Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ask Parvati 16: Anger As An Ally, Part 5: Anger Is Natural, But Never Justified



(Continued from Anger, What a Pain!)

There is a wonderful story that illustrates the effects of anger.


There once was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and said every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail in the fence.


The first day the boy had pounded over fifty nails into the fence. As the days went on, the number of nails driven into the fence became fewer. The boy grew tired and began to realize that it was easier to let go of his temper than to drive nails into the fence.


Finally one day, the boy didn't lose his temper at all. He proudly told his father about his success. The father quietly asked that the boy now pull out one nail for each day he was able to curb his temper.


The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father then took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. The father said:


"Son, you have done well. Look now at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You may say cutting, hurtful words to someone. You may even throw punches. But no won't matter how many times you say 'I'm sorry', the wound from your actions will still be there."


If we could all see the effects of our ignorant and hurtful actions, our hearts surely would burst into sincere remorse with the desire to be forgiven and act only in compassion. Anger is natural, but it is not enough to leave it there. Part of our call on this human journey is to embody wisdom-compassion as the saints and sages did. When we see a bigger picture, we see that anger is always born out of ignorance.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama reminds us of the power of our emotions: “Hatred can be the greatest stumbling block to the development of compassion and happiness. If you learn to develop patience and tolerance towards your enemies, then everything becomes much easier–your compassion towards all others begins to flow naturally. Happiness cannot come from hatred or anger. Nobody can say, ‘Today I am happy because this morning I was angry.’ On the contrary, people feel uneasy and sad and say, ‘Today I am not very happy, because I lost my temper this morning.’”


Anger can become addictive, like a bad habit on overdrive. Seduced by its surging heat, for a moment we feel like kings. But we will not find there the happiness we deeply seek. The Buddha says, "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."


When the heat of anger arises, it takes a humble willingness and profound courage to release the notion of againstness, feeling hard done by, feeling life is happening to me; and open to love. We must truly understand that there is no health or evolution or good that comes from blame or judgment. When we truly understand this, anger looses its attractiveness. We see life from a broader vantage point, as a bigger picture, one that is rooted in love, trust and interconnection. When we live in this, we become truly wealthy. In the Bible, Psalm 37: 14-16 reads:


"The angry ones draw their swords, the angry ones aim their bows

To put down the poor and the weakened and to kill those who walk on the path of righteousness.

But their sword hits their own heart, their bows will be broken.

With his poverty, the righteous one is richer than all the angry ones in their abundance."


(More tomorrow: The Angry Liver: How to Make Your Liver Hum)



  1. So anger wasn't justified after 9/11? Or when Hitler took to gassing Jews by the millions?

  2. I believe it was precisely feeling justified anger that lead to the hate that fueled horrific events like the ones you mention. If we react with anger to anger, we end up in the exact same place as those with whom we feel angry. Anger is never justified. If we do justify it, we feed our ego and the illusion of separation. It is natural and we must learn to listen to it's call. In it, we can hear the voice of our soul that keeps us on path, away from complacency and indifference. We learn to let go of the grip of fear and disconnection and learn to love, serve and have compassion for those who choose to live in darkness. If you have not already, you may find Elie Wiesel's books of inspiration. He survived the Nazi concentration camps and awoke spiritually. He says, “Mankind must remember that peace is not God's gift to his creatures; peace is our gift to each other.”

  3. In the times I have been most angry, I can see now that there has been a part of me that spoke up for clarity and dharma. It could only be heard, though, if I was willing to let go of my feelings of justified rage or victim mentality. It is the voice that says, "To take life wantonly as an expression of rage and self-justification is to commit a crime against the reality of our interconnected existence. This disconnect from reality fuels actions against dharma. If I become enraged and vengeful in turn then I am perpetuating the disconnect and committing my own crime against dharma. I could go this way. But I will not."

  4. (I should add that there have been plenty of times I have slipped into the feeling of justified rage, instead of being willing to listen to that voice. Compassion can take practice. But it's essential. As many peace activists have pointed out, "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way." Peace and compassion are not just warm fuzzy tenderness. They call on a fierce and fearless commitment to dharma.)

  5. I think that anger is an emotion which can't be denied. It can be a most powerful catalyst for change. It is rage that is not acceptable.

  6. I agree, that we must not deny that we feel anger, nor any emotion, for that matter. We must learn to express our emotions in healthy ways and share how we feel with those we trust. All emotions are natural and essential to understand so that we may grow. Emotions are like energy in motion. It is what we do with that energy that is key.