Countering anger with patience - the Buddhist way
There is not even a single human being, who hasn’t experienced anger. Most of us fly off the handle on flimsy excuse that makes us feel remorse afterward. We regret later that we could have avoided the situation from going out of hand by keeping our temper under control. But the fact is that we find it quite difficult to control our temper when we face a frustrating situation.
Nature of anger -
Anger can be explained as chain reactions starting with a situation that causes us physical or emotional pain or discomfort, which triggers thoughts that cause us to blame someone or something for that pain or discomfort. As a result, we tend to get angry.
The Buddhism identifies two key elements in our attempts to overcome anger: first, we need to have a profound appreciation of the negativity of anger; and second, we need to develop a deep understanding of the causal mechanism, which underlies the arousal of anger.
It is important to understand that anger is something we create ourselves but we commonly hold responsible somebody or something for our anger. However, the Buddhism teaches us that no one can make you angry but only you make yourself angry. In fact, anger is our mental creation. Instead of blaming others for our anger, we have an option to prevent it from arising, if we can regulate our emotionality.
We mostly feel a pervasive, underlying sense of unhappiness or simply dissatisfaction, which may not be felt at the conscious level. It is the underlying nagging sense of unhappiness or dissatisfaction that gives rise to frustration. When this happens, the conditions are set for an immediate outburst of anger, when the things do not go the way we want. Once the causal nexus between dissatisfaction, frustration and anger is understood, we have a perception of an approach of dealing with anger. The approach is aimed at rooting out the underlying sense of dissatisfaction rather than engaging in a head to head confrontation with a full-blown anger.
Nature of patience -
The Buddhism teaches that to overcome anger one must develop the trait of patience. Patience implies that we need not retaliate with anger for anger, or harm for harm. But it also means voluntarily bearing up difficulties in order to progress on the path of spiritual awakening. The trait of patience slows down our conditioned knee-jerk reactions; it provides a pause between a stimulus and response so that we have time to give the situation a thorough and quick consideration.
Nevertheless, patience doesn’t mean that we should simply submit ourselves to abuse and exploitation from others. It also doesn’t mean simple, unquestioned acceptance of suffering and pain caused by others.
Patience has been variously explained by many. According to the Buddhist understanding of the nature of patience, it is a resolute response against adversity stemming from a settled temperament, unperturbed by either external or internal disturbance. Certainly, this cannot be described as a passive submission. Rather it is an active approach to suffering or pain caused by others.
There are basically three characteristics of patience, which are:
1. Tolerance based on conscious acceptance of pain and hardship;
2. Tolerance resulting from reflecting on the nature of realty; and
3. Tolerance toward injuries from others.
From the Buddhists perspective, pain and suffering are natural facts of existence. Denying this truth can only cause additional misery. If we internalize this fundamental truth of our existence, we would derive enormous benefit in our day-to-day life in the form of more settled emotional responses to situations that are likely to cause anger.
The first characteristic of patience draws our attention to the positive aspects of pain and suffering. Our experience of suffering will awaken us from spiritual slumber. It will enable us to identify with other’s pain, thus allowing us to generate genuine compassion for them.
The second characteristic of patience is based on understanding the nature of reality. In reality, actions of people and events are determined by a network of many factors. Many of the conditions, which cause others to act in ways that are harmful to us, are in fact outside their control. So, it is illogical to hold a person responsible for the act that made you angry, when there are number of complex conditions involved. This aspect of patience is nothing but the fundamental Buddhist principle of dependent origination. According to it, nothing arises in isolation as everything comes into being due to the aggregation of multiple causes and conditions. The principle can be further understood in terms of interdependence of our perceptions and the events of life. The insights into reality, which give rise to greater tolerance toward events and other’s actions, can also vary in their depth. The deeper our appreciation of the complexity of circumstances giving rise to an event that caused anger in us, the greater our ability to respond to the event with a degree of calmness and tolerance.
The third characteristic is, in fact, the most important as it exclusively pertains to our immediate interactions with others. There is no denying the fact that for most of us the main object of our anger is often a fellow human. Unless we learn to interact with others without negative emotions such as anger, no genuine development of patience can take place. The Buddhism teaches us to have compassion rather than anger toward those, who cause harm to us, because some of the conditions leading to it are out of their control. In other words, their actions stem from a state of ignorance. This is reminiscent of the Christian Gospel’s injunction that we must forgive the perpetrator of evil for “they know not what they do”. Once we develop an attitude of compassion towards them, our anger will vanish in thin air and we will be able to forgive them easily. The Buddhism further teaches to regard those, who harm us as precious, for they give us a rare opportunity to practice tolerance.
Countering anger with patience –
The following tips will help defuse anger with the practice of patience –
- Conscious acceptance - If you can remember the disadvantage of returning anger with anger, you will in all probability refrain from an angry outburst. Conscious acceptance of disadvantage of angry outbursts will help you hone your practice of patience. Simultaneously, you will realize positive aspect of accepting negativity without reactivity.
- Consider other’s perspectives - Seeing things from alternative points of view including that of your antagonist’s will widen your general perspective of a situation. This is quite likely to modify your reactivity to the situation and you will respond compassionately toward your antagonist.
- Chose actions consciously - You should let go of your habitual reactivity and impulsivity in favor of consciously chosen and sensible courses of action. You are likely to develop this trait by practicing patience to the best of your ability, every time you encounter a negative situation, making you angry.
- Be an objective observer - By observing common stimuli like harsh words or humiliating situations with objective equanimity, you will avoid unskillful retaliatory responses to them. With the practice of patience, you can gradually develop this trait of objective observation.
- Do self-reflection - Going back over what you have done and what should have been done appropriately in a particular situation will help you substitute a healthier response process. Remember that self-reflection is crucial to the practice of patience.
- Let your conscience prevail - Let your conscience guide you in addressing the person or situation patiently and proactively rather than reactively.
The bottom line –
Anger normally is not so easy to manage because there are a number of factors behind its arousal. To understand clearly all these factors, an individual has to have a wider context of understanding of their existence. Some of these factors are personal, which can be controlled to a considerable extent, whereas other factors are beyond one’s control. Since anger is a mental creation of an individual, one should concentrate in managing personal factors well. If one develops an ability to do so efficiently, in all probability one will be able to manage ones urges to lose temper.
The Buddhism considers patience as a potent tool to manage anger. Patience necessitates acquisition of an ability to understand all the factors in totality, leading to arousal of anger. Notwithstanding anger, patience also implies effectively understanding different factors responsible for all negative emotions. And it is significant to know that if one diligently strives, one can develop the trait of patience. One should also understand that patience doesn’t imply passive submission to anger but, in contrast, it implies proactive response to it without hurting the person in any way, who is responsible for causing anger.
This is what Dalai Lama says about patience -
When we talk about patience or tolerance, we should understand that there are many degrees, starting from a simple tolerance, such as being able to bear a certain amount of heat and cold, progressing toward the highest level of patience, which is the type of patience and tolerance found in the great practitioners, the bodhisattvas. One should not see tolerance or patience as a sign of weakness, but rather as a sign of strength coming from a deep ability to remain steadfast and firm. We find that even in being able to tolerate a certain degree of physical hardship like a hot or cold climate, our attitude makes a big difference.