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.'

Everyone, except for a rare few, has experienced anger--its fury and flames, its madness and infernal energy. Some of us continue to be permanent victims of the tragedy brought about by it.

The evil effects of anger are in numerable. The first thing that happens to an angry person is that he forgets the lessons of wisdom he has learnt in life. After that he loses control over his thoughts and emotions. He becomes over-active, with his highly charged ego as his only guide. He loses his power of discrimination, sense of proportion, and be comes aggressive in manner, hostile to his own welfare. When anger becomes the second nature of a person, physical health and equanimity of mind suffer and inner peace vanishes in a trice. Anger can destroy friendships, families, business partnerships, professional prospects.

Has Anger a Bright Side Too?
However, there are persons who seem to feel anger to be so useful that they refuse to learn how to overcome anger.

If we have not learnt how to overcome anger, we cannot use anger deliberately for any creative purpose. It is a difficult task to utilise anger masterfully and deliberately.
Aristotle says: ‘Anybody can become angry--that is easy, but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way--that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.

Seeking to Overcome Anger
Having surveyed the disastrous effects of anger, one might well ask: What type of people really seek to overcome anger?

Only those thoughtful persons, who are convinced that anger is their prime enemy, after having experienced the evil effects of anger in their inner and outer life, seek to overcome anger. Some may be theists, who regard anger as a great enemy, and are, therefore, determined to vanquish this dire foe. We shall seek counsels for overcoming anger from the authentic spiritual teachers in the East and the West.

The Universal Teacher
The most authentic and helpful teachings in regard to overcoming anger are to be found in the Bhagavad Gita. Many great spiritual teachers in India simply paraphrase some precepts of the Gita when dealing with the means by which anger can be controlled.

Sri Krishna refers to ‘krodha’ or anger in seven verses in the Gita. It will be helpful to place these together and watch what light emerges from such a juxtaposition.

When a man dwells on objects, he feels an attachment for them. Attachments give rise to desire, and desire breeds anger. From anger comes delusion; from delusion, the failure of memory; from the failure of memory, the ruin of discrimination; and from the ruin of discrimination the man perishes.

Arjuna asked: Krishna! Under what compulsion does a man commit sin in spite of himself and driven, as it were, by force?

Bhagavan said: It is desire, it is anger, which springs from rajas, Know that this is our enemy here, all-devouring and the cause of all sin.

Ostentation, arrogance, and self-conceit, anger as also harshness and ignorance--these belong to him who is born to the heritage of the demons.

Possessed of egotism, power and pride and also of lust and anger, these people, envious by nature, hate me in the bodies of others and in their own.

Three are the gateways of this hell leading to the ruin of the self--lust, anger and greed. Therefore, let man renounce these three.

Forsaking conceit and power, pride and lust, anger and possessions, tranquil in heart, and free from ego--he becomes worthy of being one with Brahman.

We have here vital knowledge about the origin, nature, and the destructive power of anger, and also by implication, the know-how of overcoming it.

Savants’ Counsel
Before we proceed to study Sri Krishna’s teachings for overcoming anger, let us have a look into some wise and homely teachings of philosophers and thinkers, savants and poets.

Sri Vidyaranya Swami, the author of the famous Vedantic manual Parachadasi, gives in his other work, Jivanmitikti-Viveka, this practical recipe for controlling anger. He says:

‘There are two types of anger; your anger on somebody and somebody’s anger on you. When you tend to get angry with others, you should address your mind and say, “My mind, if you must be angry with those who cause you harm, why don’t you then get angry with anger itself?” For, it does you greatest harm; it prevents you from attaining the cherished values of life, righteousness, wealth, pleasure and salvation. While angry, you live through hell, even before death. So, you have no enemy worse than anger.’

The meaning of this truth should be repeatedly reflected upon. You should get angry with anger itself, and this will be productive of peace and enlightenment.

‘In the case of others getting angry with you, you should never think: “I have done no wrong. Then why do these people get angry with me, who am so innocent.” You are really not innocent. For, is it not a great offence that you have so far failed to get rid of the bondage of life and death, and attain illumination? The attainment of illumination alone makes for true innocence. So, until you have attained illumination, how could you consider yourself to be innocent?

‘Another way of avoiding be provoked by others’ anger towards us is to regard those who get angry with us as our benefactors and be thankful to them for their services, for, by getting angry with us they reveal to us our faults and thus strengthen our non-attachment. For rendering this service to us they even sacrifice their own peace of mind. And for this we should be all the more grateful to them.’

Sri Krishna’s Teachings
In Sri Krishna’s teachings we have a complete system for overcoming anger, as it is based on a sound psychology and includes disciplines which all can practise whatever be one’s religious denomination. He says: Know that this is our enemy here, all-devouring and cause of all sin.

One of the traits of delusion and ignorance is that we tend to take an enemy for a friend and a friend for an enemy. So, Sri Krishna instructs us to mark out anger as a direct enemy and treat it as such. Otherwise anger overcomes us with the aid of our willing and liberal help.

As we always get angry at any pretext, anger has become our friend by familiarity or association. Whenever we come under the power of anger we become deluded. Whatever we do in delusion will hurt us today or tomorrow. Delusion affects thinking, distorting memory, and we forget the important lessons of life we may have already learnt. Then we act like an ignorant person driven by viparita bhavana understanding.

Forgetting the lessons of wisdom, we are deprived of the saving services of our own intellect and rush to do things in a manner harmful to ourselves. Anger thus becomes an effective internal saboteur.

It is also noteworthy that in the Gita Sri Krishna utters in the same breath Kama-Krodha-Lobha desire, anger and greed, as three gates to hell. These emotions are psychologically inter-linked, originating as they do from rajas. Again he says: ‘It is desire, it is anger, born of the energy or rajas, all- devouring, all sinful, that you must know as your foe here.’

Control of Passion
We have an interesting incident in the life of Sri Chaitanya with regard to the control of the passions:

‘When Sri Chaitanya went to Keshava Bharati for initiation into sannyasa, the latter remarked, “You are in the bloom of youth and so surprisingly handsome. Who will be bold enough to initiate you into sannyasa?”

Sri Chaitanya replied, “Sir, you usually examine an aspirant before initiating him into sannyasa. If you find me qualified, you may naturally feel inclined to initiate me also. So please examine and see if I am fit for it.”

Bharati said to Chaitanya, “Put out your tongue.” On the disciple’s protruded tongue he put some sugar. The sugar remained there as it was, dry, without being moistened in the least, and was then scattered by the wind and was blown out. There was then no need to examine the passions of lust.’

In Srimad Bhagavatam it is taught: ‘When the hankering of palate is controlled, everything else is controlled.’ Proceeding further Swami Turiyananda counselled:

Throughout the Gita there is repeated mention of this: ‘Therefore, O best of Bharatas! Control the senses first, and thereby kill the sinful propensity to desire, which destroys one’s Knowledge and Realisation.’

‘Control of the senses is not to be brought about by violent efforts. Only by realising him, it is perfectly achieved. But at first one must struggle for the end.’

Wanted--a Package Deal
From the above counsels it is clear that we cannot overcome anger in isolation from desire, greed, etc. Using a modern phrase ‘a package deal’ is necessary. The task of overcoming anger is handled effectively when we have taken up the challenges of overcoming the other passions. It might be thought that we started with one problem on hand--how to overcome anger--but now we are asked to solve more.

Gita View of Man’s Nature
By acquiring a clear grasp of the functioning of the gunas as manifested in human nature, we can have a comprehensive solution to the problem on hand. The passions originate in rajas, which is one of the three-fold aspects of our psycho-physical nature. The teachings of the 14th Chapter of the Gita dealing with this subject in detail may be summarised as follows:

Created beings are produced from the union of Purusha and Prakriti by the power of the Lord. This activity of the Lord is continuous inasmuch as he is both the origin and the indwelling soul of every being on earth. The soul or spirit (Purusha) becomes entangled in the world by its contact with the body, or matter--Purusha denotes consciousness, and Prakriti, nature or matter, which is dull and insentient.

Prakriti consists of three guna -- sattva, rajas, and tamas. Rajas, denoting restlessness, is the active principle of Nature; tamas is the principle of inertia; sattva denotes calmness, serenity and harmony. Samsara or relativity is the realm of the gunas. Freedom is beyond them. Though in everyone’s nature the three gunas are present, one guna prevails over the other two and sets the predominant tone of a particular nature, as signified by such terms as, a calm person, a restless person etc. Sri Krishna teaches further:

Sattva asserts itself by prevailing over rajas and tamas, rajas (asserts itself) by prevailing over sattva and tamas, and tamas (asserts itself) by prevailing over sattva and rajas.

When the light of knowledge shines through all the gateways of the body, then it may be known that sattva has prevailed.

Greed, activity enterprise, unrest, longing-these arise, when rajas prevails.

Darkness, indolence, inadvertence, and delusion--these arise when tamas prevails.