Oops! Forgot to answer the question: No. I think not.
There are many types of anger. We shouldn’t just lump them under one category. Certainly there are many different types of ill will and anger, resentment, irritation listed in the suttas. As one of the underlying tendencies, (anusayas) patigha, ‘resistance’ , is a form of ill will that even a newly born baby has. So, it’s not going to be easy to get rid of, is it? Indeed, ill-will doesn’t disappear until non-returner stage is reached. Quite a high level of attainment!
Outside of the Buddhist bubble, anger is seen as a natural emotion (for better or worse), and psychology sees it as a useful one, because it can tell us that things are not ok; like the anger one feels to being abused or when things are manifestly unjust.
So even though we aim to avoid it, maybe we shouldn’t judge ourselves or others if anger appears in the mind. Better to be aware of it, not to deny it exists (spiritual bypass), and not to forcibly repress it (it always comes out somewhere with that!) Best to understand it, see it’s drawbacks and be quick to let it go.
One of my favourite suttas:
Yes, that’s it. I think. Acknowledgement without judgement is the way to go. Well said. Further, rather than tease it apart into its little particles of type, I just try to remind myself that the Buddha did not make a distinction between “righteous” and “unrighteous” anger. That last is my opening line in discussions with the “uninstructed worldlings” you refer to in your second paragraph.
Wow! That’s your first line with non-Buddhists? How does that go down???
Personally, I would try to listen, really listen, and understand where their anger is coming from. I’d try to develop empathy and see what I could do to help, and wait to be invited before giving religious dogma. Often, especially in the cases of minority groups who experience discrimination, persecution, bullying, violence and much more, their anger is quite understandable. These people are living these things that cause a huge amount of suffering, it is not just some intellectual concept for a religious person in an ivory tower to idealistically toy with. It’s real. Sometimes Buddhists can come across as quite righteous with their high ideals.
Thinking more generally about some of thel thoughts and posts above, and other recent experiences; When I hear people in the Buddhist community diminishing people’s natural response to injustice, and being judegmental about their anger, by using tone-policing; anger-phobic shut downs; hyper positivity; saying it’s all an illusion; that it’s just their bad kamma; wishing thoughts and prayers (instead of doing something about it); “light-washing” (it’s all love!), I see that they are usually people with a considerable amount of privilege, who probably have not experienced such things themselves and are actually in no position to judge. They also don’t seem to offer real solutions beyond “but we mustn’t get angry!!”. This displays a lack of empathy and zero compassion.
Even more concerning are those who think they have attained a state of equanimity, but who are actually just disinterested, un-invested, or callously uncaring when it comes to other people’s suffering. If we genuinely care about people’s spiritual development then we would see the difficulty of making real progress on the path when people are in situations where they fear for their safety, have no financial security or roof over their head, are being persecuted for their race, ethnicity or sexuality. Seeing this difficulty for their progress, surely we should try to make it better for them rather than doing nothing. The Buddha constantly condemned social causes of suffering, telling people to “lay down the rod”, and not harm others, he refused to allow caste to factor in the Sangha, too.
Some Buddhists say you can’t change the world, so don’t event try. But that’s not completely true. Whatever has been created by humans is also possible for humans to change, they are not inviolable. Most social movements have arisen from a kind of frustrated anger, and required a sustained effort to overcome unjust systems of abuse, oppression and persecution; movements such as the emancipation of slaves, women’s rights, civil rights, LGBT+ rights. Much individual and collective suffering was alleviated by these movements. Those Buddhists who only argue for passivity, total acceptance and non-action have not been able to offer marginalised groups real world solutions to dismantling the status quo structures that oppressed these people. If these rights groups had not taken to the streets to protest, with angry fists waved in the air, it’s likely that things would not have changed. Many of us enjoy the benefits of their efforts today. Should we condemn their anger?
Whilst you say you don’t see any purpose in dividing anger into different types, this doesn’t take into account the different intentions behind the anger manifesting. For example, a group of people expressing frustrated anger in protests at civil rights abuses, systematic discrimination, violent persecution, and so on, are coming from an intention to prevent further suffering of this sort for their people’s benefit. This is quite a different intention to someone who is just angry all the time for no reason, or who explodes at a bus driver for being late or who shoots the neighbour for using a leaf blower (true story!).
As Buddhists, we should look after our own minds, first and foremost. But when it comes to others’ anger, try to see what lies behind the anger and instead of judging people for it, ask ourselves what we can do to help remove the causes of the suffering that produced the anger rather trying to “fix” the arisen anger itself, which is just a band-aid solution.
Of course, all this with wisdom, knowing the limits of samsara.
In the case of Greta Thunberg, who is clearly an amazing woman, and has achieved more in a year than most will ever during our lives, I think the emotion was understandable. (a highly pressurised event with international media scrutiny etc ) Given what we know of her campaign, she is genuinely motivated by concern for living beings, both now and in the future, and is asking the world to take action. Good on her!
Bhante, I am sometimes glib, and for that I apologize. In fact, when the conversation turns to anger – not into anger – and there is an underling interest in Buddhism within the context of the discussion, at that point, I often contribute the observation that the Buddha did not distinguish between righteous and unrighteous anger. Lack of clarity on my part doesn’t constitute a responsibility on your part to second guess me. Sorry.
Before beginning a response to you, I looked to see a bit about you, learning that you are a student of Ajhan Sujato residing in a monastery in Australia with him. If you are joining him on the Brooklyn, NY leg of his upcoming tour, we will have a chance to meet and talk. I would look forward to that.
I agree with nearly all you have to say above, and appreciate the time you took to write it out.
I’m not sure your conclusion here is fair. I do see a purpose in looking deeply into anger. I also see purpose in rendering the issue less complicated at the appropriate times and under the appropriate conditions. In this case, I speak of myself as I look into my own mind as best I can.
For the record, I’m involved with social issues here in NYC on several levels, I have deep respect for those who lead us, regardless of age, and I also respect those Buddhist practitioners who feel that our place is to meditate and study, not to involve ourselves in social and climate issues.
With metta. May all beings be happy, free of pain and stress.
I appreciate these words.
I have found that if one asks, gently, it seems to be mutually beneficial. Ask, rather than assume; ask, rather than inform.
The only one who can stop the anger is the one bearing it. If there are hurts or fears, being willing to hear them gives you each a connection, which might be a drop of spiritual friendship sorely needed (and which will benefit the listener, too, in my experience!)
Only the bearer can do the deconstruction, but a friendly ear and gentle voice, an active listener, might be requisites (if I may make that analogy). Generosity opens up possibilities. It takes a little time, maybe; I suggest giving it.
As for those one cannot speak to directly but are sparking public discussion - talk to those disturbed, but bring it back to the life they are living. Why do they care? Ask respectfully, listen actively, plant seeds leading to deconstruction of the anger.
Thank you, Venerable, there’s a lot in your post for me to think about.
Just to follow up on this, this is now available here starting at 1:08:45: https://www.spiritrock.org/james-baraz
Her speech sounds much more like a call to action rather than angry words when they are given a solid back beat.