On Anger


Sometimes you can’t beat going back to the original source. The great philosophers can be a tricky read, but equally, they can be very direct, simple and clear. Aristotle was.

Generally speaking there are many different kinds of afflictive or negative emotions, such as conceit, arrogance, jealousy, desire, lust, closed-mindedness and so on. But out of all these hatred and anger are considered to be the greatest evil, because they are the greatest obstacle to developing compassion and altruism, and they destroy one’s virtue and calmness of mind.

In thinking about anger there can be two types. One type of anger can be positive. This would be mainly due to one’s motivation. There can be some anger that is motivated by compassion or a sense of responsibility. Where anger is motivated by compassion it can be used as an impetus or a catalyst for a positive action.

Under these circumstances, a human emotion like anger can act as a force to bring about swift action. It creates a kind of energy that enables an individual to act quickly and decisively. It can be a powerful motivating factor. So sometimes that kind of anger can be positive.

All too often, however even though that kind of anger can act as a kind of protector and bring one extra energy, it is also blind, so it is uncertain whether it will become constructive or destructive in the end.

So, even though under rare circumstances some kinds of anger can be positive, generally speaking anger leads to ill feeling and hatred. And as far as hatred is concerned, it is never positive. It has no benefit at all. It is always totally negative.

The destructive effects of hatred are very visible, very obvious and immediate. For example, when a very strong or forceful thought of hatred arises within you, at that very instant it totally overwhelms you and destroys your peace of mind, your presence of mind disappears completely.

When such intense anger and hatred arises, it obliterates the best part of our brain, which is the ability to judge between right and wrong, and the long term and short term consequences of our actions. Our power of judgement becomes totally inoperable. It can no longer function. It is almost like you have become insane.

So this anger and hatred tends to throw you into a state of confusion, which just serves to make your problems and difficulties much worse.

Even at the physical level, hatred brings about a very ugly, unpleasant physical transformation of the individual. At the very instant where strong feelings of anger or hatred arise, no matter how hard the person tried to pretend or adopt a dignified pose, it is very obvious that the person’s face looks contorted and ugly. There is a very unpleasant expression and the person gives out a very hostile vibration.

Other people can sense it. It is almost as if they can feel steam coming out of that person’s body. So much so that not only are human brings capable of sensing it, but even animals, pets, would try to avoid that person at that instant. Also when a person harbours hateful thoughts, they tend to collect inside the person.

For reasons such as these, hatred is compared to an enemy. This internal enemy has no other function than causing us harm. It is our true enemy, our ultimate enemy. It has no other function than simply destroying us both in the immediate term and the long term.

This is very different from an ordinary enemy. Although an ordinary enemy, a person whom we may regard as an enemy, may engage in activities that are harmful to us, at least he or she has other functions; that person has got to eat, and that person has got to sleep. So he or she has many other functions and therefore cannot devote twenty-four hours a day of his or her existence to this project of destroying us.

On the other hand hatred has no other function, no other purpose, than destroying us. So by realising this fact, we should resolve that we will never give an opportunity for this enemy, hatred, to arise within us.

Words Aristotle himself could have written. But in fact come from a modern philosopher – the Dalai Lama.

Forget the stereotype of ‘bells and smells’, the condensed wisdom of the Dalai Lama’s lifetime of analysis and thought bears remarkable similarity to Aristotle – develop virtue, moderation and a supple mind. A good recipe for a good life.

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