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Dealing with Emotions

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In the course of one day, we experience so many emotions. Some, such as genuine love and compassion, are valuable. Others, such as attachment, anger, closed-mindedness, pride and jealously, disturb our mental peace and lead us to act in ways that hurt ourselves and others. These pieces help us to examine our disturbing attitudes and negative emotions and to explore some antidotes to pacify and transform them.


Articles on Dealing with Emotions

Q&A: Working with Anger
Dealing with Anxiety
Q&A: Dealing with Anxiety
Working with Emotions
Transforming Problems


Teachings on Audio

Dealing with Depression
Overcoming Anger & Frustration
Understanding the Mind



Q&A: Working with Anger
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©

Does being patient with people who harm us mean being passive? Must we let them get their way or walk all over us?

No. We can redress a bad situation without antagonism. In fact, we’ll be more effective in doing so when we’re calm and clear-thinking.

Sometimes we may have to speak strongly to someone because that is the only way to communicate with her. For example, if your child is playing in the street and you very sweetly say, "Susie dear, please don’t play in the street," she may ignore you. But if you speak forcefully and explain the danger to her, she’ll remember and obey.

As a sports enthusiast, isn’t anger good because it helps you to win the game? Is sports a good way to release anger?

Yes, sports is a socially accepted way of venting anger. However, it doesn’t cure the anger, it only temporarily releases the physical energy accompanying anger. We are still avoiding the real problem, which is our disturbing emotion and misconceptions regarding a situation.

Yes, anger may help you win the game, but is that really beneficial? Is it worthwhile to reinforce negative characteristics just to get a trophy? The danger in sports is making the "us and them" too concrete. "My team must win. We have to fight and beat the enemy."

But let’s step back for s moment. Why should we win and the other team lose? The only reason is "My team is best because it’s mine." The other team feels the same way. Who is right? Competition based on such self-centredness isn’t productive because it breeds anger and jealousy.

On the other hand, we can concentrate on the process of playing the game, not on the goal of winning. In this case, we’ll enjoy the physical exercise, the camaraderie and team spirit, whether we win or lose. Psychologically, this attitude brings more happiness.

How do we deal with anger when we witness a person harming another?

All the techniques described above are applicable here. However, being patient doesn’t mean being passive. We may have to actively stop one person from harming another, but the key is to do this with impartial compassion for everyone in the situation.

It’s easy to have compassion for the victim. But compassion for the perpetrator is equally important. This person is creating the cause for his own suffering: he may be tortured by guilt later, he may encounter trouble with the law, and he will reap the karmic fruits of his own actions. Recognising the suffering he brings on himself, we can develop compassion for him. Thus, with equal concern for the victim and the perpetrator, we can act to prevent one person from harming another.

We needn’t be angry in order to correct a wrong. Actions done out of anger may complicate the situation even more! With a clear mind, we’ll be able to determine more easily what we can do to help.

How can we help someone who is creating negative karma by getting angry at us?

Each situation is different and will have to be examined separately. However, some general guidelines may apply. First, check up if the other’s complaints about us are justified. If so, we can apologise and correct the situation. That stops his anger.

Second, when someone is very upset and angry, try to calm him down. Don’t argue back, because in his state of mind, he can’t listen to you. This is understandable: we don’t listen to others when we are in a temper. So it’s better to help him settle down and later, perhaps the next day, discuss it.

What do we do when people criticise Buddhism?

That’s their opinion. They’re entitled to have it. Of course, we don’t agree with it. Sometimes we may succeed in correcting another’s misconceptions, but sometimes people are very closed-minded and don’t want to change their views. That’s their business. Just leave it.

We don’t need others’ approval to practice the Dharma. But we do need to be convinced in our hearts that what we do is right. If we are, then others’ opinions aren’t important.

Others’ criticisms don’t hurt the Dharma or the Buddha. The path to enlightenment exists whether others recognise it as such or not. We don’t need to be defensive. In fact, if we become agitated when others criticise Buddhism, it indicates we’re attached to our beliefs – that our ego is involved and so we feel compelled to prove our beliefs are right.

When we’re secure in what we believe, others’ criticisms don’t disturb our peace of mind. Why should it? Criticism doesn’t mean we are stupid or bad. It’s simply another’s opinion, that’s all.

Tibetan Buddhism has many images of fierce deities. What do they mean?

These deities or Buddha figures are manifestations of the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion. Their ferocity isn’t directed towards living beings, because as Buddhas, they have only compassion for others. Rather their force is aimed at ignorance and selfishness, the real causes of all our problems.

By showing a fierce aspect, these deities demonstrate the need to act firmly and swiftly against our ignorance and selfishness. Being patient with internal enemies, the disturbing attitudes, isn’t beneficial at all. We should actively oppose them. These deities illustrate that instead of being wrathful towards other beings, we should be fierce with internal enemies like ignorance and selfishness.

In addition, as manifestations of compassionate wisdom, these deities symbolically represent compassionate wisdom conquering disturbing attitudes.

How do we identify our anger?

There are several ways to do this. When we do the breathing meditation, clearly focussing on the inhalation and exhalation of the breath, observe what distractions arise. We may recognise a general feeling of restlessness or anger. Or we may remember a situation from years ago that we’re still irritated about. By noting these distractions, we’ll know what we need to work on. We can also identify our anger by being aware of our physical reactions, whether we’re meditating or not.

For example, if we feel our stomach tightening, or our body temperature increasing, it may be a signal that we’re starting to lose our temper. Each person has different physical manifestations of anger. We can be observant and note ours. This is helpful, for sometimes it’s easier to identify the physical sensation accompanying anger than the anger itself.

Another way is to observe our moods. When we’re in a bad mood, we can pause and ask ourselves, "What is this feeling? What prompted it?" Sometimes we can observe patterns in our moods and behaviours. This gives us clues as to how our minds operate.

What can we do about anger that has been building up over a long period of time?

It will take a while to free our minds from this. Habitual anger must be replaced with habitual patience, and this takes time and consistent effort to develop. When we notice our anger building up towards someone, it’s helpful to ask ourselves, "What button is this person pushing in me? Why am I so irritated by her actions?" In this way, we research our reactions to determine the real issue involved. Do we feel powerless? Do we feel no one listens to us? Are we offended? Observing in this way, we’ll come to know ourselves better and can then apply the right antidote to that disturbing attitude.

Of course, prevention is the best medicine. Instead of allowing our anger to build up over time, it’s better to be courageous and try to communicate with the other person earlier on. This stops the proliferation of misconceptions and misunderstandings. If we allow our anger to build up over time, how can we blame it on the other person? We have some responsibility to try to communicate with people who disturb us.


For a fuller version, please see "Working With Anger" by Ven. Chodron, published by Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca NY.

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