What is anger and what isn’t it?

Mar 11, 2021


A perfect question. And the perfect answer, which I heard from a lama, is: “Anger is the response when attachment doesn’t get what it wants.” But what is it not?


Anger is not physical. Anger is part of our mind, and our mind is not physical. It exists in dependence upon the brain, the genes, the chemical reactions, but it is not these things. 


When anger’s strong, it triggers huge physical symptoms: the blood boils, the heart beats fast, the spit comes out the mouth, the eyes open wide in panic, the voice shouts. Or if we experience aversion as depression, the body feels like a lead weight; there’s no energy, terrible inertia. And then, when we boost our serotonin, the body feels good again. 


But these are just gross expressions of what, finally, is purely thought: a story made up by our conceptual mind that exaggerates the ugly aspects of the person or event or oneself. 


Anger is not someone else’s fault. This doesn’t mean that the person didn’t punch me; sure they did. And it doesn’t mean that punching me is not bad; sure it is. But the person didn’t make me angry. The punch is merely the catalyst for my anger, a tendency in my mind. If there were no anger, all I’d get is a broken nose.


Anger does not come from our parents. We love to blame our parents! Actually, if Buddha is wrong in his assertion that our mind comes from previous lives and is propelled by the force of our own past actions into our mother’s womb; and if the materialists are right in asserting that our parents created us, then we should blame them. How dare they create me, like Frankenstein and his monster, giving me anger and jealousy and the rest! But they didn’t, Buddha says. (Nor did a superior being – but we dare not blame him!). They gave us a body; the rest is ours (including our good qualities).


Anger isn’t only the shouting. Just because a person doesn’t shout and yell doesn’t mean they’re not angry. When we understand that anger is based on the thought called aversion, then we can see we are all angry. Of course, if we never look inside, we won’t notice the aversion; that’s why people who don’t express anger experience it as depression or guilt. 


Anger is not necessary for compassionate action. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, responded to an interviewer who suggested that anger seems to act as a motivator for action, “I know what you mean. But with anger, your wish to help doesn’t last. With compassion, you never give up.”


We need to discriminate between good and bad, but Buddha says that we should criticize the action, not the person. As Martin Luther King said, it’s okay to find fault – but then we should think, “What can I do about it?” 


It’s exactly the same with seeing our own faults, but instead of feeling guilty we should think, “What can I do about it?” Then we can change. Anger and guilt are paralyzed, impotent, useless.


Anger is not natural. Often we think we need anger in order to be a reasonable human being; that it’s unnatural not to have it; that it gives perspective to life. It’s a bit like thinking that in order to appreciate pleasure we need to know pain. But that’s obviously ridiculous: for me to appreciate your kindness, you first need to punch me in the nose?


Anger is not at the core of our being. Being a delusional state of mind, a lie, a misconception, it’s logical that anger can be eliminated. If I think there are two cups on my table, whereas there is only one, that’s a misconception. What to do with the thought “there are two cups on my table”? Remove it from my mind! Recognize that there is one cup and stop believing the lie. Simple. 


Of course, the lies that believe that I’m self-existent, that delicious objects make me happy, that ugly ones make me suffer, that my mind is my brain, that someone else created me – these lies have been in my mind since beginningless time. But the method for getting rid of them is the same. 


What’s left when we’ve removed the lies, the delusions, is the truth of our own innate goodness, fully perfected. That is what’s natural.

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