A Zen student came to Bankei and complained: “Master, I have an ungovernable temper. How can I cure it?”
“You have something very strange,” replied Bankei. “Let me see what you have.”
“Just now I cannot show it to you,” replied the other.
“When can you show it to me?” asked Bankei.
“It arises unexpectedly,” replied the student.
“Then,” concluded Bankei, “it must not be your own true nature. If it were, you could show it to me at any time. When you were born you did not have it, and your parents did not give it to you. Think that over.”
Anger or temper seems to be the bane of most people’s lives. We get angry and lose our temper for the most mundane of things. We get angry when things don’t seem to go our way. We get angry when we perceive that some one is insulting us. We get angry when we are cut off in traffic or the car in front is moving slowly. We lose our temper in an argument and say things that we don’t mean and which we can not take back.
Getting angry and losing temper is a sign of great weakness. If you can not hold your temper, it ends up hurting you more than the one at whom it was directed at. As The Buddha said: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
But fundamentally anger is not something that exists in the true sense. It is just a formation of our mind that comes about as a reaction to a view or perception that we hold.
Scheff and Edmiston gave an excellent example in their book. “The cow in the parking lot” – Imagine you are circling a crowded parking lot when, just as you spot a space, another driver races ahead and takes it. Easy to imagine the rage. But now imagine that instead of another driver, a cow has lumbered into that parking space and settled down. The anger dissolves into bemusement. What really changed? You—your perspective.
All thoughts in our mind are just that – thoughts. They are illusions based on the perceptions and views that we form on aspects of daily life and about ourselves as an entity. In these perceptions and views, we fuel our self (ego) and try and protect that self as if it were a jewel. Anything that threatens that self (ego) creates a reaction in our mind that can be classified as anger.
This topic is very deep and profound and my attempt to try and boil it down to this short article may be futile but I felt that I needed to introduce it here and then perhaps build upon it in future articles. I used to be angry all the time – at least as much as everyone else. But of late I am noticing that my temper is very much in control. This has come about through my practice of meditation and mindfulness. I am learning to let go. I am learning to be in the moment and this is enabling me to see the reactions and bubbles of anger that are surfacing from the depths of my mind and I am able to let them come and pass.
It is not easy. I am struggling but I am making progress. I am understanding that anger is nothing but a manifestation of my mind. It is fuelled by my perceptions and views. When I change my perceptions and views, my anger loses strength.
1) It starts with recognizing that you have anger. Recognizing and admitting that you are angry at the precise time you are angry is the first step in overcoming anger.
2) Identify the source of the anger. Next step is to identify the source of anger. People say things like “He made me angry…” or “This traffic is driving me mad…” etc. But the reality is that your anger is not coming from an outside source. It is coming from with in you.
3) Learn to let it go. Once you have realized that the source of the anger is with in you, try and reach to that place inside. If you are practicing meditation, then it will be easier for you to breathe in and say to yourself that the reaction that you are feeling is not real. It is just your mind playing tricks. Keep your mind still and embrace that anger.
4) Feel compassion. Learn to feel compassion for the person or thing or situation that your think is causing you to get angry. Compassion is a great tool and by being mindful you can bring compassion to any event.
5) Be strong. As I said above, anger is a sign of weakness. To feel anger and not react to it and act upon it is true strength. Do not feed your anger but blaming others or even blaming yourself. At the moment of anger, realize that it is just the moment. The moment before is gone and the next moment is not a moment until it becomes one.
Start your meditation practice and learn to be mindful.