In May 2011, at the Newark Peace Education Summit in New Jersey, the Dalai Lama and Jody Williams—both Nobel Peace Prize winners—debated the role of anger in social action work. The Dalai Lama held that people must have inner peace in order to promote peace in the world. “Too much emotion, attachment, anger, or fear, that kind of mental state, you can’t investigate objectively,” he said. Williams respectfully disagreed. “It’s anger at injustice which fires many of us,” she argued.
As Buddhists, we may tend to agree with the Dalai Lama. But after listening to Williams, a powerful activist for social change, a compelling question emerged: Is anger ever a good thing?
Tricycle decided to ask John Makransky (“Lama John” to his friends and students; he was in fact installed as a lama in the lineage of Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche), a professor of Buddhism at Boston College who regularly leads social justice retreats that often deal with anger. Before talking about anger at injustice, Dr. Makransky says, we need to understand what we normally identify as anger. It is only when we recognize that the source of ordinary anger is delusion and self-centeredness that we can begin to use anger’s powerful energy and wisdom for the benefit of all beings.
—Sam Mowe, Associate Editor
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