Q&A: Working with Anger
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©
Does being patient with people who harm us mean being
passive? Must we let them get their way or walk all over us?
No. We can redress a bad situation without antagonism.
In fact, well be more effective in doing so when were
calm and clear-thinking.
Sometimes we may have to speak strongly to someone
because that is the only way to communicate with her. For example,
if your child is playing in the street and you very sweetly say,
"Susie dear, please dont play in the street," she
may ignore you. But if you speak forcefully and explain the danger
to her, shell remember and obey.
As a sports enthusiast, isnt anger good because
it helps you to win the game? Is sports a good way to release anger?
Yes, sports is a socially accepted way of venting
anger. However, it doesnt cure the anger, it only temporarily
releases the physical energy accompanying anger. We are still avoiding
the real problem, which is our disturbing emotion and misconceptions
regarding a situation.
Yes, anger may help you win the game, but is
that really beneficial? Is it worthwhile to reinforce negative characteristics
just to get a trophy? The danger in sports is making the "us
and them" too concrete. "My team must win. We have to
fight and beat the enemy."
But lets step back for a moment. Why should
we win and the other team lose? The only reason is "My team
is best because its mine." The other team feels the same
way. Who is right? Competition based on such self-centredness isnt
productive because it breeds anger and jealousy.
On the other hand, we can concentrate on the
process of playing the game, not on the goal of winning. In this
case, well enjoy the physical exercise, the camaraderie and
team spirit, whether we win or lose. Psychologically, this attitude
brings more happiness.
How do we deal with anger when we witness a person
All the techniques described above are applicable
here. However, being patient doesnt mean being passive. We
may have to actively stop one person from harming another, but the
key is to do this with impartial compassion for everyone in the
Its easy to have compassion for the victim.
But compassion for the perpetrator is equally important. This person
is creating the cause for his own suffering: he may be tortured
by guilt later, he may encounter trouble with the law, and he will
reap the karmic fruits of his own actions. Recognising the suffering
he brings on himself, we can develop compassion for him. Thus, with
equal concern for the victim and the perpetrator, we can act to
prevent one person from harming another.
We neednt be angry in order to correct
a wrong. Actions done out of anger may complicate the situation
even more! With a clear mind, well be able to determine more
easily what we can do to help.
How can we help someone who is creating negative
karma by getting angry at us?
Each situation is different and will have to
be examined separately. However, some general guidelines may apply.
First, check up if the others complaints about us are justified.
If so, we can apologise and correct the situation. That stops his
Second, when someone is very upset and angry,
try to calm him down. Dont argue back, because in his state
of mind, he cant listen to you. This is understandable: we
dont listen to others when we are in a temper. So its
better to help him settle down and later, perhaps the next day,
What do we do when people criticise Buddhism?
Thats their opinion. Theyre entitled
to have it. Of course, we dont agree with it. Sometimes we
may succeed in correcting anothers misconceptions, but sometimes
people are very closed-minded and dont want to change their
views. Thats their business. Just leave it.
We dont need others approval to
practice the Dharma. But we do need to be convinced in our hearts
that what we do is right. If we are, then others opinions
Others criticisms dont hurt the
Dharma or the Buddha. The path to enlightenment exists whether others
recognise it as such or not. We dont need to be defensive.
In fact, if we become agitated when others criticise Buddhism, it
indicates were attached to our beliefs that our ego
is involved and so we feel compelled to prove our beliefs are right.
When were secure in what we believe, others
criticisms dont disturb our peace of mind. Why should it?
Criticism doesnt mean we are stupid or bad. Its simply
anothers opinion, thats all.
Tibetan Buddhism has many images of fierce deities.
What do they mean?
These deities or Buddha figures are manifestations
of the Buddhas wisdom and compassion. Their ferocity isnt
directed towards living beings, because as Buddhas, they have only
compassion for others. Rather their force is aimed at ignorance
and selfishness, the real causes of all our problems.
By showing a fierce aspect, these deities demonstrate
the need to act firmly and swiftly against our ignorance and selfishness.
Being patient with internal enemies, the disturbing attitudes, isnt
beneficial at all. We should actively oppose them. These deities
illustrate that instead of being wrathful towards other beings,
we should be fierce with internal enemies like ignorance and selfishness.
In addition, as manifestations of compassionate
wisdom, these deities symbolically represent compassionate wisdom
conquering disturbing attitudes.
How do we identify our anger?
There are several ways to do this. When we do
the breathing meditation, clearly focussing on the inhalation and
exhalation of the breath, observe what distractions arise. We may
recognise a general feeling of restlessness or anger. Or we may
remember a situation from years ago that were still irritated
about. By noting these distractions, well know what we need
to work on. We can also identify our anger by being aware of our
physical reactions, whether were meditating or not.
For example, if we feel our stomach tightening,
or our body temperature increasing, it may be a signal that were
starting to lose our temper. Each person has different physical
manifestations of anger. We can be observant and note ours. This
is helpful, for sometimes its easier to identify the physical
sensation accompanying anger than the anger itself.
Another way is to observe our moods. When were
in a bad mood, we can pause and ask ourselves, "What is this
feeling? What prompted it?" Sometimes we can observe patterns
in our moods and behaviours. This gives us clues as to how our minds
What can we do about anger that has been building
up over a long period of time?
It will take a while to free our minds from
this. Habitual anger must be replaced with habitual patience, and
this takes time and consistent effort to develop. When we notice
our anger building up towards someone, its helpful to ask
ourselves, "What button is this person pushing in me? Why am
I so irritated by her actions?" In this way, we research our
reactions to determine the real issue involved. Do we feel powerless?
Do we feel no one listens to us? Are we offended? Observing in this
way, well come to know ourselves better and can then apply
the right antidote to that disturbing attitude.
Of course, prevention is the best medicine.
Instead of allowing our anger to build up over time, its better
to be courageous and try to communicate with the other person earlier
on. This stops the proliferation of misconceptions and misunderstandings.
If we allow our anger to build up over time, how can we blame it
on the other person? We have some responsibility to try to communicate
with people who disturb us.