Is Anger Ever Appropriate?

“So I’m gonna abandon meta-blogging for a second and speak directly to you, the Reader,” he types in the blank space that WordPress has provided him. He giggles at the paradox that’s just presented itself and moves on.

“Anger and hatred are fuel. They motivate us to act, but they burn hot so they can’t be used to solve long-term problems. Racism is a long-term problem, so we need a long-lasting fuel to solve it.

“I’m not gonna say that compassion and loving-kindness are that fuel, because I don’t think that’s appropriate advice for this point-in-time. Equanimity is a great fuel. We have to make sure that we check on the Big Picture in order to temper our tempers. If we don’t, then we’re going to act irrationally and do things that we’ll regret.

“If we want to destroy racism, well, that starts at home. Parents and the media have to educate children to be tolerant of diversity. What’s even more important is that the media and parents lead by example.

“Racism also has a genetic component. It’s in our blood to be suspicious and/or hateful toward people who are different from us. But the longer spend in the melting pot, the more we’re able to adapt to diversity with every new generation.

“Violence and mass murder is a whole other issue that stems from how civilization itself drives people batshit crazy. Even as racism declines, mental illness rises. That’s an entirely separate issue that’s beyond the scope of this blog, which is about whether it’s ever skillful to be pissed off or not.

“I had an interesting discussion with someone on FB today. I brought up the Yogacaric/cognitive behavioral understanding behind anger.

“My take on it is that anger doesn’t just appear out of the blue, it’s a conditioned response. It’s natural for us to get angry when we encounter something unpleasant. That  means this conditioning starts with our genes.

“When we get angry, that anger is a karmic fruit, which is a fancy way of saying that it’s a conditioned, habitual, response to unpleasant conditions. If my thoughts, words, or actions are directed by that anger, then I’ve planted karmic seeds, which is a fancy way of saying that I’ve strengthened that conditioning.

“Through mindfulness and tranquility meditation, we can check on our state of mind. We can pause when anger starts to bubble up and then we can use Buddha’s arsenal of Right Effort to deal with it.

“First, we try to just ignore it and focus our minds on something beneficial instead like compassion, loving-kindness, sympathetic joy or equanimity. If that doesn’t work, we can remind ourselves that anger is synonymous with suffering and that by acting out of anger we create more suffering for ourselves and others.

“If it’s still skulking around, we can remind ourselves that anger is impermanent and conditional, that since it has no reality outside of that it isn’t wise to be guided by it. This technique is sort of like grabbing a plastic Easter egg and cracking it open. We see that there’s a lot of stuff inside it, but what’s missing inside it is the egg itself. If it’s still there, we can just sit with it and wait for it to fade on its own, which is the usual Zen approach

“If all else fails, we clamp down and stomp it out like a campfire. I’m a fan of this last approach. A simple, ‘Kah!’ ‘Splat!’ ‘Zap!’ or, ‘Booyakashaw!’ does the trick.

“I use this technique toward neutral thoughts as well if they start to propagate too much. You can even learn to feel a thought or emotion rising and cut it off before it fully forms.

“Whenever we change the conditioned response we have to something, we’re weakening that response. Each time I give into anger and let it influence me, I’m strengthening anger in the long-term. Each time I don’t give into anger and don’t let it influence me, I’m weakening it. This is how we, day-by-day, send our hate, anger, and frustration to nibbana.

“Whether anger is appropriate for a Buddhist or Taoist or not depends on which tradition you ask. I tend to defer to early Buddhism on this and say that anger is never skillful. Early Buddhism didn’t have the fluffy, ‘You’re perfect as you are,’ stuff that the Mahayana introduced later on. It recognized that we have problems and that it’s important that we solve them.

“Also, ‘perfect,’ in that context means, ‘whole,’ or, ‘complete.’ I can agree with that, we’re all Whole, all part of the Whole. But that doesn’t mean things are fine as they are. A complete pile of garbage is still a pile of garbage. One that I have to dig through and find the parts that I can compost or recycle.

“In my opinion, if you’ve been practicing Buddhism for awhile and you still find yourself frequently feeling anger when you encounter something unpleasant, then you’re a shitty Buddhist and you need to redouble your efforts. Or you can admit that the Path you’re on isn’t right for you and do something else. That’s what I eventually had to do.

“Please take that critique with a grain of salt, because I’m way the hell out here on the Outer Rim and my judgments and critiques are my own baggage, not yours. Really, I’d like to just let you do whatever you want without having any opinion on it one way or the other.” He’s unsure about whether that’s possible—or even wise—to begin with.

A long sufferer of frustration, he has no patience for anger. Having endured bullies and exile when he was young, he’s also had to work with his hatred toward ignorant assholes.

“Anyway, the dude on FB responded to my Yogacaric take on it by saying that anger isn’t just conditioned, that the mind isn’t as mechanistic as psychology would have us believe. Anger can arise in the moment and then fall the next moment. It’s natural, so it’s unwise to push it away or deny it.

“I don’t know if that’s true, it’s a little above my pay grade. I want it to be true, I know that much. That would give me a kind of pass when it comes to working with my frustration. Because really, I’m not angry person. It’s just that sometimes there’s anger and sometimes there isn’t. It comes and goes as conditions change and the idea that there’s an, ‘I,’ that can be angry or not is illusory according to Buddhism.

“I’m not so sure about that either. There’s a big difference between the self being an illusion and the self being a process. Of course the Mahayana tells us that even the process is illusory as well, that what Is is incomprehensible and beyond language’s ability to describe. So they call it Suchness.

“In Yogacara, working with conditioning is a way to combat cockeyed thoughts, feelings, and actions; working with emptiness or Suchness is a way to turn over the conditioned ignorant views that allow those cockeyed whatnots to appear in the first place.

“But is the latter necessary? According to early Buddhist thought, it isn’t if you just want to be free of suffering. But it is if you want to be a Buddha.

“I don’t want to a Buddha. I’d settle for being a little kinder, calmer, and more appreciative of the little joys that life has to offer while trying my best to not harm anyone. I’m a failure as a Bodhisattva, it just isn’t in me.

“So my advice is for ordinary people with ordinary goals and day-to-day problems—not for aspiring Buddhas.

“So I work with my anger, and I’m mindful of it, and I try my best to not be guided by it. Instead, I try to respond to the horrors in the world with equanimity so that I can navigate them effectively without being swept away by them.

“It doesn’t make sense to meet hatred with hatred, and violence is always a last resort. We don’t make something that’s unstable stable by putting it on an unstable surface, we find something centered and supportive to rest it on. We manually create the conditions necessary to help harmonize our minds and our lives, because everything is conditional.

“When I see that, I can alter the conditions themselves.”

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