Gyaltrul Rinpoche

HOW TO WORK WITH ANGER

by Gyaltrul Rinpoche

No one in the world wants fear, suffering, and poverty, but all these problems still exist no matter how strongly humans work against these conditions. It seems that the problems we have in today's world are even greater than the problems people used to have. Now there is a lot more pressure, a larger chance of having physical accidents and so on. People have many more problems in their minds. For instance, too many advertisements, creating conditions that help generate attachments, and whenever there are new things, you want them.

Everybody wants comfort and wishes to be free from suffering, but they are not. The reason why you still suffer and cannot solve your problems is because the causes are not in external things but in your mind. The real suffering of poverty has nothing to do with material things like money. The suffering is in your mind. For instance, some have a lot of money, but are not happy or satisfied, thinking they need more and more. A rich person may not suffer from poverty, but still may be suffering in their mind.

Mind Training and the Three Poisons

Realizing that poverty is in the mind, many methods of working with the mind may be employed, to rid yourself of these problems, and therefore become more successful in your professional and personal life. In order to do this you have to practice mind training. To understand the real problem and learn how to get rid of it, first you need to know the background of the problem and its real cause. Once you know the cause then you will know how to cure the problem, just as a doctor first must find out what kind of sickness the patient has before he can decide what medicine to use.

There are many problems in this world generated by the "three poisons," the poison of ignorance and misunderstanding, the poison of anger, and the poison of desire. They are called "poisons" because all problems begin here. The poison of anger is what will be discussed in the following pages.

Anger causes most of the problems in daily life - it makes you uncomfortable, keeps you from being successful in your job, and causes you to be unsuccessful in Dharma practice. However, mind training practice can help you deal with anger, and rid yourself of problems caused by anger.

Anger is generated from too much self-interest and self-attachment. When you have too much attachment to yourself you ignore and disrespect the feelings of others. With too much self interest, often the other person reacts negatively which causes suffering, discomfort and anger. Too much self-attachment and disrespect of other's feelings is unsatisfactory, and when you are dissatisfied with what you have, you become unhappy. Because of having too much attachment and self interest, when you want something you inevitably hurt other people in order to get it. Especially if you want it so strongly that you don't care if you hurt others. Being impatient when you want something and trying to get results also cause suffering and frustration. In most cases it takes time to get results. If you are impatient and can't wait then you will not have success and this will also causes suffering and frustration. These are examples of how anger develops.

Subduing the Causes of Anger

There are two main causes of suffering - self attachment and frustration from desires. There are also two causes of anger - primary and secondary. The primary cause of anger is ego, or strong self attachment. When there is "me," there is also "my," "my things," "my family," and the whole world is connected to me. Even an enemy is "my" enemy. So, thinking in this way, the whole world starts from "me," and "myself." If you don't have strong attachment to self as "me," then you will not have many problems with others. If you don't have this strong tendency, then all your problems and sufferings will be like illusions, and knowing that your problems and suffering are simply illusions, you will not suffer as much.

The secondary cause of anger is frustration, frustrations from your desires. When you are slandered, you feel uncomfortable and then frustrated, or when your work is unsuccessful you also become frustrated. These are the early stages of anger and it is the best time to work on training your mind. If anger has already manifested, then employing mind training is difficult. The main problem is that you cannot subdue your anger, and then you don't want to practice mind training, you just want the anger to manifest. If you wanted to use the mind practice, you could definitely subdue the anger, because anger does not really exist. But the problem here is that you just want to let the anger manifest.

This is why the best time to use mind training practice is when the frustration has just started and anger has not yet manifested. If the primary causes are pacified or if you destroy the primary cause - the ego, then all the other problems will not arise. This result is something you have to work towards over a long period of time, but what you can do immediately is to learn how to work with the secondary cause of anger - the frustrations.

How do you subdue the primary cause of anger, being self attachment, and the secondary cause of suffering, being frustrations? First, it is important and effective to think about the results of anger. Anger has two different kinds of results, visible and invisible. Visible results are those we can see, based on our present life, while invisible results are those we cannot see in this life.

Invisible Results of Anger

In the bodhisattva practice it is said that if you manifest anger very strongly then all your accumulated merit will be destroyed, thousands of eons of merit, and this is something very dangerous. You can work very hard to accumulate a lot of merit that can be destroyed through anger in a few seconds. This is something you have to be cautious of. On the opposite side, this means that if you practice patience just one time you will accumulate a lot of merit. Shantideva, one of the famous bodhisattva scholars and great master meditator, said that the best merit one can accumulate is through practicing patience, because the worst karma you can create is through anger. Patience and anger are opposites.

If you express anger towards a bodhisattva you may destroy your merit accumulated through thousands of eons, but that merit is not destroyed if you express anger towards others. The problem here is you don't know who is a bodhisattva. It is possible that one who is a teacher and good practitioner is not a bodhisattva, while another, who appears like an ordinary person and knows nothing about Buddhism, is a bodhisattva. It is difficult to tell who is a bodhisattva and who is not, so it is best not to be angry with anyone and to be cautious with everybody. If you respect everybody as a bodhisattva, in this way you can stop bad karma. This is the first important thing to remember.

The second invisible fault of anger is the experience in the hell realm. There are three lower realms corresponding to the three poisons: anger, attachment and ignorance. Anger corresponds to the hell realm, attachment to the hungry ghost realm, and ignorance to the animal realm. If you meditate a lot but do not practice patience and are often angry, you will get positive results only after a long period of time. Anger prevents you from reaching goals that you set for yourself.

Visible Results of Anger

Considering the visible results of anger, when you breathe normally, you are exhibiting the right sense of detachment, but when anger is present, you feel uneasy and become uncomfortable in your body. You cannot sit still, your facial expressions make you undesirable, and you are unpleasant to be around. Anger restricts the appetite and food does not taste good. Severe anger can keep you from sleeping, especially if you feel hatred. People who feel hatred are actually punishing themselves. For example, if two people have a fight and then go their separate ways, one may quickly forget about the fight while the other keeps thinking about it. As long as this person keeps reliving the fight, he continues to suffer.

The worst thing about anger is that it distorts your mind. The decisions you make when you are angry are usually wrong decisions, being based on feelings and not knowledge. Decisions made when you are angry are guided by unpleasant feelings, therefore it is important to avoid making decisions in anger. Anger also destroys friendships. When you are angry, you will even hurt and harm those who are close to you. Once the anger is gone, remorse is felt for what you did while feeling the anger which causes unhappiness.

If you are angry at work, even when trying to hide it, the customer can sense it and so you may lose your business and your job. You cannot hide anger - other people will always sense it and will avoid you. When you lose your happiness, you will lose your success which creates further problems and misery, causing more anger, escalating more and more. Stopping anger means stopping the experience of disturbing feelings by saying to yourself, "stop this experience."

Methods to Work with Anger and Frustrations

How do we solve the problem of anger? You will not solve the problem by thinking, "I should just practice patience," nor by saying to yourself "anger is bad so I shouldn't be angry." This will not work either. You need the right methods, which give you means to respond to the frustrations. You have to learn how to work with your mind and frustrations immediately when they occur, and in this way turn frustrations into happiness.

Question: Does that include frustrations rising from both attachment and desire?

Gyaltrul Rinpoche: Frustrations come from anger not desire. Frustrations are anger. Perhaps frustrations are desire in the early stages of anger - that part could be desire. There are three main methods to work with frustrations, to solve the problems. Practice with analysis, that means with our mind, our thought; practice with skills, and with the right perception.

For example, anger caused by negative words is something that often happens, so it is a very practical example. When somebody says harsh words to us, it does not matter if it is a family member, friend or partner; we don't like it, we get uncomfortable and then we feel angry. We must analyze this feeling because even if we say, "I should not be angry," the anger is still there. You have to analyze the feelings and try to find out the truth of your feelings. The first question is, "Why am I angry, why does a specific word make me angry?" The word itself does not cause the anger, it does not hurt our body but it does hurt our mind, so this is the answer.

The reality is that the words don't actually hurt our mind. Imagine that you don't even know what the negative word means. In this case there is no reason to get angry. The word itself is not what makes us angry, it is what we attach to the word that causes our anger. It is our attachment to the negative word which manifests and makes us unhappy. If somebody uses the word "stupid" and you have never heard it before, then it will not make you angry. This also proves that words by themselves have no power, they only become powerful by what we attach to them. This proves that anger only works by our own attachments, not because of what the other person says nor the sound they make.

This is the first mind training practice, used for frustrations or anger caused by harsh words. It is very useful and it works immediately. Then we may think "Okay, I can practice this with harsh words, but what happens if somebody hits me physically? I cannot ignore that, it causes physical pain. No matter what language I have learned, if somebody hits me I will feel pain." You have to then ask yourself to take this one step further. First practice with negative words, and then you will find it easier to deal with physical pain.

Ask yourself a question, "Why don't I get angry when I have a headache? Why don't I get angry when I have a stomachache?" Instead of getting angry you try to alleviate your pain and make it go away. You take medicine, rest and take care of yourself, so why be angry with a person that hits you? You answer, "Because he did it intentionally. A headache does not have a mind." Now ask yourself, "Why do I do prostrations, worship and make offerings to the Buddha? Why do people worship in front of statues or stupas? These symbols have no mind, they cannot help me. They are just like a table, they don't have a mind, they don't have intentions. But I get blessings and benefits, it gives me peace of mind and makes me successful in my work." First we say, "I don't care about the result if it does not have intention." Regarding the headache, we did not worry about the results because we knew the headache had no intention of harming us. Now when we talk about worshipping in front of a statue, our reasoning is no longer logical. We say that we don't care whether statues have intentions, we only care about the results - the blessings and benefits. In order to get rid of anger we don't have to consider the intentions of others. The third mind training practice is to generate right intentions towards others. If somebody does something good for us, we have to remember this and find a way to give the goodness back.

Q: One can never be sure of other's intentions which are mostly geared toward their own happiness.

GR: Think about it - when someone hits you, are you angry with the person or with the stick they hit you with? You would naturally think, the person, right? Not the stick. You should remember that the person only hit you because he was angry. Anger is what made that person become violent. Here, the person is like the stick, and the anger is like the person, controlling the stick. Your mind should be so broad that there is no bottom of the glass. No matter how many times you are hit, your mind is still open.

When To Practice Mind Training

It is also important to practice at the right time. The practice of mind training has little use when you are happy, and you have no problems, or when you are alone. Little progress can be made this way. In any case it will be very slow. The right time for practice is when you feel angry because of someone's actions. This is when you should practice. It may seem difficult and sometimes will feel uncomfortable to practice when people cause you anger, but it works and is very effective. This method will completely transform you to a bodhisattva-like person whom everybody likes.

Here are some suggestions for your practice. In order to get the positive results from your practice, always practice patience. In our practices of wisdom and merit, the greatest merit possibly received is from the practice of patience. Among the Six Perfections, this brings the greatest merit.

Q: Practicing patience means simply remembering to be patient or saying "I need to be patient?"

GR: No, you must do it, you have to be patient. The more you practice patience the more you practice compassion. If you practice patience you will be able to see other peoples' pain and anger and react with compassion. Patience and anger cannot exist at the same time, so an angry person does not have much patience or compassion. Of course we all want to be compassionate but it is difficult.

In order to generate compassion we must think about other people's suffering and that they may have been our parents in former lives and were kind to us. Thinking like this helps us generate compassion. An even better way to generate compassion is trying to reduce the anger. As you reduce your anger, compassion naturally increases, just like the temperature.

Another way to cultivate positive perception is to contemplate your previous karma and to think that you want to purify this karma through experience. Think that you want to end this kind of karma and the karmic relationship with that person by just experiencing and not creating new karma toward yourself. This is another right perception. Think that every person and the nature of every person is innocent.

Q: I find it hard to believe that everyone's nature is innocent.

GR: (Rinpoche laughs) If anger does not manipulate a person then he will not hit you or say hurtful words to you. He will only do that when anger manifests, then he has no choice. His innate nature is innocent. If you analyze further you will realize he has Buddha nature which is pure and innocent.

Q: The Buddha nature is impressionable to either negative or positive. It can be impressed to be either bad or good, which means it is open to all possibilities. Is Buddha nature more neutral than innocent?

GR: When the three poisons are not present in the person, then he or she is enlightened. If there are not three poisons in the person then he has no problems. After a person has reduced the three poisons and liberates himself, he doesn't need any other methods. If he is without all the negative things then all his good results are present. We don't need to add positive things to our Buddha nature, which means our nature is not zero, it is positive. When your mind is at rest you are liberated - this is the practice of generating the right perception.

You can practice Dharma at any time and in so many different ways because anger can manifest at any time. The seed of enlightenment is the bodhisattva practice. What makes you a bodhisattva is bodhichitta, (the wish for the well being of all beings), and bodhichitta is the antidote to anger. This is very important in your spiritual practice and in your worldly life. Anger is the main problem and if there is too much desire that is also a problem. Desire is a little bit easier to work with than anger, if there is not too much, but both desire and anger work directly against the bodhichitta.

Q: How do you know when your desire is working directly against yourself?

GR: You have to think about whether it is in the realm of possibility.

Q: I am thinking more in terms of our culture, with everybody being so goal oriented everyday, myself included - having so many desires and wanting so much.

GR: Yes, of course that is less than satisfactory. This is another way of practice we have to think about - the faults and disadvantages of desire. Usually desires are focused either on other people or on things for the ego. Ego connected desires especially relate to the wisdom practice, but that is a different topic. There you have to practice the teachings of emptiness.

The root of desire is attachment. You have to practice by thinking and remembering the teachings of emptiness - this will make your attachment very hollow. The attachment will still be there, but you will not have so much suffering caused by it, because the attachment becomes hollow and less solid.

In regard to contemplation on our attachment to things, we can think about the disadvantages of having these things. First of all, people go through a lot of suffering and difficulties in order to save money, things, and so on. While we are young we have to work and also suffer from a lot of pressure to make and save money. By the time we have saved money and are a bit older, then we have another problem. Once we acquire things, then we have to protect them and this creates even more suffering. Then we are afraid people will be jealous of us, then we might be afraid people will kill us to get these things.

The famous meditation master Batu Rinpoche said that if you have one goat your suffering will be as big as a goat. If you have a yak then you will have the suffering as big as a yak. If you have more money or a better car then you will worry more because you think robbers might attack you and take your things away. If you don't have many things then you won't worry, nobody will attack you.

If you are content with what you have then there is no problem. My point here is not that you shouldn't have money, make money, or keep money. The point here is that if you are not content with what you have, this becomes a problem. If you are content, even if you had to leave it all behind today, you could do it without suffering.