Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Kodhavagga: Anger

This might look like I am trying to weenie out of writing a full blog post, but when I look at the Kodhavagga, I find myself only interested in the final set of verses. So that’s all I going to write about. And what I find in those final verses are three very good reminders, three items that are at the heart of my practice. The rest of the chapter of the Dhammapada is pretty straight forward. You can read it for yourself.

“Guard against anger
erupting in body;
in body, be restrained.
Having abandoned bodily misconduct,
live conducting yourself well
in body.

Guard against anger
erupting in speech;
in speech, be restrained.
Having abandoned verbal misconduct,
live conducting yourself well
in speech.

Guard against anger
erupting in mind;
in mind, be restrained.
Having abandoned mental misconduct,
live conducting yourself well
in mind.

Those restrained in body
— the enlightened —
restrained in speech & in mind
— enlightened —
are the ones whose restraint is secure.”

What I like about these verses is that they clearly present the three ways we conduct ourselves: in body, speech and mind. My guess is that for many of us, the first two are easy. We know that we should not react with violence when anger arises, and we should not use harsh words that we will undoubtedly regret. But what about the angry mind?

When you think about it, an angry mind is where it all starts. It is certainly skillful effort to control our behavior and our speech, but the need to constantly police our behavior and speech will always be there if we have an angry mind.

I will be the first to admit that I have an angry mind. And I remain baffled as to the source of my anger. But I know it’s there. And knowing that there is this deeply planted seed of anger within me, I do my best to relax my mind through meditation. Occasionally I chant to relieve the anger. And this blogging project of mine has helped as well.

I used to work with emotionally disturbed children, some of whom had significant issues with anger control. But it was easy to understand the source of their anger. They were unwanted children, most abused either physically or emotionally or a combination of both. They were raised in a household where they faced emotional warfare every day with the people that should have been nurturing them. A social worker I worked with at the time had a neat trick for kids when they were angry. He said just give them a newspaper and tell them to slowly shred it into strips.

You just can’t believe how cathartic that simple act is, to slowly, methodically tear a newspaper into strips while you’re angry. All the negative energy goes into the task, leaving your body. It is amazing how effective it is. Another thing that I’ve tried was something my teacher told me. When I am angry, I should find a mirror and look at myself. It’s difficult to stay angry while you are looking at yourself in the mirror. I mean, when I’m angry, my face looks really stupid. It either makes me laugh at my reflection, or I feel instantly at ease because I realize my squirrel mind wants me to be angry; it is trying to do whatever it can to keep me angry.

But when I look into the mirror, my mind is disarmed.

I may not know precisely what is the root cause of my anger, although I have some ideas, but I do recognize how destructive anger can be. I don’t like being angry, and fortunately, most of my episodes of anger are like a line drawn in water: it quickly disappears.

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