The Poison of Anger.

You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger.”

~ the Buddha

Anger happens to all of us. Even the greatest among experience anger sometimes; regardless of how much we have cultivated love and compassion, we are still human.

In Buddhism, anger is one of the three poisons, along with greed and ignorance. The three poisons are the primary cause of our suffering. Striving to overcome our anger is essential to Buddhist practice. In Buddhism, we don’t really think of anger as ‘righteous’ or ‘justifiable’. It’s important to remember that our anger hurts us as much as it hurts whoever the target of our anger is, if not more. Anger is nothing more than an impediment to our inner peace. We might think, “this person deserves to be faced with my anger.”

But that shouldn’t be our line of thinking—instead, we should be thinking, “Is our anger helpful?”

So, we can strive to overcome our anger, but of course we will get angry sometimes, everyone does and we shouldn’t feel bad for it.

But how do we deal with our anger?

First, admit you’re angry. Admit that your anger is clouding your judgment and impacting your ability to deal with whatever situation is occurring. Anger can only get in the way and escalate situations. It never helps. Thinking anger is sometimes helpful is dangerous. Buddhism teaches mindfulness. Being mindful of our own emotions is part of mindfulness. We don’t suppress a negative emotion or deny it; instead we acknowledge it and try to recognize that it isn’t helpful and let it go.

It’s also important to understand that our anger is created by ourselves.

Anger doesn’t happen to us, our minds create it. We tend to think that someone else causes us to get angry, but it’s our own mind that makes us angry. We do have some control over how we respond to situations.

As Buddhists, our practice is to cultivate kindness and compassion for all beings that is free from attachment. “All beings” includes individuals who make us angry.

For this reason, when we experience anger, we should take care not to act on it to hurt others and ourselves. We also must take care not to cling to our anger. If we hold onto our anger over time, it is only more damaging to us.

So, how do we let our anger go?

One thing we can do it cultivate patience. We can sit still with our anger and try to release it. Our meditation practice helps us strengthen our patience for this purpose. 

It’s hard not to act on our anger sometimes.  It takes strength to acknowledge that anger is not helpful and it takes discipline to let it go.

The Buddha said, “Holding onto anger is like picking up a hot coal to throw at someone.”

Even if we succeed at hurting the other person, we are hurting ourselves as well.

Is it ever really worth it?


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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Charlotte May 5, 2015 2:02am

Anger is a normal part of the human emotional spectrum. Anger can become 'poisonous' when it is either unexpressed or acted upon unconsciously. When our anger is given space to breathe, to be and brought to the light of consciousness, it is an empowering tool indeed.

amelia hurst Apr 30, 2015 12:02am

I believe anger is one of the full spectrum of emotions that is the natural, and sometimes only rightful response. I don't believe approaching someone with anger means you will hurt them. I believe anger is quite helpful, and there is much is to be gained by it. It can bring great clarity, actually. There is a strong following that only positive sentiment should get the floor, and it's shoving people's 'unacceptable' sides underground to resurface in odd, misplaced, strange and plastic ways. Don't lose your temper, but find it. This is not an unbridled, thoughtless, selfish thing… This is a challenge to speak the truth because you are a full person in situation that is alive, not a corporation with a PR department. It may net less, but what you are left with is more of what you really want.

JohnH May 6, 2014 4:36pm

It might be easier to "let go" of anger when we realize it is part of a healing process and not just some lone/looney emotion. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross recognized it as part of the grieving process: denial (shock), bargaining (resistance), anger (reaction), depression (acknowledgement) and acceptance (adaptation). The enhanced energy of anger can help us to propel our way through the depression stage toward acceptance and compassion. Jung said, "Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering." Embrace anger as part of the grieving cycle and have faith the end point will be an enhanced acceptance of life and a broader feeling of compassion. By avoiding anger you only prolong neurotic suffering and avoid the peace of acceptance and compassion.

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Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg lives in Kansas City. He’s been practicing Buddhism for nearly 20 years. He teaches at the Open Heart Project Sangha and is a Zen Teacher (Fashi) in the Dharma Winds Zen Order. His main focus is on mindfulness practices rooted in the earliest Zen teachings and compassion practices rooted in the Bodhisattva Tradition. He has taken Bodhisattva Vows and Brahmajala Precepts and he is affiliated with the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun.
Find out more about Daniel on his blog and connect with him on Facebook