Two of the most poisonous emotions are aversion and anger. Aversion is the opposite to attachment and anger leads to hatred, discrimination, aggression and a lack of compassion. Neither are helpful emotions. With desire, we want to cling to objects, but with aversion, we do the exact opposite. We spend all our time and energy trying to push away the thing we do not like. As with desire, we just need to let go, not hold on to this aversion. Don’t engage with it, hold it or repress it – simply acknowledge you have an aversion and then let it go.
Maybe we have an aversion to a certain class of people. This aversion drives us to make adverse comments about these people, and when we see them, a strong feeling of anger arises within us. However, if we spend time and examine this feeling of hatred, we will see it is baseless and irrational. It is through contemplating in this way that we will be able to eventually let the aversion go. We will see that this person is actually just like us. They do not want to suffer and they want to be happy, so how can we dislike them if they are the same as us? If we start to think like this, compassion will arise and we will lose the aversion.
If we do not acknowledge our aversions we are just falling into denial, and this again is not good for our state of mind. So, just watch the aversion rise and fall – do not engage with it. Just work at seeing how irrational it is and let it go.
Some say that anger is natural and should be expressed at all costs. This is because most people only see two ways of dealing with anger, that is, express or repress. Both are unhealthy. If you express it, it can lead to violence, hatred and people’s feelings being hurt or even worse, if you are the leader of a country, it can lead to war and genocide. If you repress it, you are just storing up trouble for the future. You may be able to keep it down for some time, but eventually it will surface and may even come back more violent and hurtful.
Anger is such a destructive emotion because we engage with it and let it take control of us. So, Gautama Buddha had a different idea. He advised us to look at the anger and see where it comes from. It is not to be dealt with, but observed. If we do this, we will see that it stems from our exaggerating the negative qualities of someone or projecting negative qualities that are not actually there onto someone or something.
We have all been there. We see someone dressed a certain way, or coming from a certain country, or just someone who looks different from us. We then start projecting qualities onto these people. They’re terrorists, they’re common, they’re dirty, they’re illiterate, they’re dangerous – all these are just our negative projections, which make us angry and cause us to feel aversion.
So, if you look at the above, how can anger be natural? Even if you are not convinced and still think it is natural, it doesn’t follow that it is beneficial to us or the person we are projecting it onto. Anger creates problems for us and the person we are angry with. It can become a habit, and we all know just how hard habits are to break.
We should not react straight away, but should count to ten and spend some time reflecting on the situation. This will help us calm down and see things more rationally. Of course, this is not a simple thing to do when one is wrapped up in the moment. So the best thing is at the end of the day, look back on when you became angry. See how you could have acted more calmly and imagine what the outcome may have been if you had. Slowly, you will learn not to react instantly but to first reflect. This will help us to gain patience and not anger.
Shantideva, in A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, said about contemplating patience:
There is no evil like anger,
And no courageousness like patience.
So I should strive in various ways
To contemplate on patience.
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