The Dalai Lama On Anger

by Φ

Excerpt from Worlds in Harmony, by The Dalai Lama


Anger is often just suffering that has not met with compassion. If someone is annoying you or making you angry, you can use that as an opportunity to counter your own anger with the cultivation of compassion. But if the annoyance is too powerful—if you find the person so repulsive that you cannot bear to be in his presence—it may be better to look for the exit!
Here is the principle: if your anger is not too strong, it is better to meet events or people who annoy you head on. But if the encounter is not possible, work on yourself by yourself. In Buddhism, it is standard practice to reflect again & again on the disadvantages and destructive nature of anger. By doing so, the mental affliction will gradually diminish.

Anger cannot be overcome by anger. If a person shows anger to you and you respond with anger, the result is a disaster. In contrast, if you control anger and show the opposite attitude—compassion, tolerance, and patience—then not only do you yourself remain in peace, but also the other person’s anger will gradually diminish. The responsibility rests in thought.
If you look deeply into such things, the blueprint is found within—in the mind—out of which actions come. Thus, first controlling the mind is very important. I am not talking about controlling the mind in the sense of deep mediation, but rather in the sense of cultivating less anger, more respect for others’ rights, more concern for other people, more clear realization of the sameness of human beings.
With kindness and love, peace of mind can be achieved. No one wants mental unrest, but because of ignorance, depression and so on, these things occur. Bad attitudes arise from the power of ignorance, not of their own accord.

Through anger we lose one of the best human qualities—the power of judgement. We have a good brain, allowing us to judge what is right and what is wrong, not only in terms of today’s concerns but considering ten, twenty, or even a hundred years into the future. Without any precognition, we can use our normal common sense to determine if something is right or wrong. We can decide that if we do such and such, it will lead to such an such effect. However, once the mind is occupied by anger, we lose this power of judgment. Once lost, it is very sad—physically you are a human being but mentally you are not complete. Given that we have this physical human form, we must safeguard our mental capacity for judgment. For that we cannot take out insurance. The insurance company is within ourselves: self-discipline, self-awareness, and clear realization of the shortcomings of anger and the positive effects of kindness. Thinking about this again and again, we can become convinced of it; and then with self-awareness, we can control the mind.
For instance, at present you may be a person who, due to small things, gets quickly and easily irritated. With clear understanding & awareness, that can be controlled. If you usually remain angry for about ten minutes, try to reduce it to eight minutes. Next week make it five minutes and next month two minutes. Then make it zero. This is the way to develop and train our minds.

I understand that in Western psychotherapy, repressing these mental afflictions is said to have very bad effects on both the body and the mind. I have heard some people say, “You must express hostility when it arises.” I feel that there might be a difference between the mental conflicts that one feels and the emotions they give rise to—anger, hostility, and so forth. If you are not able to express the mental conflicts that you have, then at a later point in your life, when you are able to express these mental conflicts, they are automatically accompanied by hostility & anger. Therefor it is important to express suffering, not so much the hostility, but rather the suffering.

Leaving aside one’s whole history & childhood experiences, if one meets with something unpleasant right now & one feels anger, is it best to express it or to not express it, if one’s basic wish is to decrease anger, to be free of it? If we express our anger, it’s like simply being aware of the first two noble truths, and never getting around to the third and fourth truths of liberation & its path. Sometimes people aren’t aware of their anger. This subconscious anger, if it has a parallel in Buddhist writings, would have more to do with  what is called mental unhappiness or dissatisfaction, in the sense that this is regarded as the source for anger & hostility. We can see it in terms of lack of awareness, as well as an active misconstruing of reality.

Transforming Anger

Many of us wonder what we can do with anger when we find ourselves in it. Often we direct our anger at another person, someone who we think has hurt us or offended us in some way. If you anger is not very forceful, you can try to look at a different aspect of the person. Every person, no matter how negative she seems to be, also has positive attributes. If you try to look at that side of her, the anger will immediately be reduced. This is one way. Another thing you can do is to try to find what is good or useful about the anger. Anger is really something awful. On the other hand, you  can find many good things in patience, compassion, and love. Once you have that kind of genuine conviction, when anger begins to develop, you will remember its negativity and try to reduce it.
But when your anger is too forceful, you can try to direct your mind elsewhere, on some other thing. Just close your eyes and concentrate fully on your breathing. Count your breaths up to about twenty or twenty-five. Then the anger will be slightly reduced, slightly cooled down. But if the anger is very, very strong, then fight! …I am just making a joke. But really, it is better to express it than to hide it inside. A very negative, hateful feeling may remain there for years. That is worse. Compared to that, it is better to say a few nasty words.

Dealing with Fear

I notice for myself that anger that does not come from suffering usually comes from fear. I find that there are two types of fear. In one kind, things are quite delicate or critical. At such times, I know that I must make a decision, whether I know what to do or not. First I try to consult with my friends and reflect on it. Then I make a decision and act, and I never feel regret. Ultimately, this is very much related to motivation. If I have no negative selfish motivation, deep down I will have no guilty feeling. When I act with sincere motivation, even if things do not go as expected, there is no regret.
A second kind of fear is based on imagination. To overcome that, you need calmness so that you can investigate it more closely. When you look into it in detail, your imaginary fear dissipates.
We have to look into individual cases. Sometimes, you see, there is real danger associated with some kinds of fear. In that case, it is worthwhile to feel fear. Out of fear, you see how to take every proper precaution. It can be a serious loss if there is an actual danger and you feel no fear!
But another type of fear, when there is no imminent danger, is fear you have created. With that kind of fear, the essential thing is to have sincere motivation and openness deep down. This is very helpful for reducing the fear. With self-confidence you can meet any person and talk with him or her, even though you may still have fear. Because of your confidence, you have some kind of justice or truth within you.

Cultivating Altruism

I think we must begin by investigating our own daily experience and reading stories about others to see the consequences of anger and the consequences of love and compassion. If we make a comparative study of these two attitudes, we will develop a deeper understanding of the negative results of anger and the positive results of compassion. Once we are convinced of the benefits of compassion and the negative consequences of anger & hatred—that they always cause unhappiness within us—then we will make more effort to have less anger. We will take a more cautious approach. We usually think that anger is protecting us from something, but that is a deception. So, most important is to realize the negative consequences of anger and hatred.
Sometimes people feel that when there is a natural disaster or a tragedy brought about by human beings, we will have more energy and boldness to fight back if we are angry. But, in my experience, even though anger gives us energy to act or to speak out, it is blind energy, and difficult to control. During that moment we may not care, but after a few minutes we will feel much regret. When we are angry we use nasty, harsh words which, once spoken, cannot be withdrawn. Afterward, when our anger has disappeared and we meet the other person again, we feel terrible. During that moment, we lost our judgment and became half-mad.

There are many different levels and forces of anger. When a small anger is about to arise, it is easy to control. But, if a stronger, more forceful anger comes, we have to try different techniques to handle it. Just acknowledging the destructive potential of negative mental states can reduce their strengths.

Human intelligence is one of our best attributes. It can assess the long- and short-term consequences of our actions. But it cannot function properly when we are under the sway of strong emotion. When we react in anger, we do not know whether our action will be effective or not. But, without anger, we can analyze the situation and see whether a strong countermeasure is called for and, if it is, we can take such an action with no ill feeling. If we have a genuine sense of universal responsibility, we are also concerned about the other person and the long-term consequences for her. With this realization, we see that a countermeasure that is taken without anger is more correct and effective. The only usefulness of anger is the energy it brings, but we can also derive energy from other sources without having to cause harm to ourselves or others.

The smile is one of the most beautiful characteristics of a human being.