Robert Thurman – What is Anger?

The anger that they say is one of the seven
deadly sins and therefore really quite bad, is the one that sweeps you off your normal
rational self-control and you become possessed by it. What Is Anger? And then you do destructive things and you
are not effective in dealing with the situation from the moralist point of view. And Buddhist moralists would absolutely agree. So, the locus classicus of it is in all Abhidharma, but in Mahayana literature, it’s in Shantideva’s writing, and there he gives
a very good analysis of it. And therefore, in English I think when we say, “What is anger?” (and I probably think in other European languages), it is probably the degree of anger
where you lose self-control and you blow up, as we say. And Shantideva’s analysis of it is you at
first are frustrated, when you see something happening you don’t think should be happening, and when something you think should be happening, you see it being prevented or
blocked from happening. You then feel frustrated and as that frustration
builds up it becomes more painful to you and then anger in the form of your own mind,
in the voice of your own inner monologue, your own inner identity speaking, comes to you
and says, “Well, you can’t do anything about that, because you’re too weak, but if you use
me and blow up and get all overheated, you’ll be stronger and you will be able to rectify
this situation or then make the good thing happen or prevent the bad thing from happening.” And then you blow up and then
you go after whatever it is. However, the problem is that in some cases
it may actually to some degree be helpful, like when you run away from something,
you know. Your gentle adrenaline charge, and you leap away from something out of fear. But unfortunately, a lot of anger
is where you go crashing into a situation when you’re not under any kind of control. There are studies today that say
you lose 85% of your good judgment. And Shantideva also agrees that you become the tool
of your anger, your body and mind and speech become tools of your anger, and anger dominates you. Your anger is like the demon that tells you
what to tell them what to do. You say things that you don’t mean. You’ll do physical things and hurt people
that you didn’t want to. You lose control, you become
the tool of your anger, body, speech and mind. You hit people, you hurt people,
you kill people. You hurt yourself, maybe physically you do
something, bang your head on the wall. You angrily drive your car into something
and get killed yourself. And or you kill someone else
or hurt them badly. You break things that you value,
you feel regretful afterwards. And verbally you’ll say things you don’t mean
and people will be deeply hurt and you feel badly afterwards. And mentally you have a hostile mind and you
destroy something or someone in your mind. And all of these things really have very negative
results for you as well as for the situation. They don’t really have good results. So anyway, from Buddhist point of view
it never helps. It’s always destructive. However, if you want to define anger as just
a kind of heat of vigor, a strong energy that you feel when you see something wrong and you want to fix it, or you protest and you see something right and you eliminate opposition to that, there can be that kind of righteous strong feeling about ethics, or helping other beings, “This won’t do, this won’t stand.” Where you’re still very able to
make judgments, you can even be reserved about flipping out. And we can make that positive, that can
be a positive determination, there can be willpower, we can say that we’re in charge of it. So, the thing there is to do it quickly. And Shantideva has a beautiful thing. he says, “Intervene in the situation
while you’re still cheerful.” Your good cheer is the source of your positive
actions, so don’t let it be eaten away by frustration. When you start feeling frustrated,
do something about it. He says, “If there’s nothing you can do about it,
get away from the situation.” It doesn’t do any good to blow up and add being really angry and freaked out and bitter and so forth, to feeling impotent in a situation. Just go on, leave the situation. So, he gives clues like that. So, it doesn’t just amount
to suppressing your anger. Of course, the ultimate way of overcoming
anger is where you don’t feel angry because you feel sorry for the people who are harmful
to you or who would cause you anger. So that you might want to resist them and
you might be forceful, but you will never be angry because you don’t try to eradicate
them from the universe. You’re just trying to stop them doing this stupid thing. And you somehow feel that there is some element
to them that is more than that anger of theirs. The one thing that Shantideva says
you’re allowed to be angry with is anger itself. So, you’re angry with anger, then your absolute
fury turns back on absolute fury. Then you only are gonna be acting relatively,
you only act relatively in every other sense because you’re sort of destroying the fury
that would make you act non-relationally. Therefore the people who are most violent
and terrible when they get angry are those who have left intact the sense of absolute
identity, so then when their inner voice says, “You’ve got to get that person,
you can’t be in the same world with them,” you know, like, “This town’s not big enough for the both of us” sort of routine. Then those are the people who are
really a derivative of the self-absolutizing habit pattern, what I call the “identity habit.”

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