Managing Anger

  • By Swami Atmavikasananda
  • May 2007

Courtesy Prabuddha Bharata

ANGER is ubiquitous. We meet anger at home, in the streets, and at our working place. It often causes more harm to ourselves than to others. It is a natural and forceful emotion, with great destructive potential. Anger is also contagious. When people suffer from tension or are going through some conflict, they communicate it to others. They are all the time unhappy and agitated. This produces an atmosphere of unrest and tension around them. They are avoided by people. But if people lead a balanced and calm life, they convey a sense of happiness to all who come in contact with them.

                                                             Shades of Anger
• Durvas: Born of the anger of Shiva, he is quick to take offence and reacts with vicious curses. He is also arrogant and thinks little of making Krishna and Rukmini labour for him.
• Parashurama: Parashurama’s father was killed by King Kartaviryarjuna’s men after a dispute over the fabled wish-fulfilling cow, Sushila. To avenge the wrong, Parashurama, though a brahmana, did twenty-one rounds of Bharata, exterminating every single kshatriya he came across. Finally he had to undertake equally rigorous penance to expiate his wrongs.
• Hanuman: He is known as the best among the wise, jnaninam agraganyam. But while setting fire to Lanka he forgot that the fire could also burn down the grove where Sita was confined.
• Durvasa is the image of the ‘constitutionally angry’ individual.
• Parashurama exemplifies the havoc that ‘righteous anger’ can wreak.
• Hanuman’s action shows how even apparently controlled anger could expose one to grave personal risks.

                                                                   The Pathology of Anger
According to the Bhagavadgita’ anger is derived from rajas, the restlessness in human nature that drives all activity. It is also the result of ‘thwarted desire’. It is closely linked to the other baser (demoniac) aspects of human nature: lust, greed, conceit, ostentation, arrogance, jealousy, rudeness, and ignorance. It sequentially leads to delusion, failure of memory, loss of discrimination, and ruinous action.

                                                                         Mental Flux
In his commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, Vyasa speaks of five states of mind: kshipta, mudha, vikshipta, ekagra, and nirudha.

Kshipta is the extremely restless state of mind; it is prone to tension, worry, anger, and conflict.

The mind can also be mudha, that is, dull or inert. This is due to a predominance of tamas; and such people are also prone to violent bursts of anger.

The vikshipta or distracted mind has the capacity to attain concentration off and on unlike the kshipta mind. A mind that is at times calm and at other times disturbed is termed as calm and at other times disturbed is termed vikshipta. Most spiritual seekers have this type of mind. One needs to be especially alert at this stage because of the possibility of concentrating the mind on undesirable objects. Our meditation should transform our life. It is not uncommon to find that after having practiced meditation for long hours, anger, restlessness, egotism, suspicion, and such other negative traits become prominent in some people, rather than qualities like calmness of mind, forgiveness, and compassion. These are signs of improper meditation.

The ekagra or one-pointed mind is characteristic of people deeply absorbed in their work, It is a result of sustained discipline and when this state is coupled with detachment it turns virtually resistant to negative emotions like anger.

The last and final state is niruddha- devoid of all mental modification (vrittis). It is a super conscious state, a type of samadhi, and very few people can attain to it.

Most of us swing between stages one and three. Whenever there is anger, tension, or conflict we should know that we have lost the balance of our vrittis.

                                           Swami Vivekannada Compared our Mind to a Lake
So whenever there is a problem, we should know that somebody has thrown a stone into the lake and the ripples have started surfacing. The bottom of the lake is our true self. Vrittis commonly come in the form of thought, emotion, or desire. Anger is also a vritti, and it can manifest in gross and subtle forms.

                                                                  Evil Effects of Anger
The angry man or woman:
1. Forgets the lessons in wisdom learnt in life.
2. Loses the ability to discriminate between right and wrong.
3. Loses control over thought and emotions.
4. Becomes overactive, with a highly charged ego as his or her sole guide.
5. Becomes aggressive in manner.
6. Suffers loss of health –both physical and mental.
7. Destroys friendships and family associations.

But somebody may argue that anger has some bright sides too!
Anger can discipline children. Anger can discipline work.
True but to use anger deliberately for any creative purpose is very difficult unless one knows how to overcome it.

When we use anger deliberately as a tool, we should ask questions ourselves the following questions:
1. Are we using anger or is anger using us?
2. 2. Is anger an efficient instrument in our hands or are we a mere tool on the hands of our anger?
3. Using anger is like playing with fire.

                                                Three Ways of Looking at Anger
1. Your anger at somebody.
2. Somebody’s anger at you.
3. Anger without a focus.

When you tend to get angry with others:
1. Knowing that anger is bad, you should get angry with anger itself.
2. Know that by getting angry, you are forming a habit too.
3. The greatest remedy for anger is delay. Just try counting from one to twenty(or fifty or one hundred!) the next time you are angry.
4. Try deep breathing. This is known to induce relaxation.
5. Try to find out the reason why you are angry. Often, when things have cooled down the reason appears trivial. The real reason for our anger may not be immediately evident, but may be lurking below in our subconscious minds.
6. Think a loving thought. Love is the opposite of anger. (A mother is very angry with somebody. Just then her child comes running into her lap and hugs her. Her anger is replaced by love, inspite of herself!)

When somebody is angry with you:
1. Introspect before acting. Why is he angry with me? ‘Maybe he is just unwell and so is irritable.’
‘There is another class of vrittis called vikalpa [verbal delusion]. A word is uttered and we do not wait to consider its meaning; we jump to conclusions immediately’ (Swami Vivekananda). If we can consciously reduce such verbal delusions in our communications, misunderstandings and unpleasantness will be considerably reduced. Next time someone calls you a ‘nut’ just think over what he means-why he used this term, and if it really says something about you-before you lash out.
2. If you are wrong, accept it. That will solve the problem and may even win you a friend.
3. Be optimistic, ‘It may be for my good.
4. Remember: ‘when the shoe bites, one does not bite the shoe.’
5. Be thankful. By getting angry with us people often reveal our faults to us. And for rendering this service they even sacrifices their own peace of mind!

Angry for no good reason?
Some people tend to get angry more easily than others for no apparent reason. The reason could lie in:
1. Lowfrustration tolerance
2. Being part of a dysfunctional family.
3. Physical factors: illness, hat, or overcrowding.
4. Unidentified psychological problems like lack of assertiveness, bereavement, or depression.
5. Frequent ill luck or perceived injustice.

                                                       Developing a Calm Personality
We cannot avoid anger completely, so to minimize it impact, we can use some practical measures:
1. Cultivate the practice of meditation, breath awareness, deep breathing, and yoga.
2. Make it a habit to sit quietly at home, alone, at the beginning of your day. Think about the work at hand and the situations you are likely to face. This will prepare you for anticipating and facing even explosive situations with friendliness and calm.
3. Surround yourself with watchfulness so that anger does not catch you unawares.
4. Humility works as an antidote to anger for all everywhere and at all times.’
5.  Develop a sense of humor and try to see the lighter side of things.
6. Hear more; speak less and to the point.
7. Do no add fuel to your anger, Neutralize resentment by diverting your mind from such thoughts as ‘I will teach him a lesson’.
8. Give up fault-finding.
9. Don’t jump to conclusions.
10. Develop consideration for others. Try to understand why people think, speak, and be having the way they do.
11. In times of peace, consciously fill your inner being with sweetness, tranquility, and mildness. Pray regularly for peace and the good of humanity. Think some good and pleasing thoughts before starting work.

“When you tend to get angry with others, you should address your mind and say, ‘Mind, if you must be angry with those who cause you harm, why you don’t then get angry with anger itself?’ For it does you the greatest harm; it prevent you from attaining the cherished values of life, righteousness, wealth, pleasure, and liberation, While angry you live through hell, even before your death. So, you have no enemy worse than anger”. Swami Vidyaranaya.
                                                              Universal Prayers

Om. May there be peace in heaven. May there be peace in the sky. May there be peace o earth. May there be peace in water. May there be peace in the plants. May there be peace in the trees. May there be peace in the gods. May there be peace in Brahman. May there be peace in all. May that peace, real peace, be mine. May all be freed from dangers. May all realize what is good? May all be actuated by noble thoughts? May all rejoice everywhere? Om shantih, shantih, shantih! Peace, peace, peace!

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