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The fire of anger

The fire of anger

A Crown Ornament for the Wise, a hymn to Tara composed by the First Dalai Lama, requests protection from the eight dangers. These talks were given after the White Tara Winter Retreat at Sravasti Abbey in 2011.

The Eight Dangers 03: The fire of anger (download)

We finished, we’re done with conceit, right? Now we’re on to anger. The fire of anger. The first Dalai Lama says:

Driven by the wind of inappropriate attention,
Billowing forth swirling smoke-clouds of misconduct,
It has the power to burn down great forests of goodness:
The fire of anger—please protect us from this danger!

Driven by the wind of inappropriate attention. Inappropriate attention is one mental factor that comes up that pays attention to objects in an inappropriate way. So in the teachings on the four establishments of mindfulness, those four distortions—seeing impermanent things as permanent and so on—those are all factors of inappropriate attention. The mind that makes stories out of everything, and misconstrues things, and thinks everything is revolving around me—interprets everything that way… That’s all inappropriate attention.

That is like the wind that fans the fire. Because if we didn’t have inappropriate attention we wouldn’t get angry. But it’s because the mind looks at something in a distorted way—interprets it in an incorrect way, makes a story about it that doesn’t exist at all—that causes the anger to arise. And then the anger causes the misconduct.

“Driven by the wind of inappropriate attention, billowing forth swirling smoke clouds of misconduct.” The anger billows forth that. And we can see that in our lives, can’t we? I mean, when we remember about times we got angry? Probably some of the biggest regrets we have in our lives—what we said and did under the influence of anger. So anger doesn’t really benefit us, does it?

This is how screwy the mind is and how inappropriate the attention is. We think the anger is our friend and will get our needs met. We’re not quite sure what our needs are, but never mind, the other person should be clairvoyant and know them. Okay? And then if they don’t, then if we get angry at them then they should definitely feel bad and awful. That’s the way we’re thinking. If they feel so hurt and so bad because of what they did to me, then they’ll change their behavior.

Now, how many times in our lives has that strategy worked? [laughter] Zero. Because first of all if we do succeed in making somebody feel guilty and bad they may kind of do what we want but not with their heart in it and they’re certainly going to try and retaliate afterwards. And if we don’t succeed in making them feel guilty and bad then they’re just going to get angry and they’ll retaliate immediately. Why wait? And so then the situation that we were angry about just gets inflamed.

Very often a situation of anger starts out over one topic, one small thing, and then it ceases to be about that thing and it starts to be about the way the people communicate. Or rather, the way they don’t communicate. So often people are fighting—one person may still be on this, somebody else has gone on to the way they’re communicating, then sometimes it may be a third issue after that… Because once we paint somebody negative, everything they do—including saying “good morning”—is bad, and we get upset about it.

We’ll continue with this one. Unfortunately… [laughter] But something to be aware of.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.