Buddhist nun explains what anger is – and is not

I (Stephanie Dowrick) have written a great deal about the epidemic of anger in our society and its disastrous consequences, as well as what to do about it – particularly in Everyday Kindness, The Universal Heart and Choosing Happiness. Creating a life free from anger is an individual responsibility that has profound and immediate consequences on all our relationships – and on the communities we are collectively creating. So-called “passive aggression” – manipulating, trivializing, shunning, ignoring – is just as harmful and much easier to deny. The immensely valuable words below come from Buddhist nun and social activist, Robina Courtin, and they appear in a longer article (this is the LINK). I don’t agree with everything that Robina has to say – and especially not that calm self-examination can replace intelligent, compassionate, self-responsible psychotherapy. On the contrary: one can radically enhance the other! And exploring and changing an unhelpful vision of oneself within a dynamic relationship context (psychotherapy) can be absolutely essential for many of us. But I do commend Robina’s words on anger…and hope you, too, will give them time and thought. We can only create a calmer, safer world if we do this together. Your efforts matter.

FROM ROBINA COURTIN: What anger is, and what anger is not
The perfect answer to the question, “What is anger?” which I heard from a lama, is: “Anger is the response when attachment doesn’t get what it wants.” But if that is what anger is, then what is it not?
•    Anger is not physical. Anger is part of our mind, and our mind is not physical. It exists in dependence upon the brain, the genes, the chemical reactions, but is not these things. When anger is strong, it triggers huge physical symptoms: the blood boils, the heart beats fast, the spit comes out the mouth, the eyes open wide in panic, the voice shouts. Or if we experience aversion as depression, the body feels like a lead weight; there’s no energy, a terrible inertia. And then, when we boost our serotonin, the body feels good again. But these are just gross expressions of what, finally, is purely thought: a story made up by our conceptual mind that exaggerates the ugly aspects of the person or event or oneself. Recent findings prove what is explained in Tibetan Medicine: that what goes on in the mind affects the body.
•    Anger is not someone else’s fault. This doesn’t mean that the person didn’t punch me; sure they did. And it doesn’t mean that punching me is not bad; sure it is. But the person didn’t make me angry. The punch is merely the catalyst for my anger, a tendency in my mind. If there were no anger, all I’d get is a broken nose.
•    Anger does not come from our parents. We love to blame our parents. Actually, if Buddha is wrong in his assertion that our mind comes from previous lives and is propelled by the force of our own past actions into our mother’s womb, and if the materialists are right in asserting that our parents created us, then we should blame them. How dare they create me, like Frankenstein and his monster, giving me anger and jealousy and the rest. But they didn’t, Buddha says. (Nor did a superior being – but we dare not blame him!) They gave us a body; the rest is ours (including our good qualities).
•    Anger isn’t only the shouting. Just because a person doesn’t shout and yell doesn’t mean they’re not angry. When we understand that anger is based on the thought called aversion, then we can see we are all angry. Of course, if we never look inside, we won’t notice the aversion – that’s why people who don’t express anger experience it as depression or guilt.
•    Anger is not necessary for compassionate action. His Holiness the Dalai Lama responded to an interviewer who suggested that anger seems to act as a motivator for action: “I know what you mean. But with anger, your wish to help doesn’t last. With compassion, you never give up.” We need to discriminate between good and bad, but Buddha says that we should criticize the action, not the person. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, it’s okay to find fault – but then we should think, “What can I do about it?” It’s exactly the same with seeing our own faults, but instead of feeling guilty we should think, “What can I do about it?” Then we can change. Anger and guilt are paralysing, impotent, useless.
•    Anger is not natural. Often we think we need anger in order to be a reasonable human being; that it’s unnatural not to have it; that it gives perspective to life. It’s a bit like thinking that in order to appreciate pleasure we need to know pain. But that’s obviously ridiculous – for me to appreciate your kindness, do you first need to punch me in the nose?
•    Anger is not at the core of our being. Being a delusional state of mind, a lie, a misconception, it’s logical that anger can be eliminated. If I think there are two cups on my table, whereas there is only one, that’s a misconception. What to do with the thought “there are two cups on my table”? Remove it from my mind. Recognize that there is one cup and stop believing the lie. It’s simple. Of course, the lies that believe that I’m self-existent, that delicious objects make me happy, that ugly ones make me suffer, that my mind is my brain, that someone else created me – these lies have been in my mind since time immemorial. But the method for getting rid of them is the same. What’s left when we’ve removed the lies, the delusions, is the truth of our own innate goodness, fully perfected. That is what’s natural.

(These words from Robina Courtin are from an article posted on the web:for the complete article please click on this LINK.)  You are welcome to comment on any of Dr Stephanie Dowrick’s thoughts or articles on her Facebook page.