Guide to Buddhism: Step 7 – Overcoming Anger

What is Anger?


Anger is simply an emotion.

Anger evolved in humans as a natural warning system to alert us that one of our basic needs aren’t being met or that we’ve been hurt or will likely be hurt physically or emotionally.

On the positive side, anger can motivate us to change our circumstances for the better or to have the courage to stand up for what is right.

If we can recognize the feeling of anger before it becomes too intense and out of control, then we can deal with our anger in a healthy, effective way.

On the other side, if are fail to recognize our anger, then it is likely to escalate and get out of control. The likely result is then one of the many unhealthy expressions of anger: aggression, violence or bullying.

Other more subtle negative repressions include sarcasm, being passive aggressive, suppressing anger, sulking when a situation doesn’t meet expectations, holding grudges, giving someone the silent treatment, emotional abuse, and the inability to forgive.

Whether we currently manage and control our anger in a healthy or unhealthy way is a learned response. We have learn everything, including how to express anger, from our family, friends and from ourselves.

The basis of how we deal with anger is usually learned early in life through our experiences in childhood. Regardless of how long these habits have been with us, it’s important to know that through self-awareness and mental training, your relationship with anger can change.

However like with all aspects of Buddhism, the ability to change is entirely in your own hands and will take self-awareness and effort.

Let’s take a quick self-assessment. Have you ever been angry? Of course! Daily most likely. We have been angry and most of us get angry multiple times a day to varying degrees. When you’re angry does it feel good or bad?

We can probably all agree that being angry feels bad. So if it feels bad, then why don’t you throw that feeling away?

Why bother to hold onto it and keep it? We cannot claim to be wise and intelligent when we hold onto anger. To be wise, we must learn to recognize anger, manage it, and to eventually learn to let it go when it arises.

Since the day we were born, how many times has the mind tricked you into anger?

Anger in the mind can cause an entire family to fight or cause you to cry all night long. Yet we still continue to get angry – most of us several times a day.

Uncontrolled anger can effect not only your personal life but also your job and your health. We must learn how to recognize our anger so that we can learn to to manage the emotion to our benefit.

If we fail to control our anger then we likely to feel negative affects such as isolation, guilt, shame, pain and fear.

From a Buddhist perspective, if we hold onto things then we will suffer. If we can’t see the suffering inherent in holding onto anger, then we will suffer indefinitely with no chance of relief.

We must first understand the problem before we can solve it.

Where does anger come from?

Uncontrolled anger is a symptom of a weak, untrained mind. Holding onto anger as a personal possession is guaranteed to cause suffering. Think about it this way: if anger really belonged to us as a possession, then it would have to obey us.

If anger obeyed us, then we could tell our anger to go away  at a set time, i.e., anger go away in one hour!

But anger isn’t really ours to command. Sometimes it is still there after an hour and sometimes it is gone in less than an hour.

But since it doesn’t obey us, it means that it’s only a deception. Don’t fall for it.

When we know defilements for what they are, we can let them go. We must know that defilements are a poison that cause suffering so we must swept from our minds. Accepting, giving up, letting go – this is the way of lightness.

To rid yourself of anger, you must look inward

Whether the mind loves or hates, don’t fall for it. It’s all a deception. Anger is a defilement clouding your mind.

As we discuss below, our minds are intrinsically un-moving and peaceful. The path to inner peace isn’t something you have to go running around searching for or exhaust yourself over.

Just look at the feelings which arise in your mind.

Where are you going to find happiness in this world? 

Do you expect everybody to say only pleasant things to you all your life?

Is that reasonable or possible?

Of course not.

You also can’t possibly make everyone act as you wish or be like you. This wish will only make you suffer. There was never an occasion when Buddha expressed any unfriendliness towards a single person – not even to his fiercest opponents and worst enemies.

There were even several assignation attempts on the Buddha’s life, yet Buddha never treated them as enemies.

Buddha once said, “As an elephant in the battlefield endures the arrows that are shot into him, so will I endure the abuse and unfriendly expressions of others.”

What actually is the human mind?

Buddha taught that the practice of Buddhism begins and ends in our mind. But how do we know what the mind is?

Or what the mind is like or where it is? Simply put, the mind is what receives and is aware of sense impressions. The mind receives sense impressions and leads us to happiness or unhappiness.

While our heads and brains do have a physical form, the mind does not have any physical form. We incorrectly assume it to be “a self.” Happiness and suffering don’t have any physical form.

They aren’t circular or square, tall or short, and you can’t find them. These things, like the mind, can’t be compared to physical, material objects because they are formless.

But they do exist.

Our minds are naturally peaceful

It may be difficult to believe but our minds are intrinsically at rest and peaceful.

However, the untrained mind gets tricked and allows sense impressions to come and trick it into temporary happiness or sadness.

But the mind’s true nature is none of those things. As long as we are still unenlightened, all this may sound strange but it doesn’t matter, we just set our goal in this direction.

The goal here is to separate our minds from feeling and emotions such as anger. If we are clever we don’t attach, we leave things be.

The mind and feeling are just like oil and water in a bottle; they are in the same bottle, but they don’t mix.

Even if you try to shake the bottle, the oil remains oil and the water remains water because they have different densities.

Even if we are sick or in pain, we still know the feeling as feeling, the mind as mind. We know the painful or joyous states, but we don’t identify with them. We stay only with peace: the peace is beyond both comfort and pain.

You must live like this, that is, without happiness and without unhappiness.

We say that we must separate mind and feeling but in fact they are by nature already separate.

In other words, the mind is the mind. Our goal is simply to know this natural separateness according to reality. When we say the mind and feeling are mixed, it’s because we’re clinging to them through ignorance of the truth.

The knowledge which comes from study is not real knowledge of our mind. The knowledge which arises from practice with a peaceful mind and the knowledge which comes from study are really far apart. If we investigate like this continuously the mind will find release.

We must train our mind to know those sense impressions as they arise and to not get lost in them. This is the goal of Buddhism and the benefit of all the difficult practice we put ourselves through.

Teachers and guides can only show you the direction of the Path. Whether you walk the path by practicing and thereby reap the fruits of practice, is entirely up to you.

The ultimate goal is to develop wisdom

When you think about it, whether people are happy or sad, content or discontent, doesn’t depend on their having little or a lot – it depends on wisdom.

A wise person recognizes that nothing can be permanently satisfying or dependable.(See Impermanence: The Only Thing Constant is Change.) A wise person has inner peace. Happiness is a pleasant feeling in the mind and sadness is just an unpleasant feeling

The happiness or sadness is not the mind but merely a mood coming to deceive us.

If we mixed them up, then we don’t know them.

The untrained mind gets lost and follows these things. Then we think it is we who are upset or at ease. Buddha taught to separate this happiness and unhappiness from the mind by following the path.

The natural state of the mind is neither happiness nor unhappiness. It’s the balance in between –  peace.

We will still experience happiness or unhappiness but know them only as feelings so that we don’t cling to that feeling or carry it around.

Before you get angry, consider all possibilities

Remember that you do not have to react to everything someone says to you.

Here’s an example. Imaging that one morning you’re walking to work and a man yells profane insults at you from across the street. When you hear this, your mind immediately changes from its usual state to a feeling of anger and hurt.


Every morning when you walk to work, the same man insults you.

Whenever you hear the verbal abuse, you get angry and even when you get home you’re still angry because you feel vindictive and want to get even.

A few days later, you learn that the man who verbally abused you is crazy. He has been mad for years and verbally abuses everybody.

Everyone else has learned not to take any notice of anything he says. as soon as you hear this, you are instantly relieved.

The anger and hurt that you’ve pent up within you for days suddenly melts away completely. Why?

Because you know the truth of the matter now. As soon as you find out the truth, everything changes – you know the truth for yourself and can let go. 

If someone does something bad or gets angry, don’t get angry yourself. If you do, you are being even more ignorant than than they are being. Be wise and keep have compassion for that person because they are suffering.

When you don’t know the truth you cling and suffer. Until we see the truth, we will be plagued with thoughts such as, “What can I do? I have so much greed and anger.”

It is the same as when we thought the madman was sane. When we finally see that he was crazy all along, we’re relieved of worry. No one can show you this.

Only when the mind sees for it self can it uproot and relinquishment attachment and anger. All of Buddha’s teachings are merely similes and comparisons to help our minds see the truth. We will suffer until we see the truth.

What is the antidote to anger?

To help combat anger, we should work to possess the two antidotes: loving-kindness and compassion.

What is loving-kindness?

Loving-kindness is an intense feeling of selfless love for other beings radiating outwards as a heartfelt concern for their well-being and happiness.

To fill our hearts with loving-kindness, we must consider how all people desire to be well, happy and secure.

The Buddha teaches us to fill our minds with loving-kindness as if each person was a dear brother or sister.

Buddha taught that we should practice selfless love or altruistic love. This type of love is different than the selfish love that we usually see in the world.

For example, if you look closely then you will see that most people love others only out of love for themselves. This form of love is self-centered and will impede your spiritual progress.

Put another way, selfish love is when you are only concerned with the satisfaction to be gained for oneself without any real consideration for the other person’s needs or feelings. Buddhism also considers the love between friends and the love between couples to be selfish.

The reason being is that the love is limited to certain people and does not encompass others. Jealousy is a common symptom of selfish love.

On the other hand, selfless love is felt when someone surrenders his or her whole being for the good of another. Selfless love is crucial to finding and maintaining real inner peace.

This type of ideal love is where the self that does the loving is not identified.

Selfless love is also universal and extends not only to human beings but to all living creatures.

Unlike other types of love, universal love has no boundaries and does not discriminate. Universal love never causes disappointment or frustration because it excepts no reward and does not even identify the one who loves.

Those who cultivate universal love will experience more inner peace, happiness and satisfaction than those who focus on selfish love and love only a few select people.

What is compassion?

Compassion has been said to be the most beautiful jewel in the crown of the Buddha’s teachings. But what exactly is compassion? 

Academically speaking, compassion is combination of two Latin words: com meaning ‘together’ and passio meaning ‘suffering.’

Compassion is when we see someone in distress and we feel their pain or suffering as if it were our own and we strive to eliminate or lessen their pain.

Therefore, compassion is a broad term that encompasses qualities such as sharing, sympathy, concern  and caring. Compassion is the opposite of cruelty and lack of consideration for others.

Compassion addresses the emotional or feeling side of our nature and is uniquely a human quality. In the compassionate person, you will notice that they have care and love towards other has its origins and care and love for oneself.

We can feel for others when we feel for ourselves. Likewise, we’ll know what is best for others when we know what is best for ourselves.

In other words, we are best able to help others after we have helped ourselves.

While on the path towards inner peace, one’s own spiritual development should blossom quite naturally into compassion – concern for the welfare of others.

Buddha taught that genuine self-concern will gradually mature into concern for others as we begin to see that others are really the same as us  this is genuine compassion. In the eyes of Buddha, all people are one.

Two ineffective ways of handling anger

It may seem counterintuitive, but keep in mind that there are two effective ways of dealing with our anger.

1. “Releasing” the Anger

You should not try to release anger through bodily or verbal action. This may release tension and help drive the anger “out of one’s system,” but it breeds resentment, creates enemies, and bad karma. In the end, it the ill will (anger) does not leave the ‘system’ after all, but instead is driven down deep where it continues to impairs/spoils one’s thoughts and conduct.

2. Suppressing the Anger

You should not push anger inward because it will lead to self-contempt, depression or outbursts of violence.

Next: Step 8: Putting in the Effort