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It's OK to be Angry


Isn’t it tempting to believe that Buddha was never angry? It doesn’t really show up in his stories, or on any of his statues. It’s very easy to assume that anger was never there. It never entered his mind, it never crossed his radar, it never played a factor in his life.

To be perfectly honest… I never met the guy. This does put the entire question at a shaky starting point. There is always - in every religion or philosophy - the cardinal question of how much we are really understanding what the original founders meant, and how much has been lost to time, and misinterpretation. This is just as dangerous through texts as it is through word of mouth: Just ask any two Jews what they think about a particular passage of Torah. And God be with you.


So was Buddha ever angry?


Well… I can tell you two things that Buddha would have agreed with, if he was real: One is that we each have to find our own answers, or we will never be certain of anything. He said this himself: According to the sutras, these were his dying words.

Two is that he was human, entirely human, and no different from anyone else. His potential was the same as anyone else’s, as were his challenges. Otherwise there would have been little point in teaching, if others were not capable of achieving the same goals that he himself was trying to teach.


Buddha called his flagship practice “vipassana”, which simply means “to see”. A person who practiced this successfully was said to be “extinguished”, or “in Nirvana”. There is a gaping black hole of interpretation to fall into here: What has been extinguished? Popularly, it is suffering; desire, the sense of self, all impurities, pain as we know it. Look it up just about anywhere, and these are the kinds of descriptions you’ll find. I do believe we have come to confuse Nirvana with our old notions of Heaven - all is well, happily ever after, mic drop.


But that’s not how it works. Even Paramahansa Yogananda relates a story in his famous autobiography that speaks to this, perhaps without having intended to: When a man wished to take one of his young students home for a visit, he warned the man that if he did so, the boy would die. Nevertheless, the father took his boy at a moment when Yogananda was unaware of it, and tragically the boy contracted cholera at home, and died. The yogi drove out to Kolkata and, upon arrival at their residence, jumped from his cab and yelled, “Murderer! You killed my boy!”


Those who see - still feel. They still experience hunger (ask the Buddha), they still get cold when it rains (ask the Buddha), and… sorry to say… they still have emotions. There is a popular saying in the spiritual world: “If you think you are enlightened, spend a week with your mother.” This might be taken as a test - meant to prove that you have not yet completed your journey. But even awakened people use this same expression. My teacher used it to remind us that you should never use enlightenment to convince yourself that you are anything other than human.


Magically enough, the thing that gets extinguished is not existence as we know it, but the illusions we used to have ABOUT existence. These illusions would cause us to hold onto our anger, to perpetuate it, to expel it onto others and to be a part of the universal whirlpool of anger. What’s nice about Nirvana is not that everything is gone, but that the illusion is gone. The chemical reactions that comprise our being will never change; what changes is the way we see them.That means that you don’t hold onto your anger anymore. And that means, very simply, that it becomes much easier to deal with, because instead of being a mountain, it turns into a breeze. It comes, and it goes, and that’s all.


But wishing your anger to not be there, or believing that it does not exist, is going to get you into a whole lot of trouble: It allows your anger to thrive without being seen, because you refuse to see it. It goes into what I like to call “stealth mode”. It eats us up from the inside, and explodes when we least expect it. We are not getting any closer to the truth this way.


Being awake is not about no longer experiencing anger; it is about how you respond to your anger when it rises. If you are in a good place, you respond with awareness. You admit that you’re angry. You allow yourself the time, and whatever else you need, to let it pass. And you do the same for others, when it’s their turn.



Photo by Vladimir Srajber, Pexels.com

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