Free yourself of the destructive force of anger through the practice of some principles of Indian psychology. Over the last few months we have established some of the basic principles of the philosophy and ethics of emotions. Let us use these principles in dealing with the emotion of anger. We often fail to control or re-channel into a positive direction, our destructive emotions. One of our strategies is the well-known device of denial. It is common to hear an angry person say, ‘I am never angry!’ or ‘I am being misunderstood’.
The denial may be conscious or unconscious. In both cases there is a hidden admission that anger transgresses the principles of enlightenment and ethics. The antidotes to such denial are manifold. First of all, we need to cultivate the habit of listening to others. When someone tells us that we have been angry, we must train ourselves to abandon our pride and accept at least halfway, the finger being pointed at us. ‘To me it does not seem as if I was angry but if the others are telling me that I was, perhaps there is some truth in it.’
This is the first step in developing mindfulness, awareness of emotions, vedananussati in the terms of Visuddhi-magga, primary text of the Theravada Buddhist meditation system. Slowly one seeks to rise from the habit of denial and cultivate mindfulness; one becomes aware of being angry. This awareness is half the control. As our inner self, buddhi and conscience, knows this anger to be undesirable, we strive to re-channel it.
Through our efforts, our recognition of the presence of anger increases progressively. First we were simply not aware of it. Then, in spite of a certain level of awareness, we were denying it. Then we began to recognize its presence but felt helpless to control it. The very same awareness then begins to prompt us into actually learning to establish control.
Finally, the frequency of such control increases. As we grow in awareness, our control over anger manifests at subtle levels. The anger gets a little less intense each time, for instance, and its duration may reduce. There is also a pronounced internal remorse, pashchat-tapa. Subsequently we may try to atone, prayash-chitta, in many ways. Our resolution, sankalpa, is strengthened through affirmations. We also recall the times we did not surrender to anger and identify ourselves with those moments. We declare our intention to strive for greater and greater mastery over ourselves. We undertake internal purifications such as japa of certain peace-mantras.
We may also practice external atonements such as undertaking pilgrimages. Acts of anonymous, I repeat anonymous, charity, approaching the aggrieved party and asking them for forgiveness, penalty, are other acts that would undo the harm done.
No weakness can be conquered all on its own. Each of our failures is linked intricately to many others. For example, anger is linked to frustrated desire, seeking of egotistical power, pride and lack of humility, absence of love, and so forth. An aspirant undertakes to conquer them one at a time but must be cognizant of these intricate connections and pray some day to overcome the other associate weaknesses as well. This is the difference between unhealthy repression and purification. The former does not take into account the associate weaknesses. The latter helps us to eradicate the roots, as well as branches of the trunk, of the main weakness at hand to be dealt with.
When one has learnt to manage the anger that is already in the manifest, udara, state, then one starts on a yet subtler expedition. One watches over the dormant and attenuated, pra-supta and tanu-krita, stages. One sees in oneself the potential for the arousal of anger, and through constant self-observation, catches the anger while it is yet hidden in the mind. For both of these now, one employs the same strategies as for the manifest state discussed earlier.
For accomplishing such tasks one needs to cultivate a lively internal, mental, life. An example of this is what this writer’s spiritual master, Swami Rama of the Himalayas, calls the processes of internal dialog. It is a highly developed tradition in all the spiritual paths. There are hundreds of songs composed by the saint-poets of India, addressed to the mind. Here one counsels one’s own mind as a dear friend and invokes the buddhi to counter the arguments and excuses presented by the mind. Slowly, one convinces the mind to change itself, its habits and acts.
For example, the Bhagavad Gita tells us, ‘As one contemplates sensuous objects there arises an attraction and attachment towards them; such attachment creates passionate desire (kama); from kama comes forth anger. Through anger develops complete dullness, and thereby the confusion in the states of mindfulness; through loss of mindfulness, the loss of the discriminating faculty, buddhi, and by the loss of buddhi, one is completely lost.’
This chain of thoughts should become a reality to a mind that has been counseled well by its owner. Such a mind will see causes and consequences of its choices. For example, in confronting one’s own anger one needs to ask: from which unfulfilled, suppressed, desire is this anger arising?
When one discovers that the source of anger is within oneself, one will stop blaming others for it. Anger is not caused by the immediate events or persons. It is present within us and, like our genes, it is triggered when appropriate external stimuli are presented to us.
The person before us is not the cause of the anger. Its source is within us. If I divorce ‘this’ wife or ‘this’ husband, I may repeat the same scenario of anger with the next one. I am angry at ‘this neighborhood, but the next neighborhood I move to will also trigger the same angry traits in me. Let me not try to cool the world when I am hot; let me cool myself.
A king wanted to inspect his kingdom but was afraid of the rough paths. He ordered his ministers to pave leather on all the paths and rough tracks he would traverse. As the day of his departure arrived, he asked whether the arrangements to protect his feet had been made. ‘Indeed, they have,’ answered the ministers as they handed him a pair of shoes.