10/09/2012 04:04 pm ET Updated Dec 09, 2012

Eliminating Anger by Changing Your Views

In my blog, "How to Use Meditation to Become a Buddha," I explained the process of meditation that is used in Tibetan, lojong meditation. Lojong is Tibetan for "mind training," and this type of meditation is very effective as a tool for changing the world we perceive. I will not explain lojong meditation in this blog, so it may be helpful for you to read that previous blog if you want to fully understand how to develop the views that I am explaining, today. In this blog, I am going to explain some of the ideas to contemplate in lojong practice in order to change the views that cause you to become angry.

Patience is the bodhisattva perfection that has eliminated anger, one of the three "root delusions" taught in Buddhism. In my blog, "The Spirituality of Patience," I explained that anger arises from a deluded view of things. I explained that a "view" is a way of perceiving a world made up of discreet things seen as having "self-existence," i.e., as being a thing separate and independent of other things, and also independent of mind creation. All of us, until we are enlightened, view a world made up of separate things possessing characteristics. This is what Buddhists mean by "self-grasping ignorance," and Buddhism teaches that anger arises from particular types of self-grasping ignorance. We become angry because of viewing an object with the characteristic of being "bad and hateful." We have the ability to alter our views, and because of this, we are capable of ceasing to view things as bad and hateful, and as a result, anger is eliminated. I also explained in "The Spirituality of Patience" that anger is a very dysfunctional emotion because there are many negative consequences of anger. Understanding the negative consequences of anger can motivate you to eliminate anger, and it may, to some degree, lessen your tendency to become angry. But one cannot eliminate anger completely unless one eliminates the ignorant views that cause anger. Anger is fully conquered only when one reaches the state of enlightenment, which is the abandonment of all views. However, to a very large degree, one can defeat anger by developing the capacity to view differently what has been causing you to become angry. Meditation can be a very effective tool for changing your views.

There are three types of patience taught in Tibetan Buddhism -- "the patience of enduring your distress," "the patience of not retaliating" and "the patience of pondering dharma" -- the spiritual teachings that lead one to true and lasting happiness. So, I will explain how you can view suffering, the persons you view as having harmed you and of the spiritual teachings you are viewing with annoyance, so that you can learn how to develop these three types of patience. Some of the ideas and words I will use are specifically Buddhist but, mutatis mutandis, are readily comprehensible from the point of view of most of the other major world religions. Let's begin by considering the patience of enduring your distress. Here are three verses of my book, Ocean of Compassion, to consider:

When we have a good reason we admit our own suffering;

Immunizations do not seem so bad.

If we think of the needle as really a help,

Then the suffering does not make us feel sad.

When we patiently endure our distress,
We obviate discouragement.
Patience and Effort, with zest, see suffering
As a spur to development.

These two verses give the key to changing one's view of suffering. The path to Buddhahood includes practicing the perfection of patience, so instead of viewing your suffering as bad and hateful, you can learn to view it as merely part of the necessarily painful and bumpy road to Buddhahood. Since patience is a necessary part of the spiritual path, then if suffering causes you to become angry, learning to deal with this patiently is a necessary part of your spiritual path. We cannot be patient unless we overcome anger-causing experiences; so each anger-causing experience of suffering is an opportunity for you to take a step on the spiritual path. The Apostle Paul also advised that the spiritual path includes the patience of enduring suffering. In Romans 12:12 he wrote, "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." It may seem far-fetched to some, but once a bodhisattva has cultivated the perfection of joyful effort, he or she has the ability to experience joy in the face of suffering. Bodhisattvas can react this way because when they are mindful of having reacted to suffering patiently, they experience joy in thinking that they have taken a step to Buddhahood. This reaction becomes as natural to bodhisattvas as the joy an athlete feels in having performed a feat they think of as a step toward victory. So, you can change your view of suffering from being bad and hateful to being an opportunity to walk the spiritual path, and doing this can help you develop the patience of enduring suffering.

We can, of course, adopt a similar view of those persons we have been viewing as having harmed us. As I wrote in Ocean of Compassion:

View those who harm you as benefactors.

They give you a gift: the chance to practice.

Perhaps they may truly be a Buddha

And appear for your ontogenesis.

Since we are viewing an "actor" in this type of situation, it may be helpful to view them as someone who has acted for the purpose of helping you to develop patience. You can think that you have misinterpreted the situation in believing otherwise. Since all views are ultimately false from the Buddhist perspective, we are wise to choose to adopt those views that are spiritually helpful rather than harmful. If thinking that someone who you thought had harmed you was actually a Buddha acting to provide you with an opportunity to develop patience helps you develop this perfection, then it is pragmatically wise to adopt this view. Those who don't believe in Buddhas but do believe in guardian angels or other types of spiritual actors can adopt this same strategy but use their own concepts and names.

You can also view people who have harmed you as having acted from ignorance and needing your help. A verse of Ocean of Compassion states this quite succinctly:

A psychiatrist treating mental illness

Views an unruly patient with sympathy.

The cause of wrong action comes from the illness;

Those who harm you the same you must see.

Bodhisattvas view everyone as a patients needing help because of their view that wrong actions stem from ignorance rather than being the free choices of bad and hateful people. I think that it is quite obvious that Jesus stated a parallel view in Matthew 5:44-45, where he is quoted as saying, "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

Finally, we come to the patience of pondering dharma. At times when we become annoyed at listening to, studying or practicing spiritual teachings, we are not viewing these activities as elements of the path to true and lasting happiness. This may be because of a failure to remain hopeful that one has adopted a correct spiritual path, or because one has simply over-exerted oneself spiritually. In the latter case, we have failed to keep in mind one of the elements of the perfection of joyful effort. Buddhists call this element "the power of relaxation." Listening to music, peacefully observing a beautiful sunset and dancing are some examples of what can be relaxing elements of the spiritual path, when they are correctly viewed. If we are pushing ourselves too hard to practice some elements of the spiritual path, and we have become annoyed or exhausted, it is time for us to take a break from these activities and choose a method of relaxation, viewing it as an element of the perfection of effort. When we do this, we have not stopped doing our practice because it is annoying us at the time; we have just begun practicing some other element of the path -- the perfection of joyful effort. In the former case of being annoyed with your practice because you are not viewing the path you are on as a way to attain true and lasting happiness, you need to resolve these doubts so you can view your path this way. In this case, you have stopped "being joyful in hope," as the Apostle Paul put it. I cannot give you advice about how to restore joy in your particular path. Obviously, I view the "Bodhisattva Way of Life" as "the" (or at least "a") path to true and lasting happiness, but I am not writing this blog to convince non-Buddhists this is true. If you cannot renew your joy in the hope that you are traveling a correct spiritual path, perhaps it is time for you to educate yourself on other spiritual paths and find one that you can sincerely travel.

If we meditate on the types of view I have been explaining in this blog and start viewing the things that have been causing us to become angry in these beneficial ways, we definitely will be able to start eliminating anger. I will end by quoting one final verse of Ocean of Compassion:

We want all Buddhas to notice us
And view us pleasantly.
Their blessings are most assuredly earned
When we act Patiently.

For more by Tenzin Norbu, click here.

For more on spiritual development, click here.