I once read that, after a domestic argument, an angry husband rented a bulldozer and reduced his family home to rubble. Can you imagine what was going through his mind? And can you imagine how he felt when he calmed down and realised the folly of his action?
Anger is the most destructive force in the universe. It destroys our inner peace and causes us to inflict irrational verbal and physical abuse upon our family and friends, to destroy our possessions, and even to destroy our own bodies through excessive drinking, smoking, reckless behaviour, or suicide. Anger makes even the most handsome face look ugly; it harms our physical health; and it leads to isolation and loneliness because nobody can bear to be near us anymore. Buddha taught that the worst effect of anger is not immediately obvious: anger destroys our accumulated virtue,thus preventing any chance of future happiness. And karma created through anger leads to future lives of misery.
Anger is defined as an agitated state of mind that intends to inflict harm upon another living being, upon oneself, or upon an inanimate object. It gives rise to the emotions of hatred, belligerence, resentment, envy, and even fear, each of which eats away at our happiness like a cancer. The first step towards overcoming anger is to recognise its faults and then generate the strong determination to free our mind from this demon. We must see that anger is utterly evil; there is no justification in wishing harm upon others, and it is absurd to become angry at inanimate objects or our own person. The worst an external enemy can do is to take our life; the internal enemy of anger can do that with its hands tied behind its back, and it can also throw us into the misery of hell, something that no external enemy can accomplish.
Once anger has erupted, it is difficult to control. We can attempt to control it by separating ourselves from the object of our anger, for example, by going for a walk. If we can, we should stop the angry thoughts by consciously blocking them out or distracting our mind by thinking of something else, just like a mother might try to stop her children fighting by offering sweets. Of course, in both cases the relief is only temporary; anger will return just as the feud will be on again when one child sees that the other has a bigger sweet. Having
gained a brief respite from anger, however, we can apply further antidotes. Although some forms of hatred, such as racism, are acquired within this life, nobody has to teach us to be angry. Babies manifest anger at an early age because its seeds are already in their minds. The deepest source of anger is the self-cherishing ignorance that we have inherited from our past life, so the ultimate solution to anger is the wisdom realising the emptiness of self. This takes time to cultivate and, in the meantime, we must practise patience to overcome the unhappiness that fuels our anger.
Patience, the wonderful ability to remain calm and not retaliate in the face of provocation, is the main antidote to anger. When our mind is unhappy we become impatient and the smallest thing can set off an explosion of anger. Road rage begins with an unhappy mind that is ignited into an explosion of anger when another driver causes what is usually an insignificant delay. For most of us, our patience is woefully undeveloped, but we do have something to work with.
By increasing our power of patience, we can prevent unhappiness becoming a source of anger. The great Indian yogi, Shantideva, said that whenever we realise we are unhappy we should ask ourselves, “Can whatever has gone wrong be repaired? If so, what’s the point of being unhappy? And, if it cannot be remedied, what’s the point of being unhappy? You are just rubbing salt into the wound and exposing yourself to the greater harm of anger.” We should take this advice to heart and see unhappiness as a warning that anger is not far away. Increasing our power of patience is the best way to protect our mind from anger, and patience can only be cultivated during adversity. Because the person upsetting us gives us the opportunity to practise patience, we should consider them to be our greatest ally: to increase our power of patience we need things to go wrong.
Another method to avoid anger is to see that the person upsetting us is suffering terribly from their own anger, for which, indirectly, we are responsible; and if we do retaliate with hatred it will only make them angrier. With compassion for our adversary, the only sensible solution to any dispute is to forgive, apologise, and become friends.
To further the strength of our patience, we should also practise endurance. Farmers, fishermen, and soldiers can tolerate extreme conditions for temporary rewards without becoming angry at the weather. Lovers can undergo great hardships for brief fulfilment of their desire. So why can’t we put up with slight discomforts such as cold food, a mosquito bite, or a disparaging glance without getting angry? If we use small difficulties to train our minds in patience, we will gain strength to deal with bigger problems without getting angry,
and the difficulties themselves will dissolve into nothing.
Thinking like this transforms adverse situations into our advantage. Love is the opposite of anger, and when our anger is defused by patience we will regain the capacity to love. Others will love us in return, and our resulting happiness will further reduce our anger until it is finally extinguished by wisdom.