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Love Your Enemies: How To Break The Anger Habit

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Love Your Enemies: How to Break the Anger Habit & Be a Whole Lot Happier by Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman gives practical strategies for spiritual transformation. The new book was inspired by HH Dalai Lama and is a result of the workshops that Bob and Sharon have been teaching the past 7 years. It provides information on how both anger and hatred are addictive feelings - that they're behaviors that are destructive to happiness.

Sharon Salzberg, a teacher of meditation for more than 30 years, co-founded the Insight Meditation Society, the Forest Refuge, and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies.

Tenzin Robert Thurman is the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, holding the first endowed chair of Buddhist Studies in the United States. He serves as co-founder and president of Tibet House US, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the endangered culture of Tibet.

Excerpt from Love Your Enemies: How to Break the Anger Habit & Be a Whole Lot Happier by Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman. Copyright © 2013 by Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman. Excerpted by permission of Hay House. All rights reserved. It is published here with the express permission of the publisher. The book is published on October 1, 2013.

Chapter 2

Victory Over The Inner Enemy

There are too many times in life when we just cannot avoid losing our temper. Someone
attacks or provokes us, we feel that excitement is the only way to avoid being crippled by fear in a tough situation, we just can't stand something that is happening to us or to others and we blow our top. Sometimes our heated action seems to help; we get the immediate result we want. But even then, usually we feel bad afterward, we realize that our over-reaction will cause more problems down the line, we become exhausted, we lose a potential friend, and we have populated our universe with an even more dangerous potential enemy. As we mature, and gain more experience with the negative results and side effects of the anger habit, we shift our priorities, and we resolve to improve our mastery of our emotional reactions. We tire of being whipped about by uncontrollable inner impulses, and we decide we really have to be the master of our forceful energies, and not be mastered by them. We then are ready to face our inner enemies.

There are all too many of them, a host of powerful forces within our minds, obsessive desire, burning anger, haunting jealousy, stressful competitiveness, foolish pride, stubborn delusion and self-righteous conviction. They are addictive energies, in that they take hold of us from within by seeming to enhance our energy and expand our being, only to let us down all too soon and leave us in an even more vulnerable situation. The Buddhist word for them (Sanskrit klesha, Pali, kilesa) comes from the verb root klish-, which means "twist," "torment." They harm us without fail, and so definitely qualify as enemies.

Of all of them, anger is the ultimate inner enemy. It is unimaginably destructive. One of my Buddhist teachers, Tara Tulku, used to say that the most important component of a nuclear bomb is anger fueled by hatred. What impels a human being to press the button, turn the key, pull the trigger on unimaginable physical destruction, is the mind of hatred rising into anger. It is important to recognize that in a full evaluation of consequential action, thought is action. It not only motivates physical action, it is physical action, however subtle. It has consequences in the physical world, and it shapes the positive or negative evolutionary changes in the lives of the thinker who acts in the mind. Indeed, based on the insight that thought is the most powerful act of all, spiritual and psychological traditions worldwide rely on mental sciences to decrease the influence of negative thoughts and to shape thoughts in positive ways.

Anger is the wish to obliterate the target. It is the hot flash of destructive momentum that makes people lash out and, in too many cases, recklessly destroy lives, destroy the environment, destroy the very way of life of those perceived to be the enemy. In the Buddhist teachings, it is said that one moment of hatred against an enlightened being produces eons of negative effects, leading the hating person into a season in hell.

Anger is like a powerful addiction. We're addicted to anger as a state of being and a way of acting in the world. But if we are to have any peace, we must recognize hatred and anger as potentially lethal compulsions that we have to kick. Like any addict, we have to realize the full power of these mental impulses in order to truly resolve to free ourselves from them.

We must not be confused by the thought that sometimes anger has a positive use, such as impelling us to take action against injustice. In fact, critical judgment and ethical commitment is what impels us to act to correct injustice, and if anger goes along with them, it tends to make that action ineffective. But such kinds of rationalization are how addictive substances keep their hold on us. It would be like saying that because heroin is sometimes used for end-of-life palliative care, addiction to heroin is not all that bad. We must decide that anger and hatred serve no useful purpose and that for all intents and purposes they are categorically destructive, even though sometimes their harmful effects do not appear immediately. Even if we do decide that anger is bad for us, like any addiction, to reach the point of resolving definitely to eliminate it, we need to know precisely what we're dealing with. Anger arises when mounting irritation, annoyance, and frustration burst into an irresistible impulse to respond in a harmful manner to the perceived source of those feelings. In the grip of anger, we are no longer the master of our thoughts, speech, or actions. Once this happens, we are not "expressing our anger," as is often said to justify a supposedly healthy release; rather, we have become the involuntary instrument of our rage. No longer in control of it, we have become its effect. Who would choose to be angry in that manner if they could stay in control of their feelings and act skillfully even when the target is annoying? Wouldn't we prefer that our judgment remain clear, while we still maintain free choice in our actions? Our anger or hatred only results in violent outbursts when we're inflamed with rage and our good sense has gone out the window. This kind of anger, being "mad," that is, insane in its fury, destroys all in its path, not least our own emotional balance.

If the first step toward release from our addiction to anger is deciding that we must break the cycle, there is nobody better to help us go cold turkey than the great 8th-century Indian sage Shantideva, a Buddhist mind scientist at the renowned Nalanda University. He is best known as the author of the Bodhicharyavatara (Introduction to the Bodhisattva Conduct), a practical text originally written in Sanskrit verse that has become so popular in the West, it has already appeared in several translations into English and other European languages. His teaching of tolerance and compassion is considered to contain the supreme Buddhist methodology of developing love and compassion for all beings.

In the Tibetan tradition, the teaching is thought to have come down through a lineage of living masters that has continued unbroken from the Buddha's time until today, with Shantideva having been perhaps the most eloquent author in that lineage. The present Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet is generally considered to be the main living holder of that teaching lineage, and anyone who has ever been moved by His Holiness' discourses on compassion has met that living tradition. Shantideva helps motivate us by convincing us that being angry is like biting the hand that feeds us: for example, he likens the madness of fury to venting our anger on a bodhisattva, a being who has only our best interest at heart. This is patently self-destructive--why would we revile someone who wants only to benefit us? It is like being angry with Jesus or Mary or Moses or Muhammad, or even God--in other words, being angry with a being that one considers to be the source of all goodness.

Anger and hatred connect to what many consider to be the supreme of all evils. In all cultural imaginations, the devil--the very embodiment of evil--thrives on inflicting pain and torture by means of malevolent actions. And since his motivation to harm others consists of the mental impulses of anger and hatred, it is clear that such evil is rooted in anger and hatred; they are the source of all evil acts. In the Buddhist biological theory of karma, addiction to anger and hatred leads eventually to rebirth in one of the thirty-two hells, which are described in the literature in the most terrifyingly lurid detail.

Anger and hatred want their victim to feel pain and suffering, while love and compassion want their beloved to feel joy and happiness. The ultimate opposite of anger is love, the fervent wish for others to be happy. But at the inner-enemy stage, when we're still learning to manage our addiction to anger, aiming for love pushes us too far. It is unrealistic to expect to immediately switch from anger and hate to compassion and love. Patience is the middle ground, the place of tolerance, forbearance, and in time, forgiveness. We might still be irritated when we are harmed (or think we are harmed), but we will not lose ourselves to anger so long as we can tolerate the irritation, be patient with the harm and the harmer, refrain from reacting vengefully, and maybe even forgive the injury. Patience is the antidote to anger, and love can freely arise on the basis of patience as the ultimate opposite of hate. So, to deal with the inner enemy, our positive resolve is to cultivate patience.

Follow Robert Thurman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BobThurman