Overcoming Anger

The Chemistry of Anger
'In one who dwells longingly on sense objects, an inclination towards them is generated. This inclination develops into desire, and desire begets anger. Anger generates delusion, and delusion results in loss of memory. Loss of memory brings about the destruction of discriminative intelligence, and loss of discriminative intelligence spells ruin to a man.'

A Clinical Treatment of Anger
When Sri Krishna says, ‘Sattva asserts itself by prevailing over rajas and tamas, does he mean this happens automatically? If so, when is this going to happen? If eternity is taken as our time-- preponderance of the sattva guna will happen of itself, eventually in eternity. Sri Ramakrishna teaches: ‘Everybody will surely be liberated.’

While it is encouraging to be assured of our final liberation sometime in eternity, one needs more practical guidance to tackle present problems. While dealing with natural processes, one may leave matters to nature. But the challenge before us is to make the sattva guna prevail upon rajas and Tamas in our own nature and in this very birth.

Sri Ramakrishna teaches: ‘Under the protection of sattva, man is rescued from anger, passion, and the other evil effects of tamas. Further, sattva loosens the bonds of the world.’ The means of effecting a preponderance of sattva in one’s nature are elaborated in the Lord’s teaching on Jnana during his incarnation as a swan in Srimad Bhagavatam.

The Role of Food
According to Sri Sankaracharya the word ‘food’ in these texts means anything that is taken in by the senses, viz, sounds, sights, smell etc. Improper sensory inputs create attachment, aversion and delusion, which disturb the mind, making it difficult to control. Freed from these, the mind becomes pure. In order to consciously bring about preponderance of sattva in our nature, we need to allow only sattvic inputs and avoid those that are rajasic or tamasic.

‘Only those scriptures are to be followed which teach Nivritti or the march back to oneness with Brahman, not those that teach Pravritti or the continuance of multiplicity (rajasic) or those that teach down right injurious tenets (tamasic).

Similarly, holy water is to be used, not scented water, etc. One should mix only with spiritual people, not with worldly-minded or wicked people. A solitary place is to be preferred, not a public thoroughfare or a gambling house.

Condusive Hours
Early morning or some such time is to be selected for meditation in preference to hours likely to cause distraction or dullness.

Obligatory and unselfish works alone should be done, not selfish or harmful ones. Initiation into pure and non-injurious forms of religion is needed, not those that require much ado or those that are impure and harmful. Meditation should be on the Lord, not on sense-objects or on enemies with a view to revenge.

Mantras such as Om are to be preferred, not those bringing worldly prosperity or causing injury to others. Purification of the mind is what we should be interested in, not trimming up the body or cleaning up houses.

This process of bringing about self-transformation, by completely overhauling the guna-complex in one’s psycho-physical system, might appear to be slow and difficult. But this is the surest and most dependable method of over coming the cause of anger, which is: the preponderance of rajas in one’s nature.

Taming Anger--The Yoga Way
The Yoga disciplines of Patanjali are designed to lead an aspirant to Spiritual Liberation. It may be asked if it is necessary or practical to follow these disciplines for the immediate purpose of overcoming anger. Considering the destructive potential of anger it is only meet that every available means should be used to counter its ravages.

Patanjali on Anger
The definition of anger in the light of Patanjali’s philosophy would be: Anger is a modification of the mind, a chitta-vritti. Chitta-vritti can also be regarded as a kind of thought-wave. But this thought- wave is loaded with some complexities which are interesting, inasmuch as these concern every one of us in depth. According to Patanjali, the mind (Chitta) is made up of three components- Manas, Buddhi, and Ahamkara.

1. Manas is the recording faculty which receives impressions gathered by the senses from the outside world.

2. Buddhi is the discriminative faculty which classifies these impressions and reacts to them.

3. Ahamkara is the ego-sense which claims these impressions as its own and stores them up as individual knowledge.

For example, Manas reports, ‘Look, there comes a large angry animal.’ Buddhi says, Well, that is a mad elephant. It will attack anyone on the way.’ Ahamkara screams: ‘Well, if I get in its way, I am finished. Let me take to my heels.’

Counter-thoughts Method
Patanjali defines Yoga as chitta vritti-nirodha--control of the thought-waves. According to his teachings, when we speak of over coming anger, we have to apply the same technique of controlling the thought-waves.

A person’s character is the sum total of samskaras, acquired tendencies, which however is not impervious to change. As a sandbank of a river, looking sufficiently stable, may change, when the currents of water change and flow in another direction, a character may change when the vrittis change.

Conquering Finer Samskaras
Let us proceed to take practical measures for overcoming anger, step by step, according to the teachings of Patanjali.

1. Patanjali’s teachings firmly bear out the conviction that anger can be completely overcome. Anyone determined to do so can achieve it, provided he has the required patience for practising the necessary disciplines.

2. For overcoming anger, the phenomenon has to be clearly understood at the outset.

3. Anger may be manifested variously. But anger cannot be overcome by handling manifestations in a piecemeal fashion.

4. Anger at its root or origin is a Chitta-vritti, thought-wave, a modification of the Mind. For overcoming anger, these modifications of the mind need to be handled.

Conquest of Accompaniments
Patanjali teaches how the fine samskaras are to be controlled: ‘These fine samskaras are to be conquered by resolving them into their causal state.’

In its origin anger is a thought- wave, or still earlier, a thought-bubble. This thought-bubble originates in Avidya, ignorance. Patanjali teaches: ‘Ignorance is taking the non-eternal, the impure, the painful, and the not-self for eternal, the pure, the happy, and the Atman at the Self (respectively).

This Avidya is invariably associated with Asmita, Raga, Dvesha and Abhinivesha--these are all obstructions to Yoga, and each of these make substantial contribution to krodha or anger. We need to understand these four companions of Ajnana, which originate and rest in ignorance. Asmita--egoism--is the identification of the seer (Atman) with the instruments of seeing (mind and the senses).

Raga is attachment to that which gives pleasure. Dvesha is aversion to that which gives displeasure or pain. Abhinivesha is clinging to life; anything obstructing that clinging causes anger. When we live a life of such a pattern, which is gross and worldly, Avidya and its harmful associates get more firmly entrenched. Then we cannot overcome anger and we become slaves of anger.

But, it is possible and open to everyone of us to practice viveka, discrimination, through which the effect of all these can be attenuated and eventually even avidya can be destroyed by the grace of God.

Those who want to overcome anger along with the practice of discrimination intended for attenuating the forces of avidya, asmita, raga, dvesha and abhinivesha, must follow the precept that they should not al low their passions to linger in their minds. One must not carry in one’s mind potent anger-bombs for using in hypothetical situations in one’s affairs: ‘If he does this or says this, I shall finish him today. The other day I spared him, not today in any case!’ Such a disposition to become angry is bad for mental health and can aggravate our bad tempers to pathological limits.

An Assurance
We can rid ourselves of life’s uncertainty by developing a confirmed disposition for living a divine life, for laying the foundation of which, Patanjali has prescribed certain disciplines based on established spiritual traditions. Of these the first two, yama and niyama are of particular relevance. Non- killing, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-receiving are called yamas.

Internal and external purification, contentment, penance, study, and worship of God are the Niyamas.

The Path Shown by Buddha
The classical poet, Kshemendra, eulogizes Buddha in Avadhana Kalpalata in these words:

‘Salutations to Thee, Guide of the perplexed, Physician of the world, whose mind is overflowing with compassion for all suffering creatures.’

Rabindranath Tagore, in invoking Buddha’s presence, prays for his healing touch on sick humanity:

Man’s heart is anguished with the fever of unrest,
With the poison of self-seeking,
Overcome by a thirst that knows no end,
Countries, far and wide flaunt on their foreheads,
The blood-red mark of hatred,
Bestow on them thy healing touch,
Make them one in spirit,
Bring harmony into their life,
Bring the rhythm of beauty
O serene, O Free,
In thy immeasurable mercy and goodness,
Cleanse the dark stains from the heart of Humanity

From these two verses, written by poets belonging to different eras, we find that the Buddha is looked upon as a symbol of compassion, love, knowledge, same-sightedness, non-violence, equanimity and peace. Even a single representation of the Blessed One in a room will elevate the atmosphere therein.

This symbol of immeasurable perfection was very much a historical personage and his life and message have influenced human civilization and culture in an abiding manner.

An Illustration
Some anecdotes from Buddha’s life illustrate these qualities of his character. They provide precious and practical lessons for leading a spiritual life.

Bharadhwaja, a wealthy Brahmin farmer, was celebrating his harvest thanks-giving, when the Buddha came with his alms-bowl, begging for food. Some of the people, who knew who he was, paid him respect--but Bharadhwaja flew into a rage at the sight of a strong and healthy man begging for food. Angrily he said, ‘O Shame, it would be more fitting for you to go to work than to beg. I plough and sow, I work hard, and having ploughed and sown, I eat. If you could do likewise, you too will have something to eat, without having to beg for food.’

With his serenity not in the least disturbed, the Buddha answered him: ‘O Brahmana, I too, plough and sow, and having ploughed and sown, I eat.’

‘Do you profess to be a farmer?’ asked the intrigued Brahmana. ‘Where then are your bullocks? Where are the seeds and the plough?’

The Buddha said: ‘Faith is the seed I sow; good works are the rains that fertilize it; wisdom and modesty are the plough; my mind is the guiding-rein; I lay hold of the handle of law, earnestness is the goad I use, and exertions are my bullocks. The field is ploughed to destroy the weeds of illusion. The harvest it yields is the immortal fruit of nirvana, and thus all sorrow ends.”

Then the Brahmin poured rice milk into a golden bowl and offered to the Buddha, saying, ‘Let the teacher of mankind partake of the rice-milk, for the venerable Gautama ploughs a field that bears the fruit of immortality?

With what sweet level headedness the Buddha converted a situation fraught with irritation and insult, into an uplifting occasion for the spiritual education of an aggressive and self-righteous host!

Starve Your Anger
Those who are earnest about extinguishing the fire must not continue to feed it with inflammable things. An angry person should not add fuel to his anger. It is the pampered ego that supplies fuel to anger, delighting in finding fault with others, completely ignoring its own failings. All these are signs of our inner unregenerate condition, which is called ignorance.

For the removal of ignorance, moral living is essential. Shila (good conduct) and Prajna (introspection lading to intuitive insight) should go hand in hand in our dealings with the world. Anger cannot easily grow in a good heart and an enlightened mind.

The Right Effort
For overcoming anger on a permanent basis, one needs to create a special temper and cultivate ingrained habits. Again, temper and habit have to be grounded on an acquired good character. The noble Eightfold path that the Buddha taught is aimed at reconstructing an unregenerate human being. This called for a metamorphosis from one’s underdeveloped condition to a state of self-fulfilment, not out of the fear of an authority, but out of a desire to free oneself from the bondage of samsara.

The disciplines of the noble eight-fold path are: Right views, right aspirations, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right contemplation.