The Poison of Anger

You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger.”
-the Buddha

Anger happens to all of us. Even the greatest among experience anger sometimes. Regardless of how much we have cultivated love and compassion, we are still human.

In Buddhism, anger is one of the three poisons, along with greed and ignorance. The three poisons are the primary cause of our suffering. Striving to overcome our anger is essential to Buddhist practice. In Buddhism we don’t really think of anger as ‘righteous’ or ‘justifiable’. It’s important to remember that our anger hurts us as much as it hurts whoever the target of our anger is, if not more. Anger is nothing more than an impediment to our inner peace. We might think, “this person deserves to be faced with my anger.” But that shouldn’t be our line of thinking. Instead, we should be thinking, “Is our anger helpful?”

So, we can strive to overcome our anger, but of course we will get angry sometimes, everyone does and we shouldn’t feel bad for it. 

But how do we deal with our anger?

First, admit you’re angry. Admit that your anger is clouding your judgment and impacting your ability to deal with whatever situation is occurring. Anger can only get in the way and escalate situations. It never helps. Buddhism teaches mindfulness. Being mindful of our own emotions is part of mindfulness. We don’t suppress negative emotions or deny them. Instead we acknowledge it and try to recognize that it isn’t helpful and let it go.

It’s also important to understand that our anger is created by ourselves. Anger doesn’t happen to us, our minds create it. We tend to think that someone else causes us to get angry, but it’s our own mind that makes us angry. We do have some control over how we respond to situations.

As Buddhists, our practice is to cultivate kindness and compassion for all beings that is free from attachment. “All beings” includes individuals who make us angry.

For this reason, when we experience anger, we should take care not to act on it to hurt others and ourselves. We also must take care not to cling to our anger. If we hold onto our anger over time, it is only more damaging to us. 

So, how do we let our anger go?

One thing we can do it cultivate patience. We can sit still with our anger and try to release it. Our meditation practice helps us strengthen our patience for this purpose. 

It’s hard not to act on our anger sometimes. 

It takes strength to acknowledge that anger is not helpful and it takes discipline to let it go.

 

The Buddha said, “Holding onto anger is like picking up a hot coal to throw at someone.” Even if you succeed at hurting the other person, you are hurting yourself as well. Is it worth it?

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About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg is an independent dharma teacher living in Kansas City. He gives online teachings through the Open Heart Project. He also runs the Monday Night Zen Group at the Rime Buddhist Center. His writing has appeared in Lion's Roar, Patheos, Tattooed Buddha, and Elephant Journal.

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