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PRABUDDHA BHARATAOvercoming anger (I) | Swami Budhananda  





             OVERCOMING ANGER (I)


          Swami Budhananda




     Swami Budhananda (1917-1983), was a monk of the Ramakrishna Order. He wielded a powerful pen and spent several years spreading Vedanta in the U.S.A. The Saving Challenges of Religion, Mind and Its Control and other books authored by him have been acclaimed as valuable guides for spiritual seekers.


     In the early sixties when I was working as a preacher in New York, I found that my congregation consisted mainly of people who were pursuing careers in a competitive, affluent, materialistic society, with a religious back ground that was generally Judaeo-Christian.


     Convinced that it was futile to engage in scholarly and theory-oriented religious preaching, while dealing with a highly pragmatic congregation of modern Americans, I tried to discover a meaningful and practical method of presenting to such an audience, the lofty teachings of Vedanta which were adumbrated in a totally different kind of social milieu. In doing so, I found that I was not only trying to address the needs of my congregation; I was in fact finding a solution to my own needs as a spiritual seeker. At a certain point it dawned on me that we were on the same quest. The imperative to assimilate the wisdom of the scriptures into the stream of daily living is universal.


     Meanwhile, in the course of my personal studies I had read Swami Vivekananda's lectures on Practical Vedanta, where it is said:


     '...if a religion cannot help man wherever he may be, wherever he stands, it is not of much use; it will remain only a theory for the chosen few. Religion, to help mankind, must be ready and able to help him in whatever condition he is, in servitude or in freedom, in the depth of degradation or in the heights of purity, everywhere, equally, it should be able to come to his aid. The principles of Vedanta, or the ideal of religion, or whatever you may call it, will be fulfilled by its capacity for performing this great function.'


     I understood that religious striving is a process of actualizing one's own potential for self-transformation. Keeping this in mind I started a series of discourses on Applied Religion. These talks were always well received, whether the audience consisted of Westerners or Indians because they fulfilled an abiding need felt by all sincere and earnest spiritual aspirants.


     The small book, The Mind and its Control, which has been based on these discourses, has been translated into several Indian languages. Subsequently, I had been requested by some friends to give a talk on the subject 'How to Overcome Anger'. However, I waited until I had enough material to give a purposeful discourse on the theme. Now, with the Lord's blessings, I hope to give a series of talks to deal with the subject in detail. The theme of these discourses is not confined to religious topics and is of relevance to the followers of all spiritual traditions.








     Everyone of us, except for a rare few, has experienced that passion called 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.


     Not all those who have experienced anger are seeking to know how to overcome it - many even rationalize their anger, and would go any length to justify it, both to themselves and to others, as if the welfare of the world depended on their anger. These days it is also intellectually fashionable to speak approvingly of the 'angry generation', as if anger, which is considered destructive at the individual level, when collectivized, becomes a commendable virtue. In fact, anger has become a modern social ethos, a political weapon, a collective ploy for upsetting the status quo, and useful material for revolution - a kind of unconventional vested interest. The under-privileged sections of society, particularly their leaders, organized labour, student's unions etc., deliberately use the idiom of anger, as a strategy for action, or a keynote for bargaining: 'Do this or face the consequences.' And it would appear that it works!


     Some people also seem to consider anger to be a kind of masculine virtue and wear it as a badge of leadership--for being regarded as the boss among a-social or anti-social elements. In the underworld of criminals, refrigerated anger is a status symbol. Any time, at will, he can get it out of the ice-box and get it heated on the stove of his design:


     His nose should pant
     And his lips should curl,
     His cheeks should flame
     And his brow should furl,
     His bosom should heave
     And his heart should glow,
     And his fist be ever ready
     For a knock down blow.


     How fantastically anger is hymned! Their philosophy can be put in a nutshell in these words: 'Rage supplies all with arms. When an angry man thirsts for blood, anything will serve him as a spear.'


     In advertisements, newspapers, electronic media etc., we see anger and violence depicted in great detail. Mental food of this kind cannot but have a harmful effect on the general public. Yet there is hardly any protest against this marketing of anger as a commodity. It is necessary therefore to examine the phenomenon of anger both in its social and individual aspects, before devising strategies to overcome it.




     Anger and Its Effects




     Let us examine some definitions of anger. 'Anger is momentary madness.' Another unusual definition is: 'Anger is a mirror into which you do not venture to see your own face.' The Oxford dictionary defines anger as 'extreme displeasure'. Swami Turiyananda regarded anger as concentrated desire.

While a precise definition of anger may prove elusive, everyone more or less knows what anger is, since it is pretty ubiquitous. We meet anger at home, in the streets, offices, social gatherings, election booths, legislative assemblies, play grounds, international meets, and most frequently, within ourselves.


     Anger, oftener than not, is apt to cause more harm to oneself than to others. As anger issues out of man's own nature, it is a natural and a forceful emotion, with great destructive potential. As in every piece of wood there is hidden fire, so there is hidden anger in every human being, because of the 'Rajas' constituent of his/her nature. All are susceptible to anger - mildly, or strongly so. Anger is contagious. Words ignited by anger can cause anger in others. Soothing words are the water hydrants needed when passions are inflamed.


     The evil effects of anger are innumerable 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 becomes 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. Communal and ethnic riots, arsons, wars, suicides, murder, and many other forms of crime are basically products of anger. In fact. anger makes even a handsome person look ugly. I suggested to a friend who is remorseful about his flashes of anger, that he keep a large mirror facing his office desk. In case the anger-prone person has a lively sense of humour, this mirror-therapy is likely to work.




     Has Anger Any Bright Side also?




     However there are persons who seem to think anger to be so useful that they refuse to learn how to overcome anger. I shall illustrate this point by referring to an incident from the personal life of a friend.


     This friend had said to his wife, 'Let us go to the Mission and listen to a discourse on, "How to Overcome Anger", which is likely to be interesting.' The lady thereupon said that she did not want to learn how to overcome her anger, because her anger was the only thing their children were afraid of. She would not like to lose the only instrument with which she could discipline her children! She held the somewhat unusual point of view that anger has some utility. This view is echoed in the dictum, 'Severity is allowable where mildness is in vain.' Use of anger could have a kind of utilitarian, if not moral sanction.


     In the course of his discussion he hinted that his wife was easily roused to anger. This observation was helpful in understanding a somewhat piquant situation. Here the question to be asked is: 'Are you using your anger, or is anger using you? Is anger an efficient instrument in your hand or are you a mere tool in the hands of your 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 utilize 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.' If the mother did really know how to use her anger as deliberately, as electricity is used in a calibrated manner to heat water, it could be said that such conduct could be permissible where other measures would not work. However if she got burnt when trying to administer 'short-wave diathermy' to her children, her anger-therapy cannot do them good in the long run. The psychological implication of this statement is of profound importance for all who are inclined to apply anger-therapy on their children or on any one else.


     Certainly, all mothers, except the abnormal ones, have their children's best interests at heart. In this instance the mother was only trying to do good by using anger as a disciplinary measure. But intrinsically anger is poisonous and contagious. When the mother, herself genuinely angry, administers the blows and billows of anger on her children, the children also get angry, but are unable to react or protest effectively. Besides, discipline imposed by fear has only a marginal chance of becoming a good acquired habit, because of the coexistence of suppressed, but developing animosity in the hearts of children. The result is that their anger goes under-ground in their minds and lies in wait, manufacturing animosity of different kinds in their psyche. When this animosity will suddenly explode, as it must, one day, she, who had not learnt to overcome her anger, and is now also unable to use her wonted anger-therapy on her grown up children, would find herself to be a very unhappy and frustrated person. And, to be sure, she has herself contributed to this situation! It is to be pondered over whether or not the permanent benefit of filial love should be sacrificed for a temporary advantage.


     But the situation would be entirely different if the mother practiced anger-therapy on her children after learning how to overcome her own anger. In that case she would be only hissing like the cobra of Sri Ramakrishna's parable, and not biting. [Note: the reference is to the story of the Brahmachari and the Cobra in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna]


     How Uncalculated Use of Anger Saved a Situation: The following narrative illustrates how the use of anger saved a grave situation but burnt the person concerned grievously. This incident happened in the monastery of a religious order during Durga Puja. Worship was going on with great solemnity, in the hall where many devotees had assembled to witness the worship of the Divine Mother.


     The whole monastery was charged with a sublime atmosphere, reflected in the animated faces of the devotees. Suddenly a woman who was seated in the packed hall, being overpowered by religious fervour got up and rushed to embrace the image of Durga. In such a tense moment, when no one seemed to know how to save the image from the devoted onslaught of the lady, there appeared like the angry Asura of the Durga image, an enraged person. As one overpowered by rage, with his powerful arms he seized the lady before the wondering eyes of the vast congregation and removed her from the scene. Many monks and devotees were outraged by his harsh conduct. But, strangely and understandably enough, many heaved a sigh of relief that the image was saved from being mutilated, and thankful that the great Puja could continue unobstructed. Had the lady succeeded in embracing the image, it would have most certainly been broken, and this would have been very inauspicious. Among the thousands of well-behaved people not one lifted his little finger to save the situation. But the fierce response of the enraged person prevented a catastrophe and his conduct was viewed by many as a singular piece of service.


     However, was the use of anger in such a situation beneficial or not? There could be no doubt the man's action was based on an unqualified explosion of anger even if it was undeniable that this very reaction saved the annual Puja.


     Creative utilization of anger is impossible for a person who has not learnt how to overcome his anger.







     1. Swami Vivekananda, Complete Works, Vol. 2
     2. Cassell's Book of Quotations
     3. Gilbert & Sullivan H.M.S.Pinafore
     4. The Bhagavat Gita



     Prabuddha Bharata

     Vedanta Kesari

     Vedanta Mass Media

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015








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