The Sources of Anger

There are numerous occasions, where one can hear, “I really don’t want to get angry. In fact I don’t even realize it until after I get angry. This really upsets me”! These are not words uttered just to get rid off a passing thought or feeling. These are words spoken by good people, after serious reflection of their behavior. Such sense of helplessness should be a matter of concern to all of us. Take a minute to reflect on the simple question, “Why do we get angry?” Invariably it is the outcome of:

— The reaction when the mind is unable to comprehend the reality (the lack of knowledge – of the laws of nature at play and the logical outcome);

— Our unwillingness to accept our own understanding (we clearly know why things are happening the way it is, but we wish it was different or we demand that it be different); or

— It is an expression of our commitment and determination to do the right thing ((i.e.) the determination to carry out the required action appropriate for the moment).

One should develop clarity in understanding among these three sources of anger.

How do we recognize the anger? Generally anger is perceived through the spoken words, physical actions, or emotions expressed through the “body language”. We have programmed visions of an angry person with abusive language. We can see the fiery tiger or the cobra ready to pounce and attack at the very next moment! We can also envision the wounded animal, overpowered and hence angry and hurt, but unable to do much. As soon as we see the glimpses for such evidences, our mind jumps to the conclusion, “Aha! This person is angry”. In other words, our mind races to the judgment or conclusion, based on the evidences. What is missing here is reflection and analysis.

We need to step back and ask the question: “Why would some one normal by all accounts, show these evidences of anger? What are the inputs that are triggering these evidentiary responses”? As soon as the mind moves away from judgment to analysis, the entire picture changes. We no longer see the angry individual. Instead we see an individual tormented by certain information, opinions, unfulfilled expectations, lack of clarity in their reasoning, etc. Take the case of the raging bull in the bull fighting ring. The bull gets angry and charges at the red cloth, each time the cloth is waved at it. We may not know the psychology (or the laws of the inner workings of the bull’s mind). But we know there is a predictable consistency in the bull’s behavior. In fact, sadly the bull has been trained for such response to charge at the red cloth, even if it leads to its cruel death as the end.  

Now, reverse the situation. You are the observer and your body, mind and intellect are being observed.  Strangely, it takes less than a few seconds to see the causes for the reaction called anger. You are no longer angry. You are merely the observer of your anger. That is really a strange experience indeed! Such role playing where we become merely the observer – the audience – not the director, actor or participant in any manner, is a powerful method to study anger inside of us. It is equally powerful to study the anger of others we are associated with. Such dispassionate analysis will come naturally, only after some level of practice.

Every person can ascend the heights of enlightened living through self-control. Do not allow yourself to sink to despair and difficulty due to absence of self-control.  Thus a person is his/her own best friend or worst enemy.              B.G. 6. 5

Through self-control remain as your best friend. Through enmity for all that which supports self-control, do not descend to become your own enemy.  B.G. 6.8.

Meditation is generally used to develop such skills for internal reflection and self-control. Prayer, where we place the full faith and power in the hands of a larger order, followed by meditation is frequently recommended in the scriptures as a process leading to such internal reflection and analysis. Yoga or conscious control of breathing and other body functions are also very helpful in this process.

Anger is the conflict between the intellect (which lays out the logic or the “What and Why” of the situation) and the mind (with its attachments unwilling to accept such logic and its clarity)! When we are mere observers of the evidences and the back ground reasons, we can also see this conflict vividly. Scriptures deal with this conflict in any number of ways. Following verse is very appropriate here:

There are three principal reasons for our destructive approach to life. These are:

– Passion or Extreme attachments to “pairs” of pleasure/pain, love/hatred, happiness/sorrow, etc.

– Unbridled jealousy arising out of unfulfilled desires and their effects.

– Anger as a response to the insatiability of our attachments and desires.

One should abandon these three sources of destruction of a person that limit a person from his/her becoming enlightened.     B.G. 16. 21.

This implies that the unyielding mind, when it torments our intellect, we respond through our body (which we call as anger). Buddha has simplified this by stating “Desire is the cause of sorrow”.

The third source of anger is very intriguing. Based on our analysis of the evidences and after careful reflection we come to the conclusion that certain out rage has been committed. The situation must be rectified. It is the call of duty at that moment. There is a certain determination to do the right thing and a perseverance to accomplish the goal. It is a commitment or determination to channel our efforts to the required action. All of this can be perceived as anger by the observers. But, in reality it is the channeling of our energy from its dissipation through anger. Instead it is the direction of our energy for a self-less goal. Following excerpts on anger from The Dhammapada by Eknath Easwaran are appropriate here:

I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson: to conserve my anger. As heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power that can move the world”.  – Mahathma Ghandi

Always a pragmatist, the Buddha even goes to the extent of saying that he would welcome an outburst of anger if it really could help bring an end to suffering. It is precisely because it does not help end suffering that he urges us to curb anger as its source”.  – Eknath Easwaran

“Anger is fire in the mind, burning up the forest of your merits and blessings. ……. Guard your mind against anger” – Zen poet Han – shan of Tang Dynasty,China.

Mastery of the practice of non-anger thus ends in the precious capacity to return love for abuse, an ideal of all the world’s major religions” – Eknath Easwaran,

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1 Response to The Sources of Anger

  1. LM says:

    This is so true for everyday practice. This dialogue between our mind and intellect, reasoning and emotion in human mind is very interesting to observe.


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