As a child I was often puzzled by anger, wondering why adults so frequently hurt each other through their nonsensical, frequent, and often bitter arguments. I remember noticing the same patterns of domestic dispute in the homes of all my school friends, and determining that when I grew up I would never let anger destroy the harmony of my future family. Later, I was dismayed to observe this destructive emotion within my own mind, and I was frightened by its uncontrolled energy when unleashed.
As a medical officer in a psychiatric hospital, I saw depths of anger, both manifest and suppressed, that I had never believed could exist. I remember suggesting to the psychiatrist in-charge that we set up a gym with punching bags to allow our patients to vent their feelings. Powerful emotions of resentment, grudge-bearing, hostility, hatred, and fear, all derived from anger, lay behind many of my patients’ problems. My scientific view was that because anger is acquired through evolution, it is necessary and must be allowed to arise and
be expressed as suppression of this natural emotion would lead to further psychological problems. Evidence supporting this belief was right there in my patients. There was also plenty of evidence within society to support the conventional view that aggression is necessary for survival. Forget about the meek inheriting the earth; the only way to succeed in love, business, sport, and politics is to follow one’s own purpose aggressively without worrying about those who lose out or are harmed by one’s acquisitive behaviour.
In the late 1960s, Robert Ardrey, a biologist, wrote a book called The Territorial Imperative. He presented studies of animal behaviour which showed that intra-species aggression is present in the animal world as much as it is within human society. Aggression thus gained a scientific status that, at the extreme of the materialistic view, could be taken to justify war, racism, and even genocide. Another commonly held view was that male aggression complemented female submissiveness in our mutual goal of perpetuating the species. No
wonder there was, and remains, debate about whether or not the study of human and animal behaviour belongs to the realm of science. In the material world, scientists can deduce fixed rules by observing the behaviour of chemicals and bodies in motion; they don’t have to worry about the feelings or true motivations of the elements because there aren’t any. In the animal and human kingdoms, however, it is difficult to make fixed rules based on the observation of behaviour alone because behaviour does not necessarily indicate the reason we do things.
Accurate scientific interpretation of behaviour requires an understanding of how the mind functions. As most of us are unable to read the minds of others, we can only perform field studies in behavioural research by looking into our own minds through introspective meditation. Western pioneers in this field, such as Sigmund Freud, were ridiculed for being too subjective in their approach. To avoid this trap, we need a clear and accurate map of the mind and a method to explore and understand how our own mind functions. The theory
and method for doing this was explained by Buddha over two and a half thousand years ago. Numerous meditators have since verified the accuracy of these explanations by achieving the results of the path: nirvana and enlightenment.
In view of the long history of fraud in the laboratory, there is every reason for science to be wary of subjective distortion of the facts in introspective research. But understanding the reality of mind is necessarily a mental experience that can never be achieved in the laboratory. The required instruments for observing reality are the mental powers of faith, effort, mindfulness, single-pointed concentration, and direct experience based upon pure logic. The only way to personally verify Buddha’s presentation of reality is to meditate and see it for oneself. Having seen and extinguished the demon of self-centred ignorance, those who succeed in this venture will never seek the accolades of others. Indeed, spiritual fraudsters are more common than their scientific counterparts, and my rule of thumb is that if somebody claims or even hints that they have attained inner realisation, they can be dismissed. The difference between science and religion is not the difference between
knowledge and faith. There is only one reality, and correct faith and knowledge are essential components of both systems. It is mistaken knowledge and wrong beliefs that lead to prejudice and human conflict, and these can pollute both science and religion.
The Buddha observed his own mind and the emotions that motivated his behaviour. He identified emotions that were useful and emotions that were useless in terms of satisfying his two fundamental needs: to be happy and to be free from suffering. By recognising the cause of harmful emotions – the ignorance of reality – he abandoned them by seeing reality and attained the unprecedented happiness of nirvana. When others followed the same path, they too attained nirvana, thus indicating that all minds function in essentially the same manner.
The concept of equal rights, a sanctified political ideal today, was presented by Buddha in his teaching that no individual, human or animal, has a greater right to happiness and freedom from suffering than any other. Buddha then explained his observation that, in our pursuit of happiness and freedom from suffering, we inadvertently push these goals away by assuming that our personal right is greater than anybody else’s. Our aversion to pain results in instinctive anger and hostility towards whatever frustrates our selfish desire for happiness but, in acting out our anger, we destroy any chance of happiness. This observation is truly
scientific in that, from it, fixed rules can be deduced regarding human and animal behaviour and its results. For example, anger, the agitated, irrational urge to inflict harm upon or destroy things that displease us, achieves neither the peace nor the happiness it seeks.
We can verify this by observing our own experience in life and seeing the reality of how anger is counter-productive and only brings trouble. Once we do this we will want to overcome our anger and achieve the peace and happiness we crave. We will also discover another fixed rule of human and animal behaviour: that loving-kindness, delight in the happiness of others and their freedom from pain, is by nature a happy state of mind and spreads peace and joy wherever it manifests.
Many people justify aggression by saying that if we do not fight we will be overrun by evil. The Buddhist view is that hatred itself is evil, and should be avoided in every situation. When forced to defend ourselves, we should do so with compassion for the enemy. In many situations, our own selfishness or antagonism are reasons why others dislike and attack us; if we always speak and act with kindness it is difficult to have enemies. Buddha was faced with jealous and angry people who wanted to kill him, but his compassionate approach to every situation made it impossible for them to harm him.
The view that social and personal injustice cannot be opposed without anger, or that not expressing anger is a sign of weakness, is absurd. Aggression is the real sign of weakness: it is the coward’s way out. It takes far more courage to resolve a conflict with love than with anger. By allowing the flame of anger in another’s mind to ignite our own anger, we and the world will be lost. If we have the power, we should use it wisely and compassionately to protect those who are persecuted and downtrodden. It is highly immoral to rationalise going to war as a humanitarian crusade when, in reality, it is an economic or racist exercise. When anger is stopped by its antidote, patience, and replaced by its opposite, love, there is no danger of suppression of emotions with subsequent psychological imbalance. When anger is remedied there is only one result: happiness.