I was reflecting on the question in the title of this topic after watching Greta Thunberg’s recent speech at the UN.
On the one hand I believe that climate change is an extremely important problem and on the other I could not help feeling that there was a lot of anger, even hate, behind Greta’s speech.
So what she is doing is probably useful, but the emotions where this is coming from are probably not very wholesome (I say this with the full awareness that I am myself victim of such emotions more often than I would like).
So are there examples of justifiable anger (at least for lay people) in the EBT (because it is channeled in doing useful things?)
PS I know that the most important problem for monastics is to attain the end of suffering rather than be involved in the world; but this does not exclude I believe, at least for those of us who are still ‘stuck’ in samsara, to try to make the earth a better place when possible.
Also it is worth doing a search of the material on discourse using the Q function in the top bar, for topics that have already discussed anger and fault finding. If you still have questions after that, then we can keep building answers based on that.
Thanks! I am not sure whether you meant that the link on how to criticize should be useful to Greta and people campaigning for the environment, or else to myself (in that case I want to stress that I was not criticizing her speech, just stating the obvious - that is that there was a lot of anger in it).
Anyway my fear is that if environmentalists are careful to establish those 5 things, there’s the risk that they wouldn’t have much impact in the real world of politics. Also, I am not sure how point 5 on the monastic code is relevant to us lay people.
Thanks so much for raising this important issue, and likewise a vitally important question in connection to it.
I must say, I really have to disagree with this interpretation, she strikes me as simply being very matter of fact. Direct talk isn’t necessarily angry talk.
As it happens, just the other day I watched a truly uplifting panel discussion in which Thunberg took part:
One of the things that really struck me about the conversation, was the thoughtful, warm and understanding qualities that characterized it. One detail in particular that I found so heartening to observe (having grown incredibly weary of the grizzly, ‘blame-y’, aggressive tone of so much of our public discourse) was Thunberg’s comment that, to paraphrase: people aren’t evil, they just don’t know. To me there is such an admirable compassion underlying her approach to the issue.
Turning to your extremely important question, again, just the other day I watched the most inspiring interview with Venerable Analayo within which this exact issue was raised. By preference, I’d just post a link to that video because I couldn’t put things a fraction as well as he did, but unfortunately the host of that content has put it behind a paywall (finding this deeply unfortunate, I’ve written to ask if they have plans to make it public).
As an alternative, I’ll quote from his 2019 paper A Task for Mindfulness: Facing Climate Change (again most unfortunately, behind a paywall):
Another type of reaction to the crisis is anger. As just mentioned, some leading politicians and high-level executives are actively working to prevent appropriate changes from taking place. Yet, getting angry with them is not a solution. For one, to some degree, almost all human beings contribute to the problem. Let the one who has never driven a car, taken a flight, eaten food imported from abroad, worn clothing manufactured in a distant country, etc., throw the first stone.
Besides, at least from an early Buddhist perspective, even righteous anger is a defilement of the mind. There is definitely a place for stern and strong action, but this should better come with inner balance rather than aversion. Inner balance is crucial for any possible activity to achieve maximum benefit. From the viewpoint of mindfulness practice, getting angry equals succumbing to one of the root defilements and thereby to what has contributed to and sustains this very crisis.
Anger is a problem and not a solution. A solution can only be found when the mind is not clouded by defilements and therefore able to know and see things accurately. The Satipaṭṭhāna-sutta and its two Chinese Āgama parallels list anger not only as a state of mind under the third establishment of mindfulness but also as the second in a set of five “hindrances,” called such because they hinder the proper functioning of the mind.
Hi Aminah. Really! I thought that her UN talk (that @irene was referring to) was uncharacteristically emotionally charged (angry and hateful) for Thurberg.
Although I believe that the speech was a faux, scripted anger like many activist speeches - talking about “betrayal” and “never forgiving” the world leaders. Using phrases such as “how dare you?” I don’t think that this language is likely to be effective in changing minds, especially the mind of those such as Donald Trump. I think her earlier ‘matter of fact’, ‘let the science speak for itself’ approach was more useful, and Thurberg could deliver those speeches more effectively. I am unconvinced that her UN effort is likely to bring many people over to her side. Having said that, I have no real understanding of PR
Hullo! Nice to see you again. Hope you’re keeping well!
Aaah, fair-dos! I have to admit two things: 1) I haven’t seen the talk in question 2) when reading, my mind kind of collapsed “UN” and “EU” and I had the idea the speech Thunbery first became famous for was being referenced.
Again, I haven’t seen it, but I’ll certainly admit that the phrases mentioned above aren’t exactly ideal, and I’ll trust that even in context they may be a bit “off course” (as isolated statements it would be possible to frame them as matter of fact, but I take it that probably isn’t the case here).
That said, I think wherever one person happens to come from, or how one person takes on the pressured task of addressing the UN (myself, I wasn’t so much impressed with Bhikkhu Bodhi’s speech, but all the same appreciated his effort), is really a distraction from a much, much more important point (in this context) and speaking to that, again I refer back to Ven. Analayo’s words on how even righteous anger deviates from the Buddha’s teaching.
I don’t think that I would categorize the Thunberg UN speech as ‘righteous anger’. It was scripted, so it was more like acting rather than real anger. I think that there might be a place for this sort of pretend anger - where we are not sending the message that we are actually angry with the person, but that their behaviour is enough to make us angry.
Having said that there is a bad destination for those who are actors (‘entertains and amuses people on a stage or at a festival with truth and lies’) and thereby ‘encourage others to be heedless and negligent’
Maybe one way to approach expressions of anger is to look for the intention behind the expression. If expression of anger is kamma, then the quality of that kamma is the intention behind it. There may be some skillful forms of anger. I think of an old story of Ajahn Chah, told by a monk that was close to him. The monk was massaging his feet, and told of times that Ajahn Chah would reprimand one of the younger monks, yet the monk massaging said that Ajhan Chah’s body was always relaxed, and showed no sign of internal anger. Ajahn Chah was employing a “skillful means” to correct the younger monk’s behavior.
I don’t think one needs to be self-identified as a “Buddhist” to surmise that being overcome with anger makes it difficult to present ideas in a cogent fashion and in ways that will be inclined to convince others of the wisdom of those ideas. I did find the following on SC. It does not take long to read, and it is inspiring when contemplating anger:
This is interesting, I tend to think the opposite, since I see that in politics and in questions where there are conflicts of interest it’s not really wisdom that tends to win (because people can’t be objective and wise when they have big vested interests); so strong emotions become important and things like anger and aggressiveness (I say things since I am reluctant to use the word qualities…) trump sober wisdom in politics, just look at the US President for example.
There’s a difference between appealing to those in agreement, for whom anger might generate support, and trying to appeal to those who disagree, for whom an argument made with wisdom rather than by appealing to emotion would be more effective.
There are good reasons why politics is a mess. One of them is that you simply have to act. At least in our times politicians and activists who can make people feel have an advantage over moderate speakers. Hopefully this will change in the future, but eh, I actually don’t think so.
So, from the beginning I feel there is a misfit with the EBT. On the other hand the Buddha was sometimes harsh in his criticism too, calling his monks moghapurisa, i.e. silly, or stupid. We can interpret around it somehow, but it’s still not a language of sweet rose petals.
In my mind it’s a slippery slope to say “well, a Buddha (or a teacher) can use harsh words sometimes, because they don’t mean it and it comes from a place of love” but eh, this only works if you idealize people.
maybe the simplest way too see it is that harshness is part of our communication toolset and it’s on us to use it or not and to reflect every now and then if our words achieved the intended purpose.
Not sure whether it is politically correct to remind that she has aspergers. I see a lot of social media posts interpreting her emotion as “acting” or in your case “hatred” . I think her main message (eliminating the perceived emotion) is how dare the powerful greedy people just ignore the big problem we are facing. Also she is a child with limited social/emotional skills who is tackling a problem as big as the world.
Thank you for this enlightening discussion. I would add that, to my mind, the whole mess of greed, anger, and ignorance is, in a sense, a highly personal thing; that is to say, when faced with anger from outside, directed at me or not, my primary job is to observe my own reactions to it. Having said that, I suppose the next thing I’d want to do is try to find a way to help the other through the emotion. Ajahn Chah’s words are always helpful, as well as descriptions of his dealings with others. Again, thank you much for all your questions and words.