Tuesday, March 30, 2010

There Is No Greater Evil Than Anger

The First in a Three-Part Serie on Anger

Anger Is Always Unhealthy and Destructive

All the virtuous deeds and merit,
Such as giving and making offerings,
That we have accumulated over thousands of eons
Can be destroyed by just one moment of anger.

There is no evil greater than anger,
And no virtue greater than patience.
Therefore, I should strive in various ways
To become familiar with the practice of patience.

If I harbor painful thoughts of anger,
I shall not experience mental peace,
I shall find no joy or happiness,
And I shall be unsettled and unable to sleep.

––Excerpts from Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva

Anger and the Abrahamic Religions

From Genesis, where we see the first signs of the Abrahamic God becoming angry with Adam and Eve to Exodus, where God is raging, first at the Egyptians and then at his chosen people, through to Jesus tirade at the money-changers in the Temple to the command in Ephesians (4:26): “Be angry,” we see anger as godly and righteous, though both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures warn us against “worldly” or “manly” anger. The Quran shares many of these early references as well as references to Mohammed becoming angry and condoning righteous anger.

In the Abrahamic religions, there is good anger and bad anger. Good anger is the anger of God or his representatives (Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, et al), or anger at what one supposes would anger God or his representatives, or anger at perceived injustices. All other anger, worldly anger, is defined as bad anger. This understanding of anger, however, condones and encourages most forms of anger and ultimately justifies everything from the periodic slaughters and genocides of the early Hebrew Scriptures to the medieval Inquisition and Crusades to today’s violent Jihads.

Anger and Buddhism

Buddhist on the other hand views all anger as a defilement. In fact, anger is such a strong defilement that it is categorized, along with greed and delusion, as one of the three poisons. And one of the fundamental principles of Buddhism is that defiled behavior can only lead to more defiled behavior: being angry cannot make us peaceful, acting angrily does cannot make this a better world.

For Buddhists, anger is anger, anger is always a defilement, an afflicted emotion, and there is no such thing as righteous anger or righteous indignation. For Buddhists, “anger management” is an oxymoron. It is not about “managing” our anger, meaning making better use of our anger, it is about eliminating anger.

Anger is one of the most common and destructive defilements, it afflicts our minds almost all the time, whether it is in its least weighty forms, as uneasiness or irritability, or in its full-blown forms, as rage/fury and combat.

Ending Anger

To minimize and ultimately eliminate anger, we need to understand it and to develop wisdom, patience, and discipline
·       We need to recognize anger and how and when it arises in our mind.
·       We need to understand that for anger to arise, we must lack compassion for those who are suffering;
·       We need to understand then that developing compassion will reduce our anger.
·       We must acknowledge how anger is always harmful, never beneficial, to both us and others.
·       We need to see that patience is the antidote for anger, and
·       We need to understand the benefits of being patient in the face of difficulties.
·       We then need to apply practical methods in our daily life to reduce our anger (right speech, for example) and finally to prevent it from arising at all.

This is called leading a disciplined life.

Leading a disciplined life and avoiding negative actions and mind-states is what Buddhists understand as The Path.

Kinda-Sorta In Dependent Origination Terms

When there is aversion, anger arises. With the ceasing of anger, compassion and patience arise.
When there is compassion and patience, anger does not arise.

The wisdom piece: Anger can arise because we are not being compassionate and patient. Which begs the question, why aren’t we feeling compassionate and patient? It is because our stories (our fabrications about what is happening rather than what is happening dominate our thinking) are causing us to pull seeds of great aversion.

To insist on compassion, we must learn to understand, on progressively deeper and deeper practice levels, that everyone is suffering and that everything they do, however dysfunctional, is an attempt to relieve their suffering.

When we see this, deeply see this, we become compassionate not angry and seek way to help rather than retaliate.

Studying and contemplating the first noble truth, there is suffering, can be very beneficial in developing this aspect of wisdom.

The second in this three-part series will be posted in about two weeks.


  1. As always my friend you are so insightful,

    It has been some time since I seen you are made the trip to Chicago. Please keep up your good work, and I will continue to enjoy your writings

    Farmington, MO

  2. Thank you for reminding me that all anger arises from suffering. How easy it is to forget this.