Not to get to far away from EBTs, but I heard on the radio this morning that recent studies show that clinical depression and chronic anxiety can manifest themselves as irritability and anger. Buddhism is not the same as psychotherapy, but I have found in my own practice that the skills I am working on in meditation are very consistent with strategies I discussed with my therapist for dealing with the depression and anxiety following a major life crisis last year. I still experience bouts of irritability and anger, but my approach to them is far more skillful than it was last year at this time.
Hi @Polarbear, as Mat wisely said much earlier in this thread:
Sometimes the elegant simplicity of the way things are presented in the suttas lulls us is into thinking that life is not very complicated. You hear an inspirational quote which makes everything sound easy, but then practicing it is more difficult. Spiritual slogans like ‘kill your anger’ are just mere words, they might convince our ears but the mind is more intransigent, and our lives are complex. It’s easy to become discouraged. Or worse, delusion is not far away, either.
Often, this is the difference between reading the texts only, without access to a teacher, and having the texts plus access to good teachers who help you interpret them and practice skillfully. As they say, there is nothing like the zealotry of a new convert, and it’s often people with the least experience of the spiritual path who have the most ideologically extreme views on practice – they just read it in a book! – but experienced teachers are far far more pragmatic, having seen people practicing in many ways over the years. We see glimpses of this type of situation in the suttas, where people have heard a teaching but fundamentally misunderstand it in practice, and then of course there is the infamous incident at Vesāli, where many monks commited suicide after hearing a talk on the loathesomeness of the body…
One way I often think about this kind of issue, when people dogmatically advocate for a purely textual approach, is through the way we use medicine. So, for monks like me, medicines are allowed and in our ordinations we are told to rely on fermented urine as our medicinal support. If we get bitten by a snake, we are told in the Vinaya to drink a mixture of faeces, urine and dirt. In the 2500 years since the Buddha, medicine has become somewhat more complex and sophisticated. We recognise that the medicines that we use today are more efficacious and more varied for different uses and people. Similarly, we know that there are more than 31 parts of the body, and that there are more than the 4 great elements.
Should I stick to a strictly textual approach to medicines? No, we have the great standards to guide us. Similarly, when it comes to the mind, should our practice not be informed by developments in psychology over the last 2500 years? If they are line with the Buddha’s teachings, then why not?
@karl_lew some of the above might be of interest to you, I will write a post about spiritual bypassing elsewhere. But for the topic of anger, I’ve seen people suppressing and denying their anger, projecting a contrived facade of cold detached equanimity or hyper positivity; they think that makes them a better Buddhist because Buddhists “don’t have anger”. But eventually the mask has to drop… and they explode in wild temper tantrums, or expletive laden rages, that are quite spectacular! One monk I know remarked that people who seem preternaturally calm and controlled are most likely the ones who have anger issues, and it will come out eventually. Something to think about anyway in terms of how we deal with it skillfully.
I’m reminded of Ms. Vedehikā, who, according to the Buddha, used to have a reputation of being sweet, even-tempered, and calm…
In Dhamma I am no expert. With your kind permission and indulgence, let me write my thoughts more out of personal experience than out of holy writ: Anger is my hinderance. I ameliorate it by reminding myself that anger is a feeling, not me, not mine, not I. When anger arises, I try to remember not to produce unwholesome karma by my actions of mind, speech, and deed in response to it. Having said that, when I am hooked by anger, sending Dhamma flying out the window, eventually, the Dhamma returns, and then I look at it bemused and, as far as possible, with compassion. Cutting myself some Dhamma slack contributes to my ability to cope; to make use of anger to advance. In short, I have hindrances up the wazoo, so I might as well make good use of them. Sorry to ramble.
I think it is a great boon to have spiritual friends who think anger isn’t a positive thing. It’s often seen in western society as positive and a sign of ego-strength. This is possibly because those things haven’t been shown to be two different things.
Have you found that your anger rests on fear which rests on delight?
This was my own experience of anger and its root as I struggled through life and eventually learned from MN1.
I find my anger more often rests on simpler things. In truth, contradicting me elicits a feeling of anger. Sometimes not taking my brilliant advice elicits a feeling of anger. Unsolicited preaching and advice are biggies. If I’m exhausted, some young blood cutting in to grab “my seat” on the subway elicits it. I find that all this anger stems from and/or expresses my pathetic attempts to build and hold on to a self. Realising this, anger fades. Usually. I’m human, but still a sentient being. Damn!
I would be interested in your thoughts as to how fear rests on delight.
I once, as a child, tried to kill another boy out of anger. I failed and we were both lucky.
Upon awakening from being knocked out, I had the oddest thought, “Where had this anger come from that I should wish harm on another?”
At first I thought that anger arose from my fear of being hurt since I was being choked at the time I gave in to anger. So I studied the martial arts and rock climbing for many decades to address my fear. And no matter how hard I tried, I could not get rid of fear. It got smaller, and smaller, but it always lurked waiting to pounce and blow up into anger.
Then I read MN1, in which Bhikku Bodhi translates:
Delight is the root of suffering.
From this, I understood that delight is the root of fear, since fear is an aspect of suffering. This is why my abatement of fear never succeeded. I had been clinging to delight. Now, with the understanding that delight is the root of suffering, the answer to my decades-old question is quite simple. All one has to do is relinquish delight. In the heart of that relinquishment lies peace and an end to killing.
Yes. It really does work.
I am happy that you discovered within the suttas an effective way to lessen anger and fear.