Friday, July 23, 2010


How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it?--Marcus Aurelius

So much of our suffering is generated by our own anger. Not just the anger of rage, but the slow simmering anger generated by jealousy, resentment, aggravation and judgment. Anger is purely a product of the mind, no one makes you angry, it is all your own. What purpose does it serve to be angry?

Letting go of anger, how simple it is to free ourselves of so much suffering.

To master our anger is to master our lives.

Anger will never disappear so long as thoughts of resentment are cherished in the mind. Anger will disappear just as soon as thoughts of resentment are forgotten.”
--Siddhartha Gautama


  1. Hi Miles,

    "To master our anger is to master our lives."

    I quite agree!

    “Anger will never disappear so long as thoughts of resentment are cherished in the mind. Anger will disappear just as soon as thoughts of resentment are forgotten.”--Siddhartha Gautama

    I think while we are human beings we can and should practice in a way that we are not controlled by anger, in a way that we can use it to master it, in a way that we realise it and it realises us. It seems to me as if this is our duty. But surely we cannot, and should not, engage in the unrealistic pursuit of seeking to make anger 'disappear', or to otherwise destroy or throw away our human lives.



  2. I don't disagree that it is better to let go of anger. However, I have seen great (maybe unreasonable) feats accomplished because of an uncontrolled anger. Anger may be one way to cross the line of reasonableness and attempt the unthinkable.


  3. Anger is like pain: it is an indication that something is happening which requires a response.

    Our untrained instinct is to respond externally - to react forcefully against the person who has distressed us, or to slam the door against which we've stubbed our toe!

    The trained response is to understand the underlying cause of the distress and deal with that, whether it emanates from another person's view of life or from our own conditioned mind.

    Zen avoids dualistic thinking and thus would not claim that anger is bad. Anger can be an appropriate response to external stimuli - but as Miles said, when anger arises the next step is to master it like a jockey masters a bolting horse. Use the energy to charge forwards towards your goal or suck the excess energy out of the situation - but either way, don't let the horse tell you where to go!

  4. Fear and frustration are my little path to anger. I know when it arises. But I'm really bad at mastering it.

  5. Anger, as it is, is not about anything external. Someone or some thing can push the angry trigger, but it only provides the information that i am trigger-able. Anger is can be a vital or destructive force depending on how it is expressed. In its vital experssion, it is quite a rich experience, much like feeling the intense power and beauty of a sudden thunder and lightening storm. And like a sudden storm, it can clear stagnation and provide clarity. Anger is natural, it occurs in Nature as it occurs in us. Anger is healthy, and is a healthy part of of a healthy body-mind. I think there is a distinction to be made between the 'slow simmering' of toxic anger that comes from a toxic mind through the feeding of jealous, resenting, aggravated, judgemental thoughts, and anger that moves like a storm... naturally. One is vital, one is pathological. When the cause of one's anger is projected outward, we are usually looking to lessen the burden of our own pain by inflicting it on someone else. When our anger is felt deeply without story, then it is really quite a remarkable and enlivening feeling.

  6. I love Shojin Yushi's description of "positive" anger as a thunderstorm - it clears the air and leaves the world a better place! Perhaps Zen training is in part about teaching us how to safely direct lightning so nobody else gets fried.

  7. I don't understand Shojin Yushi's words at all...sorry! Anger makes me feel bad, I don't know of any "positive" or "healthy" anger. Anger is suffering, otherwise I wouldn't call it anger...

  8. I don’t want to misinterpret Shojin’s words, but I think what he is speaking of is that flash of anger that could make us leap into positive action. Like witnessing someone being beaten and leaping in to save them. Witnessing the action gives us that flash of anger that triggers our response, but the response is an act of compassion.

    In another example, I have known a number of people who have become angry at the environmental crisis and have radically changed their lifestyles because of this anger. This would be positive anger, with positive results.

    I think the Incredible Hulk comic book character is supposed to personify this type of positive anger.

    However this is not typically the anger that most people habitually feel or express. Usually the anger that we suffer is the “slow simmering toxic anger” that Shojin identifies as pathological.

  9. Pablo's comment (2 up from here) made me think. Maybe this is something that requires a whole thread to itself...but what's wrong with suffering?

  10. Ok, I can relate to that, Miles.

    Michael, what's wrong with suffering is that i don't like to suffer at all, and that's why I started practising in the first place. The Buddha laid out the Four Noble Truths so that people could put an end to suffering, just like he did.

    I know that suffering is normal, and that thinking about it in negative terms only creates more suffering, and all that subtle stuff and playing with words. But, at the end of the day, I don't like getting angry, I don't like being afraid, I don't like being jealous, and in short, I don't like to suffer.

    My question is, if you're not trying to stop suffering or at least reduce it, why practice?

  11. Fair question, Pablo - "If you're not trying to stop suffering or at least reduce it, why practice?"

    Control, I think, is my objective. I want to control how much and how often I suffer.

    I came into this Buddhist thing via Taoism. Taoism's about balance, the harmony of yin and yang and all that - and a life devoid of suffering is a state of imbalance, just as too much suffering is also a state of imbalance. Buddhist practice helps me maintain balance.

    When I am suffering just the right amount, I practice little. When I am suffering too much or am entering a situation which experience tells me will bring excess suffering, I practice more.

    Naturally this system is about as finely tuned and as the world economic system, so mistakes can occur! However, that's not a bad thing - the Tao is a dynamic equilibrium so those overshoots above and below the golden mean, those emotional oscillations, they are the buzz we call "life".

  12. Well, it must be something wrong with suffering, otherwise Master Gotama wouldn't have taught the eightfold path to the cessation of it.

  13. Hi Michael,
    did "controled" suffering really exist?
    I'm not sure.

  14. I'm with Hernán. I tried the "controlled suffering" thing. It didn't work (but I didn't try for long, truth be told), so I resorted to the "zero suffering" option. At least I got Gotama on my back on this :D.

    I have read little Taoism (I'm interested, though), but from my little understanding of it, I don't think "no suffering" is unbalanced. Unbalance is to think everything is going to be fine, or to hope that nothing bad is going to happen anymore. But reacting to those events in a equanimous way (understanding them as they are, but not being emotionally shaken), to use the Buddhist word, seems to be the most balanced way I can find.

    And Hernán, Gotama could have been wrong, as well, being an extremist towards suffering or something like that. Who knows (but i like to think he was a cool guy :P).

  15. Hi Hernan,

    Yes, Gotama taught the path to the cessation of suffering - but that doesn't mean we should always walk that path. The path is his gift to us. I recently received from a visitor the gift of a bottle of whisky - but I should only drink that whisky on appropriate occasions in appropriate amounts.

    Does "controlled" suffering exist? Its occurrence we cannot always control - shit happens - but we can learn to control the degree and duration of the suffering.

  16. Michael, comparing Gotama's path to a bottle of whisky would get you killed in the Buddhist world. Let's thank freedom of speech! (just kidding :P)

  17. Thanks guys, many things to think about.

    Michael, I like the whisky simile (specially if it's a Talisker or a good single malt).

    Pablo, it's also interesting to think about Gotama as a guy with little tolerance to suffering that ends his journey as a control freak... who knows? That's why I love Hui Hai's reply: "When hungry, I eat; when tired, I sleep"

  18. I don't believe there's anything wrong with suffering, seeing as it is a fact. I don't particularly like the fact that we are destroying the environment, but we are. I don't trust how new technological gizmos are used, but they're here. I have been quite ill for the past three days, and it has not been particularly enjoyable. I don’t like feeling angry, but I often do.

    Is it possible that suffering is simply the refusal of suffering?

    Believing anger to be wrong, then, would be a refusal of our very selves, our very experience, no? A refusal of any part, any aspect, any feeling, is really a refusal of the whole. Mastering anger is an interesting idea… Could this look like feeling anger as it is, without any judgment, story, or attached object of one’s anger? Believing anger to be bad or wrong could encourage repression of a powerful force, and that is less healthy than any version of anger. Most of us are okay with feelings like joy, love, satisfaction, getting fed, being wanted, but this is but a small end of an enormous spectrum of feeling. Uncomfortable, even unbearable feelings are often when we are most alive because we are wholly feeling and not defending a false notion of self. To feel implies no-thinking. Thinking implies no-feeling. Even hatred in this regard is not bad. Fully receiving the hatred from another is a kind of exquisite intimacy, a powerful transference of energy and shared experience in a moment of hatred, if only you are willing to stay in your body. It may not feel 'good' per say, but is not part of our practice to accept the fullness of life?

    "If you're not trying to stop suffering or at least reduce it, why practice?" Good question! Maybe the only way out is through. And maybe on the way through is the realization that there's no way out... at least sitting, drinking tea, listening to birds, and reading hermit poems and books on Zen is such an enjoyable past time... not to mention the feelings of being more awake and aware, open, receptive, sensitive, and present.

    To practice to gain control of how much and how often we suffer is an interesting idea. I think as we practice over time we inflict less suffering upon ourselves and steer the ship with a bit more wisdom as to not end up in so much turmoil as before... maybe… ideally. I would say it differently however. I practice relinquishing control. And it seems to me a way to "master" anger is to let go of control and the desire to control. A way to let go of control is to be open to the various shades of suffering. A way of being open to suffering is to feel anger as deeply as we would joy.


  19. Yes, Shojin, I agree.

    "A way of being open to suffering is to feel anger as deeply as we would joy."

    Then anger is not anger and joy is not joy, they change and somehow you don't suffer. I spent a whole Sunday morning knowing I was feeling somewhat depressed, but let the feeling be, and after a few hours it went away. I didn't feel bad. But I didn't feel good, either. And I certainly wouldn't say I spent that morning depressed. I don't know how to explain it better, it's just too subtle. But the answer must be something around that. Or so i think ^^

  20. "I don’t want to misinterpret Shojin’s words, but I think what he is speaking of is that flash of anger that could make us leap into positive action. Like witnessing someone being beaten and leaping in to save them. Witnessing the action gives us that flash of anger that triggers our response, but the response is an act of compassion."

    Yesterday i was at the neighborhood park practicing taiji, and witnessed four teenage boys harassing a young girl in inappropriate, aggressive, sexual ways. i felt a sudden rage, boiling blood, and without thought, my body brought me to confront them. i was so angry and adrenaline filled it must have been steaming out the top of my head and shooting out of my eyes, because even though they were four sizable, young, and strong looking guys they seemed intimidated by the energy i was expressing, as otherwise i am far from intimidating in size or demeanor. i was so consumed with my anger, and felt that some of this anger was a responsive mechanism to feeling simultaneously threatened and quite fearful, that in those very moments i felt murderously powerful.

    Anyways, they left the girl alone at that point as she ran off, and the boys and i had somewhat of a face-off, and then they finally left. i am certain that my anger was the only thing that caused the situation from going any other way than me being completely un-influential, or at worst, having my ass kicked. Although i know that my thoughtless rage at the situation did not likely change their attitudes or behavior, or future actions, in the moment it did stop what was a very ugly and violent situation from going the step further. And who knows, maybe, just maybe, one of them had some later thought about what they were doing to that girl and how it was wrong.

    Following this i could sense the atmosphere of awkwardness around me... of nearby witnesses watching intently. Apparently and unfortunately for me, the only part of the situation they had seen was as the young african american teenagers walking off calling me a "nazi skin-head ... trying to pick on poor black kids..." As people stared at me suspiciously... as i was, as i usually am, in all black, and with a shaved head.

    Anyways, as i reflected on this later, i remembered this post. And it made me think about how potent and helpful anger can be in this context. Without it, i don't know what would have happened to the girl. Without it, i would have merely been afraid, possibly too afraid to act in the moment.

    "In war there's no time to teach or learn Zen.
    Carry a stick, bash your attackers."

    - Ikkyu -