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Shaker

The all-purpose Buddhism thread

Fire away: I'll chip in later when I have the time  Smilie_PDT  Suffice it to say for now that Buddhism is something I've read up on quite widely and in some degree of depth for a long time. It's a big and fascinating subject.
Lexilogio

It is.

The Buddhist attitude to anger is fascinating, but I do feel its slightly naive.
Anger does harm the person feeling the anger, I agree with that, but keeping the anger in is also harmful, and sometimes we need to get angry in order to help others. It may harm us individually, but is for the wider good.
leaf

Buddha compared being angry with someone to picking up a hot coal to throw at them. The chief victim is oneself. The Buddhist position on anger is that it is always associated with a wish to cause harm to its object, whether we recognise this or not. It arises in response to meeting with an object that we regard as unpleasant and is a product of the ‘I’ centred mind that sees the world in terms of what is good or bad for ‘me’. Even where the object of anger is the perception of injustice to someone else, it is still an egocentric response because ‘I’ am nevertheless outraged by the objectionable situation (and very often I am feeling rather superior to the person who has misbehaved). Because anger involves a lot of self it is seen as a delusion, arising from fundamental ignorance, and Buddhism categorises it as one of 6 ‘root delusions’ which are especially harmful because they act as the basis for the arising of other delusions.

Buddhism never advocates suppressing anger although it doesn’t recommend acting it out either. Instead, anger is seen as just another object arising in the mind, which will vanish by itself if left alone. It only becomes a problem if grasped as ‘mine’. In meditation anger is observed dispassionately and its empty nature recognised. Buddhism regards all emotions as essentially pure, the manifestation of primal creative energy from the Dharmakaya or ‘truth body’ of Buddha. This is sometimes represented as white light which, on being passed through a prism, splits into various colours, symbolising the different emotions. Anger and hatred are seen as a distortion of the mirror-like energy represented by the Buddha Akshobhya, which sees reality exactly as it is. Buddhists train to work with the emotions, not repressing them, but transmuting them into their pure counterparts through the realisation of emptiness. This is an exceptionally advanced practice and it is easy to fool oneself that one is doing this when one is actually reinforcing bad habits.

There is a clear distinction between the delusion of anger, which is always harmful, and the basic energy of which it is a distortion. This energy only becomes anger when filtered through the egotistical mind which sees everything in terms of its own interests, even where these interests masquerade as the ‘wider good’. In an ‘enlightened’ mind this energy may manifest in a wrathful manner but in this case there is no self-interest involved at all. It is easy to imagine we are being righteously angry when in fact we are just being outraged. Seeing the difference with clarity can take a considerable degree of attention and mindfulness.

In the west we are so used to thinking of certain kinds of anger as justified and even necessary that the Buddhist approach is often misunderstood. It in no way implies that we should not work with great concern wherever we find injustice. We don’t need to be outraged to be useful and, in fact, outrage is usually associated with a failure to see the situation clearly and objectively, which can prevent us from responding appropriately.
Shaker

There's not much in Buddhism I agree with (actually nothing I agree with that can't be had elsewhere) so I'm entirely with Lexi on this. It's undeniable that, yes, anger is often a negative and destructive thing, but equally undeniable that it can also be a force for positive change. Righteous and entirely justified anger at injustice - something wrong that exists but shouldn't and can be put right - is a great engine for progress.
leaf

Of course, anger can motivate people to act for positive change but it is the basic energy of anger that is the force involved. The 'extra' that makes it anger only causes harm. You can have the force, motivated by compassion, without the anger. The problem is, we don't normally see the difference, nor do we want to.

Naturally, anger tends to come with built-in justifications, especially when it is not just righteous but also self-righteous anger. We don't need to apply any effort to buttress our rage with justification; the ego supplies this effortlessly. The ego is also adept at distracting us from noticing its own involvement in the process, even to the extent of becoming angry at the suggestion that there might be something problematic about our righteous indignation!

The egotistical self delights in finding fault, especially when it can do so apparently free from any risk of blame directed against itself. Whenever we blame others we elevate ourselves, however subliminally. The ego always notices, even if we don't consciously glory in our own self-praise.

Take the recent case of Gary Glitter who was convicted of abusing under age girls. How we all felt righteously angry! We wouldn't do a thing like that! However low we might feel in the moral pecking order there is always someone we can find below us and how we love to cast stones at them. It feels so good. In fact, we might even feel outraged if we discover someone who isn't as angry as we are about it all. Perhaps they are a paedophile too.  Notice how 'decent' folk line up to howl outrage at people like Glitter. Some are quite ready, in the name of virtue, to threaten to kill him! Notice how we like to feel part of the virtuous majority crowding together to share 'justified' rage at this 'evil' man. We are on the side of the angels. Of course, whenever we cannot tolerate something in others it is usually because we fear it in ourselves, and we spend much of our lives carefully avoiding what goes on in our own back yard, for very good reasons. Chucking rocks at others keeps us feeling holy.

But our outrage never achieves anything positive. It is clarity we need to deal with people like Glitter, or the situation in the Middle East. What we manifestly lack is the mirror-like wisdom of Akshobhya, which actually sees what is going on with these situations. We don't have a clue what lies behind Glitter's actions, nor do we much care. We just want to yell at him. Perhaps we want him to be bad, so we can lock him up and throw away the key with a clear conscience; or maybe we'd prefer him to be mad so we don't have to face the fact of evil in our own kind (and in ourselves). The Glitter case is one of tragedy all round, but we don't really want to think of Glitter as a victim too. God can keep the God's eye view - we'll just be outgraged, even if we can only see a small piece of the picture. What we won't readily acknowledge is that we don't need to be angy to censure Glitter and deal with him appropriately. In fact, our 'just' moral outrage is far more likely to cloud our judgement. But we probably don't want to face this possibility, because we have a personal investment in being outraged.

The trouble with anger is that it is such a powerful emotion. It takes us over before we are even aware of what is happening. It distorts our perception and prevents us from seeing clearly what is going on, either in the situation that has made us angry or (crucially) in our own minds. We like to think that our anger is justified and an 'engine of progress', partly because we really do believe in our own virtue but also because this keeps our anger safe from scrutiny, which is of course another way of saying it keeps us safe from scrutiny.
Shaker

Quote:
We like to think that our anger is justified and an 'engine of progress', partly because we really do believe in our own virtue but also because this keeps our anger safe from scrutiny, which is of course another way of saying it keeps us safe from scrutiny.

Sounds like cobblers, I'm afraid. I'm sufficiently old-fashioned and non-Buddhist to think that there really is such a thing as virtue which is either possessed or not possessed (in terms of a sliding scale, anyway: maybe not so much present or absent but more of and less of) and that those higher up on the scale are perfectly justified in being angry about/against/at those who are not, because in this case I'm thinking of specific cases such as non-virtuous people who think hurting (in all senses) others is a correct way to behave. I'd say the virtuous - people who don't think that's a correct way to behave - are quite right to be angry.
leaf

Well, admin, you'll certainly always find yourself in the majority with that opinion. I think I've spent quite enough time on the soapbox with this one so I'll stop inflicting my 'cobblers' on you all :shock: and let wiser heads speak  Smilie_PDT
Shaker

No no, I'm not having a dig    I just find the Buddhist stance - at least, as you've described so eloquently in your post-before last - somewhat specious and a bit simplistic. It seems as though all anger, everywhere, in every instance, is bad because tainted by the other factors you mentioned. The very possibility of justified anger, positive anger, simply seems to be rejected out of hand.
Lexilogio

Well, there are simplistic ways of putting across Buddhism, and incredibly complicated ones. There are one or two scandals floating around the Buddhist world :wink:

But don't take offence Leaf - these guys just like to argue the point.
Tricky Dicky

leaf wrote:

The trouble with anger is that it is such a powerful emotion. It takes us over before we are even aware of what is happening. It distorts our perception and prevents us from seeing clearly what is going on, either in the situation that has made us angry or (crucially) in our own minds. We like to think that our anger is justified and an 'engine of progress', partly because we really do believe in our own virtue but also because this keeps our anger safe from scrutiny, which is of course another way of saying it keeps us safe from scrutiny.


And the dangers with this approach is that seeing anger as always something leading to delusion, false judgment and ultimately wrong in itself, is that it would lead many people simply to suppress deeply felt emotions and not recognise them as existing within themselves. Something like a "Uriah Heep" phenomenon, in which extreme viciousness is masked by a meek exterior.

Of course, if we can truly analyse the 'problem' to its roots within ourselves, then maybe we can ultimately extirpate such strong emotions, but how many people are capable of that? Better surely an attitude something like Blake's "Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unsatisfied desires" (assuming that there's a certain amount of metaphor in that phrase). Better let it hang out a bit... :)

And, of course, the points made in favour of righteous indignation over injustice strike me as absolutely sound.

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