I have had a few angry conversations in recent months. One with a fellow blogger whom I’ve never met, one with the BBC and one with the manager of my son’s football team. Whether I ‘won the arguments’ or not is irrelevant (except to my ego), whether I was right or wrong is equally by-the-by. Buddhism teaches the sometimes inconvenient truth that I attract these situations into my life, that my own inner anger is like a magnet that can pull me into conflicts and sometimes sees me being disrespectful and losing my temper more than I would like to.
Luckily I have learned a lot about anger from my 12-year-old son Leon. A few years ago, when I was trying to catch the cat to take her to the vet, I asked him to make sure he didn’t leave the back door open. Unfortunately he did, the cat escaped, we were going to be late, I exploded with rage… And he just calmly looked at me and said: “Daddy, getting angry won’t bring the cat back in.” I was gobsmacked and will never forget this humbling moment and the fact that he naturally focused on the solution instead of the problem. Chanting about it later, it occurred to me that anger is the first reaction of the stupid when it needs to be the last resort of the wise.
But of all the emotions that people struggle with, anger is perhaps the most challenging and the one most often discussed in coaching sessions, in mindfulness therapy and on personal development courses. We get angry at ourselves – what we did and didn’t do. We get angry at others – what they have or haven’t said or done. We get angry with (tick any that apply to you…) politicians, bosses, neighbours, colleagues, drivers, referees, husbands, wives, children, siblings, friends, customers, call centre agents and traffic wardens. We even get angry at inanimate objects such as traffic lights, flat-pack furniture and doors.
As always in Buddhism, you are totally responsible for how you feel and act, as Daisaku Ikeda points out: “If someone hits you and you hit him back, the first blow is the stimulus leading to the second, but it is not the ultimate cause. You can maintain that you hit the person because he hit you, but in fact you hit him because you are you.”
And Buddhism does not say, “Never get angry.” In fact one of the things I found most irritating (ironically…) when I first read Nichiren’s writings was just how angry he often seemed – this did not fit in with my pre-conceived ideas of a serene and meditative Buddhist guru. Nichiren got angry with the authorities of Japan. With corrupt priests. With other Buddhist schools. Anger was in many ways the fuel and passion that fired his determination to spread the revolutionary teachings of the Lotus Sutra amongst the Japanese people, aiming to show all people how to become truly happy in this lifetime.
Say goodbye to your angry victim
Of all the angry emotions we feel, the rage of an angry victim is one of the most damaging and difficult to change. The angry victim does not accept accountability for his karma, is stuck in the past, sabotages positive affirmations, feels sorry for himself and blames other people for his difficulties. The angry victim does not forget and does not forgive. No recompense or apology is ever enough for him because deep down he wants to stay an angry victim, he gains some sort of emotional comfort from it. And incidentally, the only thing worse than one angry victim is two angry victims blaming each other for their unhappiness. Here’s a suggestion: become an architect of your future, not an angry victim of your past.
Discover the value in anger
So, anger in and of itself is neither good nor bad. It all depends on what you do with this passion, this powerful energy. Here are 7 questions that might help you decide whether your anger creates or destroys value:
- Is your anger protecting your small ego? Your reputation? Your low self-esteem?
- Or are you standing up for the dignity of life?
- Do you get angry at others because you don’t want to apologise for your own mistakes, such is your need to be right all the time?
- Or are you using your anger to benefit others as well as yourself?
- Is your anger aimed purely at winning an argument?
- Or are you fighting on a wider scale for progress and justice?
- Does your anger help you and someone else connect with their Buddhahood?
Very often the emotions that seem to emerge when we determine to create value from anger are Wisdom and Compassion, two of the key qualities that you can develop through chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. Where anger separates us by focusing on what makes us different, Compassion and Wisdom focus on the shared humanity we naturally feel when we chant, when we connect with the Universe at its most profound level.
A lesson my wise young son seems to have grasped long before me…