When we feel a burst of anger, we sense a strong feeling and irresistible desire to react to it. We feel as if a strong force captures us while we are not able to resist. We feel almost powerless, without the ability to free ourselves from feeling angry. It is as if we have no choice but to experience this uncomfortable feeling.
Western perspective, specifically the evolutionary view describes emotions as a brain’s response that shaped the human mind. Anger is a natural feeling that plays a crucial role in human survival and evolution. As such, anger and other emotions remain in the repertoire of the human brain as a trade-off in the evolutionary quest for survival.
While western perspective sees anger as an integral part of human evolution that serves as an important need for survival, Buddhist psychology sees anger as a negative feeling that should be eliminated. Based on Buddhism, craving (attachment/needs) and ignorance are the two main causes of suffering. People suffer with their craving for the pleasures of the senses and become unsatisfied and disappointed until they can replace their cravings with new ones. People suffer too when they are unable to see the world as it really is. They live their lives with illusions of fears, expectations, hopes as well as “facts” and decisions that are based on ignorance. Anger emotion does exactly that. It twists our reality and negatively impacts our judgment.
Anger is created when our needs are not fulfilled. At the same time, anger distorts our reality. Buddhism uses the following metaphor: when we look from a distance at a large summer cloud, it seems so massive and solid that one could stand and walk on it. Yet, as you get closer to the cloud you are able to see that there is nothing to grasp in the cloud, nothing but steam, wind and air. Yet, the cloud distorts our view and prevents us from seeing beyond it. We are unable to see the blue sky, the sun, the birds and other objects that actually exist in nature; that are always there.
Anger like the cloud has the same effect and has no real substance. It is like smoke that prevents us from seeing beyond it. It is like dust that covers the lamp. If the lamp is cleaned and the dust is removed, the light can shine at a greater degree to show its true quality and power of illumination.
When we face anger and look directly into it, we realize and understand its nature and characteristics. The more we face and confront anger rather than “run away from it,” we can see its true nature. The more we force ourselves not to react to anger and stay with it, the more it will dissolve and ultimately disappear. The more we build the courage to NOT fear anger but to challenge it, anger gradually loses it strength and the negative impact it brings to our lives. The more we act in an assertive behavior rather than being passive or aggressive, our anger disposition is improve to make us less prone to angry feelings.
Matthieu Ricard, a French Buddhist monk and a renowned philosopher says about anger “the negative qualities of emotions (and anger) are not even intrinsic to the emotions themselves. It is the grasping associated with one’s tendencies that leads to a chain reaction in which the initial thought develops into anger, hatred and malevolence. If anger itself is not something that is solid, it means anger is not a property that belongs to the fundamental nature of the mind.”
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