as in “I can’t stand it any longer” or “I have to get it out of my system”), we are in trouble.

The classic Buddhist psychological texts have a lot to say about working with anger. In the Visuddhimagga (the fifth-century Sinhalese “Path of Purification”), for instance, the mental factor ofdosa, or hate, is described as follows: “Herein, by its means they hate, or it itself hates, or it is just mere hating, thus it is hate (dosa). It has the characteristic of savageness, like a provoked snake. Its function is to spread, like a drop of poison, or its function is to burn up its own support, like a forest fire.  It is manifested as persecuting (dusana), like an enemy who has got his chance. Its proximate cause is the grounds for annoyance. It should be regarded as like stale urine mixed with poison.”

Recognizing the character of anger, as described in this text, is a big help in learning to work with it skillfully. We feel righteous when we are angry, but more often than not we end up being self-destructive. The grounds for annoyance are there, but we respond in a way that is savage. Like a forest fire, anger tends to burn up its own support. If we jump down into the middle of such a fire, we will have little chance of putting it out, but if we create a clearing around the edges, the fire can burn itself out. This is the role of meditation: creating a clearing around the margins of anger. Ten years of meditation might be a good start, but it is actually very difficult to carve out that margin. Holding anger like a baby while at the same time regarding it like stale urine mixed with poison is a neat trick. The Dalai Lama implies something like this when he teaches us to offer gratitude to our enemies for teaching us patience.

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