- The Elimination of Anger
- With two stories retold
from the Buddhist texts
- by Ven. K. Piyatissa Thera
Copyright © 1975 Buddhist Publication
The ultimate goal of Buddhism is the
deathless condition of Nibbana, the sole reality. Hence, one who aspires to that state
should renounce mundane pursuits and attachments, which are ephemeral, for the sake of
that reality. But there are very few who are sufficiently mature to develop themselves to
achieve that state in this very life. Thus the Buddha does not force the life of
renunciation upon those who lack the spiritual capacity to embark upon the higher life.
Therefore, one should follow the path of
mundane advantage which is twofold, namely, the advantage obtainable here in this very
life and the advantage obtainable in future lives, as steps on the path to the spiritual
life. Although one may enjoy the pleasures of life, one must regard one's body as an
instrument with which to practice virtue for one's own and other's benefit; in short, one
should live a useful life of moral integrity, a life of simplicity and paucity of wants.
As regards acquisition of wealth, the
Buddha said: "One must be diligent and energetic," and as regards the
safeguarding of one's wealth, "one must be mindful and economical."
It is not impossible that even the life of
such a man may be somehow or other disturbed and harassed as a result of the actions of
"unskillful" men. Although this might induce him to abandon his chosen path, it
is at such times that one must not forget the steps to be taken for the purpose of
establishing peace. According to the teaching of the Buddha this includes the reflection:
"Others may be harmful, but I shall be harmless, thus should I train myself." We
must not forget that the whole spirit of Buddhism is one of pacification. In the calm and
placid atmosphere of the Buddha's teaching there is every chance, every possibility, of
removing hatred, jealousy and violence from our mind.
It is no wonder if we, at times, in our
everyday life, feel angry with somebody about something. But we should not allow this
feeling to reside in our mind. We should try to curb it at the very moment it has arisen.
Generally there are eight ways to curb or control our anger.
The first method is to recollect the
teachings of the Buddha. On very many occasions the Buddha explained the disadvantages of
an angry temper. Here is one of his admonitions:
Suppose some bandits catch one of you and sever his body
limb from limb with a two-handed saw, and if he should feel angry thereby even at that
moment, he is no follower of my teaching.
-- Kakacupama Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 21
As a log from a pyre, burnt at both ends and fouled in the
middle, serves neither for firewood in the village nor for timber in the forest, so is
such a wrathful man.
-- Anguttara Nikaya II, 95
Further, we may consider the Buddha's
advice to be found in the Dhammapada:
He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me of
my property. Whosoever harbor such thoughts will never be able to still their enmity.
Never indeed is hatred stilled by hatred; it will only be
stilled by non-hatred -- this is an eternal law.
-- Dhp., vv. 4-5
Do not speak harshly to anyone. Those who are harshly
spoken to might retaliate against you. Angry words hurt other's feelings, even blows may
overtake you in return.
-- Dhp., v. 133
Forbearance is the highest observance. Patience is the
highest virtue. So the Buddhas say.
-- Dhp., v. 184
Let a man remove his anger. Let him root out his pride.
Let him overcome all fetters of passions. No sufferings overtake him who neither clings to
mind-and-body nor claims anything of the world.
-- Dhp., v. 221
Conquer anger by non-anger. Conquer evil by good. Conquer
miserliness by liberality. Conquer a liar by truthfulness.
-- Dhp., v. 223
Guard your mind against an outburst of wrong feelings.
Keep your mind controlled. Renouncing evil thoughts, develop purity of mind.
-- Dhp., v. 233
If by contemplating the advice of the
Buddha in this way one cannot curb his anger, then let him try the second method.
Naturally, any bad person may possess some
good quality. Some men are evil in mind but speak in deceptive language or slyly perform
their deeds in an unsuspecting manner. Some men are coarse only in their language but not
in their mind or deeds. Some men are coarse and cruel in their deeds but neither in their
speech nor in their mind. Some are soft and kind in mind, speech and deed as well.
When we feel angry with any person, we
should try to find out some good in him, either in his way of thinking, or in his way of
speaking or in his way of acting. If we find some redeeming quality in him, we should
ponder its value and ignore his bad qualities as natural weaknesses that are to be found
in everyone. Whilst we think thus, our mind will soften and we may even feel kindly
towards that person. If we develop this way of thinking we will be able to curb or
eliminate our anger towards him.
At times, this method may not be
successful and we shall then have to try the third method. Basically, this entails
"He has done some wrong to me and in so doing has
spoiled his mind. Then why should I spoil or impair my own mind because of his
foolishness? Sometimes I ignore support or help offered by my relatives; sometimes their
tears even shed because of my activities. Being a person of such type myself, why should I
not therefore ignore that foolish man's deed?
"He has done that wrong, being subject to anger,
should I too follow him, making my mind subject to anger? Is it not foolish to imitate
him? He harboring his hatred destroys himself internally. Why should I, on his account,
destroy my reputation?
"All things are momentary. Both his mind and body are
momentary too. The thoughts and the body with which the wrong was done to me are not now
existing. What I call the same man now are the thoughts and physical parts which are
different from the earlier ones that harmed me although belonging to the same
psycho-physical process. Thus, one thought together with one mass of physical parts did me
some wrong, and vanished there and then, giving place to succeeding thoughts and material
parts to appear. So with which am I getting angry? WIth the vanished and disappeared
thoughts and physical parts or with the thoughts and material parts which do not do any
wrong now? Should I get angry with one thing which is innocent whereas another thing has
done me wrong and vanished?
"The so-called 'I' is not the same for two
consecutive moments. At the moment the wrong was done there was another thought and
another mass of molecules which were regarded as 'I,' whereas what are regarded as 'I' at
the present moment are a different thought and collection of molecules, though belonging
to the same process. Thus some other being did wrong to someone else and another gets
angry with another. Is this not a ridiculous situation?"
If we scrutinize the exact nature of our
life and its happenings in this manner, our anger might subside or vanish there and then.
There is another way, too, to eliminate
upsurging anger. Suppose we think of someone who has done wrong to us. On such occasions
we should remember that we suffer harm or loss as a result of our previous kamma.
Even if others were angry with us, they could not harm us if there were no latent force of
past unwholesome kamma committed by us which took advantage of this opportunity to
arouse our adversary. So it is I who am responsible for this harm or loss and not anybody
else. And at the same time, now while I am suffering the result of past kamma, if
I, on account of this, should get angry and do any harm to him, by that do I accumulate
much more unwholesome kamma which would bring me correspondingly unwholesome
If we recall to mind this law of kamma,
our anger may subside immediately. We can consider such a situation in another way too. We
as the followers of Buddha believe that our Bodhisatta passed through incalculable numbers
of lives practicing virtues before he attained Buddhahood. The Buddha related the history
of some of his past lives as illustrations to teach us how he practiced these virtues. The
lives of the prince Dhammapala and the ascetic Khantivadi are most illustrative and draw
At one time the Bodhisatta had been born
as the son of a certain king named Mahapatapa. The child was named Culla Dhammapala. One
day the Queen sat on a chair fondling her child and did not notice the King passing by.
The King thought the Queen was so proud of her child as not to get up from her chair even
when she saw that her lord the King passed that way. So he grew angry and immediately sent
for the executioner. When he came the King ordered him to snatch the child from the
Queen's arms and cut his hands, feet and head off, which he did instantly. The child, our
Bodhisatta, suffered all that with extreme patience and did not grow ill-tempered or
relinquish his impartial love for his cruel father, lamenting mother and the executioner.
So far had he matured in the practice of forbearance and loving-kindness at that time.
At another time, our Bodhisatta was an
ascetic well-known for his developed virtue of forbearance and consequently people named
him Khantivadi, the preacher of forbearance. One day he visited Benares and took his
lodgings at the royal pleasure grove. Meanwhile, the King passed that way with his harem
and, seeing the ascetic seated under a tree, asked what virtue he was practicing, to which
the ascetic replied that of forbearance. The King was a materialist who regarded the
practice of virtue to be humbug. So, hearing the words of the ascetic, he sent for the
executioner and ordered him to cut off his hands and feet and questioned the ascetic as to
whether he could hold to forbearance at the severing of his limbs. The ascetic did not
feel ill-tempered but even at that time he lay down extending his loving-kindness and
holding his forbearance undiminished. He spoke to the King in reply to the effect that his
forbearance and other virtues were not in his limbs but in his mind. The King, being
unsuccessful in his attempts to disturb the ascetic's feelings, grew angrier and kicked
the stomach of the ascetic with his heel and went away. Meanwhile, the King's minister
came over and, seeing what had happened, bowed before the dying ascetic and begged him
saying: "Venerable one, none of us agreed to this cruel act of the King and we are
all sorrowing over what has been done to you by that devilish man. We ask you to curse the
King but not us." At this the ascetic said: "May that king who has caused my
hands and feet to be cut off, as well as you, live long in happiness. Persons who practice
virtues like me never get angry." Saying this, he breathed his last.
Since the Buddha in his past lives, while
still imperfect like us, practiced forbearance and loving-kindness to such a high extent,
why cannot we follow his example?
When we remember and think of similar
noble characters of great souls, we should be able to bear any harm, unmoved by anger. Or
if we consider the nature of the round of rebirths in this beginningless and infinite
universe, we will be able to curb our upspringing anger. For, it is said by the Buddha:
"It is not easy to find a being who has not been your mother, your father, your
brother, sister, son or daughter." Hence with regard to the person whom we have now
taken for our enemy, we should think: "This one now, in the past has been my mother
who bore me in her womb for nine months, gave birth to me, unweariedly cleansed me of
impurities, hid me in her bosom, carried me on her hip and nourished me. This one was my
father in another life and spent time and energy, engaged in toilsome business, with a
view to maintaining me, even sacrificing life for my sake," and so on. When we ponder
over these facts, it should be expected that our arisen anger against our enemy will
And further, we should reflect on the
advantages of the development of mind through the practice of extending loving-kindness.
For, the Buddha has expounded to us eleven advantages to be looked for from its
development. What are the eleven? The person who fully develops loving-kindness sleeps
happily. He wakes happily. He experiences no evil dreams. He is beloved of men. He is
beloved even of non-human beings. He is protected by the gods. He can be harmed neither by
fire, poison or a weapon. His mind is quickly composed. His complexion is serene. At the
moment of his death he passes away unbewildered. If he can go no further along the path of
realization, he will at least be reborn in the heavenly abode of the Brahma Devas.
So, by every similar and possible way
should we endeavor to quench our anger and at last be able to extend our loving-kindness
towards any and every being in the world.
When we are able to curb our anger and
control our mind, we should extend from ourselves boundless love as far as we can imagine
throughout every direction pervading and touching all living beings with loving-kindness.
We should practice this meditation every day at regular times without any break. As a
result of this practice, we will be able, one day, to attain to the jhanas or
meditative absorptions, comprising four grades which entail the control of sensuality,
ill-will and many other passions, bringing at the same time purity, serenity and peace of
Appendix: Two Stories
Retold from the Buddhist Texts
Once while the Blessed One stayed near
Rajagaha in the Veluvana Monastery at the Squirrels' Feeding Place, there lived at Rajagha
a Brahmin of the Bharadvaja clan who was later called "the Reviler." When he
learned that one of his clan had gone forth from home life and had become a monk under the
recluse Gotama, he was angry and displeased. And in that mood he went to see the Blessed
One, and having arrived he reviled and abused him in rude and harsh speech.
Thus being spoken to, the Blessed One
said: "How is it, Brahmin: do you sometimes receive visits from friends, relatives or
"Yes, Master Gotama, I sometimes have
"When they come, do you offer to them
various kinds of foods and a place for resting?"
"Yes, I sometimes do so."
"But if, Brahmin, your visitors do
not accept what you offer, to whom does it then belong?"
"Well, Master Gotama, if they do not
accept it, these things remain with us."
"It is just so in this case, Brahmin:
you revile us who do not revile in return, you scold us who do not scold in return, you
abuse us who do not abuse in return. So we do not accept it from you and hence it remains
with you, it belongs to you, Brahmin..."
[The Buddha finally said:]
"Whence should wrath rise for him who void of wrath,
Holds on the even tenor of his way,
Self-tamed, serene, by highest insight free?
"Worse of the two is he who, when reviled,
Reviles again. Who doth not when reviled,
Revile again, a two-fold victory wins.
Both of the other and himself he seeks
The good; for he the other's angry mood
Doth understand and groweth calm and still.
He who of both is a physician, since
Himself he healeth and the other too, --
Folk deem him a fool, they knowing not the Norm."
-- Abridged and freely rendered from Samyutta Nikaya,
Brahmana Samyutta, No. 2. Verses translated by C. A. F. Rhys Davids, in "Kindred
Sayings," vol. I.
The Anger-eating Demon
Retold from an ancient Buddhist Story
by Nyanaponika Thera
Once there lived a demon who had a peculiar diet: he fed
on the anger of others. And as his feeding ground was the human world, there was no lack
of food for him. He found it quite easy to provoke a family quarrel, or national and
racial hatred. Even to stir up a war was not very difficult for him. And whenever he
succeeded in causing a war, he could properly gorge himself without much further effort;
because once a war starts, hate multiplies by its own momentum and affects even normally
friendly people. So the demon's food supply became so rich that he sometimes had to
restrain himself from over-eating, being content with nibbling just a small piece of
resentment found close-by.
But as it often happens with successful people, he became
rather overbearing and one day when feeling bored he thought: "Shouldn't I try it
with the gods?" On reflection he chose the Heaven of the Thirty-three Deities, ruled
by Sakka, Lord of Gods. He knew that only a few of these gods had entirely eliminated the
fetters of ill-will and aversion, though they were far above petty and selfish quarrels.
So by magic power he transferred himself to that heavenly realm and was lucky enough to
come at a time when Sakka the Divine King was absent. There was none in the large audience
hall and without much ado the demon seated himself on Sakka's empty throne, waiting
quietly for things to happen, which he hoped would bring him a good feed. Soon some of the
gods came to the hall and first they could hardly believe their own divine eyes when they
saw that ugly demon sitting on the throne, squat and grinning. Having recovered from their
shock, they started to shout and lament: "Oh you ugly demon, how can you dare to sit
on the throne of our Lord? What utter cheekiness! What a crime! you should be thrown
headlong into the hell and straight into a boiling cauldron! You should be quartered
alive! Begone! Begone!"
But while the gods were growing more and more angry, the
demon was quite pleased because from moment to moment he grew in size, in strength and in
power. The anger he absorbed into his system started to ooze from his body as a smoky
red-glowing mist. This evil aura kept the gods at a distance and their radiance was
Suddenly a bright glow appeared at the other end of the
hall and it grew into a dazzling light from which Sakka emerged, the King of Gods. He who
had firmly entered the undeflectible Stream that leads Nibbana-wards, was unshaken by what
he saw. The smoke-screen created by the gods' anger parted when he slowly and politely
approached the usurper of his throne. "Welcome, friend! Please remain seated. I can
take another chair. May I offer you the drink of hospitality? Our Amrita is not bad this
year. Or do you prefer a stronger brew, the vedic Soma?"
While Sakka spoke these friendly words, the demon rapidly
shrank to a diminutive size and finally disappeared, trailing behind a whiff of malodorous
smoke which likewise soon dissolved.
The gist of this story dates back to the
discourses of the Buddha. But even now, over 2500 years later, our world looks as if large
hordes of Anger-eating Demons were haunting it and were kept well nourished by millions
slaving for them all over the earth. Fires of hate and wide-traveling waves of violence
threaten to engulf mankind. Also the grass roots of society are poisoned by conflict and
discord, manifesting in angry thoughts and words and in violent deeds. Is it not time to
end this self-destructive slavery of man to his impulses of hate and aggression which only
serve the demoniac forces? Our story tells how these demons of hate can be exorcised by
the power of gentleness and love. If this power of love can be tested and proven, at
grass-root level, in the widely spread net of personal relationships, society at large,
the world at large, will not remain unaffected by it.
-- Based on Samyutta Nikaya, Sakka Samyutta, No. 22
1. The "Norm" or law
(dhamma), here referred to, may be expressed in the words of the Dhammapada (v. 5):
"Not by hating hatred ceases
In this world of tooth and claw;
Love alone from hate releases --
This is the Eternal Law."
Translated by Francis Story]