Dharma Wheel by Bob Jacobson
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Emotions we can do without


"Anger is like fire;
in a moment of carelessness it can destroy everything you have built."

A Bag of Nails
Handling anger - antidotes
A meditation on anger


Once upon a time there was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he should hammer a nail in the fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. But gradually, the number of daily nails dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. Finally the first day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all. He proudly told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. "You have done well, my son, but look 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 can put a knife in a man and draw it out, it won't matter how many times you say 'I'm sorry', the wound is still there."


The definition of Aversion is: Exaggerated wanting to be separated from someone or something. (Exact opposite of Attachment) Because the label of "unpleasant" is very relative and based upon limited information, aversion includes an aspect of exaggeration or "projection".
The definition of Anger is: Being unable to bear the object, or the intention to cause harm to the object. Anger is defined as aversion with stronger exaggeration.


The basic problem according to Buddhism, is that emotions like anger and hatred are based on projections and exaggeration, not on objectivity or wisdom, and thus basically incorrect.
There is little need to explain what anger and hatred do to ourselves by means of the laws of karma; the misery we cause others will come back at ourselves. Nobody wants suffering, so next is a summary of methods which can not only reduce but even eliminate anger and hatred from our minds.
It must be emphasized that to completely eliminate these negative emotions from our mind is a lengthy psychological process, requiring study, mindfulness, reflection and honest observation of one's own mind. To begin with, meditation is an ideal method to review a situation in which one became angry (see the page on  meditation). This has the advantage that one is not exposed to the actual situation, but one can review it much more objectively. When regular meditation gives some insight into what anger is and what happens to oneself when feeling angry, then one can gradually try to apply it in real-life situations, preferably of course before one is already under complete control of anger. It is a slow process, but the change in your life and the ones around you can profoundly change for the better.

Is anger or hatred ever justified? As Allan Wallace writes in 'Tibetan Buddhism from the Ground up':

"Righteous hatred" is in the same category as "righteous cancer" or "righteous tuberculosis". All of them are absurd concepts.

This does not mean that one should never take action against aggression or injustice! Instead, one should try to develop an inner calmness and insight to deal with these situations in an appropriate way. We all know that anger and aggression give rise to anger and aggression. One could say that there are three ways to get rid of anger: kill the opponent, kill yourself or kill the anger - which one makes most sense to you?

But of course not only Buddhists recognise the shortcomings of anger, in the Bible for example in Psalm 37, 14-16 it 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 abandance."

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ANTIDOTE 1 - Patience.
Patience is the main antidote to anger. As common wisdom says: just count to 100... During this time, any of the below methods can be effective. The most effective method will depend on the actual situation. Especially in our age of rush and intense change, patience may not be seen as a positive quality, but take a minute to think impatience can easily give rise to a general feeling of anger.

ANTIDOTE 2 - Realization of the Noble Truth of Suffering.
Once one understands that problems and frustration is a basic fact of life, it can reduce our impatience with our own unrealistic expectations. In other words: nothing is perfect, so don't expect it.
Because of my belief that things are or can be perfect, it is easy to feel hurt.

ANTIDOTE 3 - Understanding Karma.
As explained in the page on Karma, the real reasons for our problems are our own actions, which are in turn caused by our own negative states of mind. If someone makes us angry, it has a sobering effect if we dare to think that the real reasons for this situation are our own past actions, and the person is just a circumstance for our own karma to ripen.

ANTIDOTE 4 - Changing or Accepting.
Basically, we can find ourselves in two types of unpleasant situations: ones we can change and ones we cannot change.
- If I can change the situation, I should do something about it instead of getting all worked-up and angry. Not acting in such a situation will cause frustration in the end.
- If I cannot change the situation, I will have to accept it. If I don't, it will only lead to frustration and a negative and unpleasant state of mind, which will make the situation only worse.
For some reasons unclear to me, Westerners (including myself) appear to have big problems with accepting unpleasant situations which we cannot change. Could this be a result of impatience (a form of anger) with imperfection (an unrealistic expectation)?

ANTIDOTE 5 - Realistic Analysis.
For example: someone accuses me of something.
- If it is true, I apparently made a mistake, so I should listen and learn.
- If it is untrue, the other person makes a mistake. So what? Nobody is perfect. I also make mistakes, and it is all too easy to label the other as "enemy", in which case a helpful discussion or forgiving becomes difficult.
It may also be worthwhile searching for the real underlying reason of the problem. Of special importance is to evaluate one's own role in the situation: my own fears, insecurity, being very unfriendly, or not being blameless (like leaving home much too late for an appointment and blaming the 5 minutes delay of the train).

ANTIDOTE - Realization of Emptiness.
See the page on Wisdom. To summarize it briefly, if one deeply realizes the emptiness of inherent existence or interdependence of the other person, the situation and oneself, there is nothing to be angry about. The realization of emptiness is therefore the ultimate means of ridding oneself of unrealistic negative emotions like anger.

ANTIDOTE 7 - Equanimity.
Equanimity means that one realizes the basic equality of all sentient beings; others want happiness, just like I do. Others make mistakes just like I do. Others are confused, angry, attached just like I often am. Is the other person happy in this situation, or just struggling like I am?

ANTIDOTE 8 - Openness
Be prepared to be open for the motivation of others to do what causes you problems. Talking it over and being prepared to listen can suddenly make a problem acceptable.
Did you ever notice the difference when a plane or train has much delay and nobody gives any reasons for it? People very quickly become irritated and hostile. Then when the driver or pilot explains there is a technical defect or an accident, suddenly waiting becomes easier.

ANTIDOTE 9 - Relativity.
Ask yourself if this situation is actually important enough to spoil your own and other people's mood. Is this problem worth getting upset in a life where death can hit me at any moment?

ANTIDOTE 10 - Change Your Motivation.
In case a situation is really unacceptable, and another person needs to convinced that something is to be done or changed, there is no need to become upset and angry. It is likely much more efficient if you show of understanding and try to make the other understand the need for change. If one needs to appear angry for some reason to convince the other person of the seriousness of the situation, one can think like a parent acting wrathful to prevent the child from harming itself.

In general, to be really effective one needs to reflect on quite a number of aspects in one's own mind like; forgiveness, peace of mind, fears, self-acceptance (no acceptance of others is really possible without self-acceptance), habits, prejudices etc. A list of aspects to start with is given in the page about the mind, under the 26 non-virtuous mental factors.

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Remember to take sufficient time at each step below to remain calm and concentrated.

1. Sit relaxed with a straight back, breathe deeply a few times and start breathing with the belly.

2. Set your motivation for the session, for example:

May all living beings be equanimous, free from attachment, anger and prejudice.
May all living beings be happy and have the causes for future happiness.
May all living beings be free from suffering and the causes for suffering.
May they never be separated from the ultimate happiness, free from all suffering.

3. Concentrate on the tip of your nose, feel the breath going in and out. At every out-breath count 1, and count from 1 to 10. When you come at 10, simply start at 1 again. Focus all attention on the tip of the nose and the counting. (some 5 minutes)

4. Release the counting and the concentration on the tip of the nose.

5. Recall a situation that made you angry at someone. (Do not take the most traumatic situation of your life or a complicated political issue to begin with, rather a simple quarrel with someone.)
6. How does it feel to be angry; pleasant or unpleasant?
7. How does the other feel; pleasant or unpleasant?
8. Would the situation have changed if I had been more calm and patient?
9. Was the situation completely outside my responsibility?
10. What was the reason of the others' behaviour? Is it caused by attachment, anger, ignorance, frustration?
11. What exactly made me angry; a stupid mistake, stubborn or selfish behaviour?
12. Do I never make such a mistake? Do I always treat people perfectly?
13. Can I expect others to be perfect all the time, when I also do not manage that?
14. Try to become angry at the real reason: attachment, selfishness, inconsiderateness etc.
15. Try to become angry at your own selfishness, anger, attachment etc.
16. Can I forgive the other for their human imperfections?
17. Take a few minutes to review the meditation session so far, and try to reach a one line simple conclusion.
18. Now concentrate very strongly on the conclusion without thinking about it, just focus on your feelings.
19. Relax and dedicate the positive energy of the session:

By the positive energy of this session:
May all living beings be equanimous, free from attachment, anger and prejudice.
May all living beings be happy and have the causes for future happiness.
May all living beings be free from suffering and the causes for suffering.
May they never be separated from the ultimate happiness, free from all suffering.

Thank you!

For more meditations, see the List of Sample Meditations.

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Last updated: May 2, 2001