English Section

      Buddhism Today 

Vietnamese Section


...... ... .  . .  .  .
Stop, Look, and Go to Control Temper
Erasto Fernandez

Flying into a rage at the slightest provocation, Terrence exonerates himself pleading: " I can’t help it. I’m a very short-tempered person, and I guess I will always remain that way!" This, or something similar, is what we often hear from persons who believe that they are the unfortunate ones saddled with life’s problems, while so many others seem to be gloriously free of such weaknesses.

In his best-seller The Seven Habits Stephen Covey shows us conclusively that a person is hardly ever determined in this way from the out side. People are never the victims of genetic determinism (handed down from one generation to another) nor of psychic determinism (your parents did it to you) nor of environmental determinism (the others around you are doing it to you). These theories basically believe that there is an automatic connection between stimulus and response, pre-set and coming from outside.

A little serious reflection reveals that there is a vital gap between stimulus and response-a gap in which we can exercise the greatest human endowment: human freedom, the ability to choose our response. If at all there is an automatic link in our lives between the two, it is because we have chosen to establish and maintain one ourselves. And if we have made the connection, then we are also free and powerful enough to de-link them.

From his own experiences in German concentration camps, Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search For Meaning, popularised the notion that freedom is not the same as liberty. Liberty indicates the presence of a variety of options from which I can choose. True freedom, however, refers to the internal power I possess to exercise my options-to act or not to act-and not just to act in one way or other.

Once we see out way clearly through these simple distinctions, the possibility of a change, even of long-standing unpleasant habits, becomes distinctly real and attainable. We begin to sense our real inner power – a power that no one can take away, not can anyone else exercise it on out behalf.

The oft-quoted advice given by Jesus Christ is worth repeating here: Do unto others what you would want them to do unto you. When we sow seeds of goodness all around us, we would naturally reap a harvest of positive reactions from people all around us. With consistently good harvests, we will be in a position to hand over to future generations a treasure trove of goodness and well-being for all time to come.

In Peace is Every Step Thich Nhat Hanh relates the story of an 11-year-old boy who found that he harboured tremendous anger against his father. Every time he fell down and hurt himself, his father would shout at him. The boy vowed to himself that when he grew up, he would be different. But a couple of years later, his little sister fell off a swing one-day and hurt herself badly. Seeing this the boy became very angry. He felt the urge to shout at her, he stopped himself, and because he had been practising breathing and mindfulness, he was able to recognise his anger and choose not act on it.

While others attended to the wounded girl, he walked some distance away and began breathing deeply to contain his anger. Suddenly he saw that he was behaving exactly like his father. He said to Thich later: " I realised that if I didn’t do something about the anger in me, I would transmit it to my children." He realised that his father too, like himself, might have been a victim of inherited anger. As the boy continued to practise mindfulness, his anger disappeared completely.

Each of us has the power to be the kind of person we want to be-if only we recognise the true inner freedom we possess, and are responsible enough to exercise it. The first step seems to be: be aware of what is happening, viz., that we are being drawn to act inappropriately. The next crucial element is to pause at this juncture, to stop before responding inappropriately. In the space this pause affords us, we consciously assess the alternatives available: Do I really need to act negatively? Are there any other ways in which I could respond?


Updated: 24-9-2000

Return to "Other Dhamma Essays"

Top of Page