We hear a lot about what people call ‘righteous anger’. It might sound good, but is giving into anger really a good idea? The Buddha said, “no”. Let’s talk about it.
One Buddhist text, the Dhammapada, makes the Buddha’s position very clear. Abandon anger!
Chapter 17, Anger 221. One should give up anger, renounce pride, and overcome all fetters. Suffering never befalls him who clings not to mind and body and is detached. 222. He who checks rising anger as a charioteer checks a rolling chariot, him I call a true charioteer. Others only hold the reins. 223. Overcome the angry by non-anger; overcome the wicked by goodness; overcome the miser by generosity; overcome the liar by truth. 224. Speak the truth; yield not to anger; when asked, give even if you only have a little. By these three means can one reach the presence of the gods.
Anger is a fetter, a chain, binding us to suffering. We are to abandon it. Having abandoned anger, we are free. Making excuses for our errors is not helpful. With direct awareness of our own and other’s failures with regard to anger, we learn to let go of our so called ‘righteous anger’. There is no righteous anger. By the time it becomes ‘righteous’ the feeling can no longer be called ‘anger’.
We might feel powerful, maybe we are able to meditate for days on end, maybe we can pretzel twist our bodies into all sorts of yoga poses, but that doesn’t really matter. Controlling anger is mind yoga. Mind is foundation. Control your mind, control all thingishness.
If we can’t stop ourselves from entertaining anger, are we really in control? No. Not according to the Buddha.
How do we move past anger? How do we overcome our own anger and the anger of our peers? We practice non-anger. We love. We practice the perfections. We display great generosity. We look deeply and gain understanding. With understanding, we untangle knots. This is the teaching of the Buddha.
Conduct is important!
The perfection of conduct is a huuuuge part of Buddhist practice. Shila is ‘right conduct’ and it is one of the categories of the eight-fold path.
The Buddhabhasita Dasabhadra Karmamarga Sutra
It is not difficult to see that Buddha had a clear message about what we are to do with anger. Many Buddhist texts, from a wide variety of Buddhist traditions, encourage us to move beyond it. Moving beyond anger is a powerful practice with many obvious benefits!
Here, we find a list of those benefits:
If a person frees themselves of anger, they will get eight kinds of joyful and pleasing mental states. What are they?
Their mind is free from desires to injure others,
Their mind is free from anger,
their mind is free from desires to argue,
their mind is affable and straightforward,
their mind is compassionate as the Ariyans,
their mind is always turned towards objects which will benefit and give comfort to all sentient beings,
they will soon be born in the Brahma world on account of his kindness and tolerating spirit.
Should they turn their good merits towards Perfect Buddha-hood, they will attain the Buddha-mind which is free from impediments (i.e., omniscient) and people will never tire of looking at them.
Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Lines
Buddha’s teachings on abandoning anger appear all over the many branches of the Buddhist tradition. Here, in a supremely awesome text called “Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 lines”, we find a similar teaching on anger: “don’t do it!”.
The Elder Subhuti questions the Saviour of the World: “Teach the characteristics of those who are secluded in Peace, of the Oceans of Qualities, How they become irreversible, and of great might. Declare, O Jina, their qualities, merely by way of outline!” ... They do not want fame, their hearts are not overcome by anger. As householders they remain constantly unattached to their entire property. ... Free from quarrels and disputes, their thoughts firmly friendly, They want [to see] the all-knowing, their thoughts always inclined towards the dharma.
Our desire to be widely recognized (fame), if left unsatisfied, may be a source of anger. “Why don’t they recognize me!?!?”
In the same way, what we consider to be our property, if it is taken, or somehow threatened can be a source of anger. “Why did they take what was mine?!?!”
So, Bodhisattvas take pleasure in abandoning the pursuit of recognition and the acquisition of wealth. They are thereby released from potential sources of anger. Rather than crafting excuses about some kind of ‘righteous’ anger, Bodhisattvas cut off anger at its root!
The Bodhisattvas coursing in the perfections do not even allow anger to arise when their own lives are threatened! They view these moments as opportunities to work on the perfection of generosity.
Moreover, a Bodhisattva should react to the danger (of meeting with robbers in the forest) with the thought : “If those beings take away from me everything that is necessary to life, then let that be my gift to them. If someone should rob me of my life, I should feel no ill will, anger or fury on account of that. Even against them I should take no offensive action, either by body, voice or mind.
This will be an occasion to bring the perfection of giving, morality and patience to greater perfection, and I will get nearer to full enlightenment. After I have won full enlightenment, I will act and behave in such a manner that in my Buddha-field wilderness infested with robbers will in no way whatsoever either be, or even be conceivable.
Having engaged in this practice of acceptance, compassion, loving kindness, these Bodhisattvas know they are creating the conditions for a world (a “Buddha-field”) where such robbers are not present, nor are they even conceivable! Intense.
Anger is an error. It happens, but we don’t make excuses for it. We abandon it. We take anger and transmute it into something useful. It is simple. Stop making excuses for anger. Stop being angry. Create a beautiful Buddha-field.