Dealing with Anger
By Brother Mokshananda
(Excerpts from SRF Magazine, Fall 1999)
Anger is Caused by Frustration of a Desire
Anger takes many forms: touchiness, impatience, displeasure, jealousy, irritability, unhappiness, moodiness. Actually, every one of us has a problem with anger to some degree, unless we are in samadhi.
Anger, in any form, is caused by frustration of a desire. In the absence of the bliss consciousness of the soul, our real Self, we seek fulfillment through sensory desires, which are inherently unsatisfying.
As the Bhagavad Gita points out, they inevitably produce frustration, anger, and lead to the destruction of spiritual consciousness.
"Brooding on sense objects causes attachment to them. Attachment breeds craving; craving breeds anger. Anger breeds delusion; delusion breeds loss of memory (of the Self). Loss of right memory causes decay of the discriminating faculty. From decay of discrimination, annihilation (of spiritual life) follows" —The Bhagavad Gita XI:62-63.
So the sure way to conquer anger is to strike at its roots: desires. The more yearnings we have, the more frustrations we have. It is impossible to fulfill them all, because the nature of sensory desire is that it is unending. The more we cater to a desire for any thing, any experience, the more our attachment to it grows. And the more deeply we are attached, the more we suffer at the least deprivation of that object or experience. For example, nature gave us the sensation of hunger so we would know when the body needs nourishment; but attachment magnifies that sensation into mental suffering. If you really love eating, and undertake a three-day fast—whether for health reasons or as a form of spiritual discipline—very likely that fast will be accompanied to some degree by an underlying anger! A yogi, on the other hand, can go for days without being mentally upset by the absence of food; he has practiced nonattachment to the desires of the body.
Ways to Overcome Desires
Once we understand that desires are the cause of anger, we will want to know the ways of constructively dealing with them. There are several different approaches:
1. Fulfill Them
Paramahansaji says that for wholesome simple desires, a good psychological practice is simply to fulfill them; then you are done with them. The trouble is that this often gives rise to new desires— or becomes a habit, with its detrimental spiritual bondage. The more you feed a desire, the stronger that habit becomes. So it is wise to discriminate well even with seemingly innocent wants.
2. Relinquish Desires
Another way is to relinquish the desire, to make a mental act of renunciation. As we awaken spiritually, this often happens quite naturally. For instance, several times I have heard SRF members say that after beginning to practice the Hong-Sau Technique, or after simply studying Paramahansaji's teachings, they completely lost the desire to smoke.
This relinquishing of small desires comes when the soul awakens enough to seek fulfillment of its real desire: permanent bliss. When we begin to find bliss inside, the compelling power of worldly habit patterns is weakened. We develop the discrimination to say, "I do not need this. I thought I did, but I don't; so why should I nourish the desire any more? I give it up."
3. Transmute Desires
If we cannot fulfill a desire, or it is harmful to do so, we can remain free of inner frustration by transmuting that desire. This means we change our focus from a wrong object of desire to something that is good for us—something that fulfills the underlying yearning. Many times a desire is not wrong in itself; it is the way in which we try to fulfill it that is harmful. All our essential yearnings—for love, joy, power, freedom from boredom and pain—are native to the soul. Transmutation means spiritualizing a desire. We don't deny that we have a desire; we seek to fulfill it in a higher way. Meditation, contact with the Divine, is of course the supreme way. Paramahansaji said: "If you but looked at your soul, the all-perfect reflection of God within you, you would find all your desires satisfied!"
Rising Above the Temptation to Anger
When we speak of relinquishing or transmuting desires, some people misunderstand this to mean that we shouldn't have any desires. But being human, we cannot help having desires. As long as we exist in this vibratory cosmos, we are forced by nature to act. Even a mental determination to relinquish desires will not free us from the ocean of cosmic activity. Sometimes our actions will have outcomes that please us; other times our desires will be frustrated. What can we do to prepare our consciousness, so that even though we are involved in this world of ceaseless activity we do not get angry when desires are thwarted?
1. Cultivate Soul Calmness Born Of Meditation
Meditation is the greatest remedy for anger or any other problem, because it attunes us with our real nature—God's peace and bliss in our souls. The more we meditate regularly and deeply, the more stable is our peace of mind. Paramahansaji put it beautifully: "A lump of sand cannot withstand the erosive effect of the ocean's waves; an individual who lacks imperturbable inner peace cannot remain tranquil during mental conflict. But as a diamond remains unchanged no matter how many waves swirl around it, so also a peace-crystallized individual remains radiantly serene even when trials beset him from all sides."
2. Practice The Consciousness Of Seeing This World As A Dream
Another way to rise above anger is to practice the consciousness of this world as a dream—to see it as a cosmic play. This is God's perception of creation. He is very active in His dream-drama. But part of His consciousness remains beyond, absorbed in His bliss-nature. We too can have that transcendental detachment. By regularity in meditation, our soul consciousness gradually awakens and expands into God-consciousness; we are increasingly able to enjoy the spectacle of life, with all its ups and downs, as an entertaining dream-drama. As long as we are caught up in the delusion that the drama is real, we are unduly affected by it. So when people or circumstances begin to ruffle our equanimity, we should remind ourselves: "It is only a dream; it is only a movie; I must enact my part, but it cannot affect my soul."
3. Realize That Circumstances Are Neutral
The ordinary person blames his environment or those around him for his problems, suffering, and frustrations. He thinks that if he had a different boss or a different place to live, he wouldn't have that trouble.
He forgets that it is his reaction to his environment that is the cause of his troubles.
The circumstances themselves are neutral.
You may say: Suppose someone slaps me on the face—is that a neutral action? Well, if you were not attached to the body, that slap would be just another part of life's drama. The problem is, in most people it produces anger because various personal desires are frustrated by that action. For one thing, their self-esteem is threatened; the ego reacts with the thought: "You can't do this to me!" But if you are poised in the soul, as Jesus was, you can "turn the other cheek" because you see it as just a dream experience—not as a reason to become inwardly agitated.
It is a psychological help to realize that even with a perfect attitude, in this world of duality we are not necessarily going to have peace and harmony all our days. Even our Guru, who had such great love and compassion and understanding, could not please everybody.
Dealing with Anger
Until we have made significant progress in applying the principles we might still get irate from time to time. What can we do then? "When anger comes," Paramahansaji said, "set your machinery of calmness in motion to manufacture the antidotes of peace, love, and forgiveness, which banish anger." Here are five practical methods given by him:
1. Use Affirmations To Hold On To Your Calmness
Master says: "Affirm divine calmness and peace, and send out only thoughts of love and goodwill if you want to live in peace and harmony." He also advised: "If someone is trying to get you in trouble, affirm continuously, 'I am peace, I am calm,' and say it deeply. No matter how others may try to shake you, hold on to that peace. Your nerves will then be calm."
2. Destroy Anger By Metaphysical Reason
"Develop metaphysical reason and destroy anger," Master tells us. "Look upon the anger-arousing agent as a child of God; think of him as a little five-year-old baby brother who perhaps has unwittingly stabbed you. You should not feel a desire to stab this little brother in return. Mentally destroy anger by saying: 'I will not poison my peace with anger; I will not disturb my habitual joy-giving calmness with wrath.'"
When someone makes you angry, look for the good qualities in that person. Anger blinds you with a focus on his negative qualities only. But most people are a mixture of good and bad— there are good qualities if you look for them. Dwell on them; revolve them around in your mind until a balanced understanding of that person replaces your blind rage.
3. Leave The Immediate Environment
When anger threatens to overcome your self-control, the best course is to get out of that environment. Be alone for a while, and transmute that anger in meditation. Or, if you are too angry to meditate, do some constructive work. Be sure it's constructive; some people try to work out their anger by looking around for something to break! But violence will only add fuel to your anger.
4. Calm The Nervous System
If one is very angry, one should cool the nerve endings. A good way is to take a cold shower; or to apply a piece of ice or a cold wet cloth to the openings of the body, as well as to the temples, navel, neck, armpits, soles of the feet, and palms of the hands. This helps to calm the life force in the nerves, promoting self-control.
When you feel anger or hatred toward someone, honest self-analysis often shows that the problem is from some inner frustration of your own, though you might be unwilling to face it. There is something in the mind that tries to make a scapegoat of others when we are unwilling to admit our shortcomings to ourselves. We tend to project those problems onto people or things or systems. Ask yourself, "Why do I feel anger toward this person?" If we are petty or emotionally immature we may think, "He did this to me, he made me do that, he said such-and-so to me." We find all sorts of reasons to shift responsibility away from ourselves. Then we need to introspect a little deeper: "But why did I react negatively? Why did I get upset with him? What desire of mine has been frustrated, making me angry?" With understanding brought by introspection, we can better apply the principles we have been discussing to replace resentment, irritation, and moodiness with a positive state of happiness.
Center Yourself in God to Overcome Anger and Hatred
Master said, in a letter he wrote to his students, that it is not what we suffer that helps us to grow, but remembering God as much as possible during our suffering. We take on spiritual stature this way. Practice is the key to remembering God all the time. If we can remember Him, we never get angry. We will continue to be troubled by anger until we resolve its root cause. Meditation, carrying the peace of God, prayer, affirmation— all the ways the saints teach—these are the ways to over come the habit of anger. Gyanamata had the motto "God Alone"; her whole mind was centered on God. The more one's consciousness dwells in remembrance of God, the quicker will be his progress to the permanent consciousness of Bliss.