For my social psychology class I recently had to keep an anger journal for a 48 period. I was to note every occurrence of anger cropping up in my mind, state the time, location, source of anger, intensity from 0 to 10, and then my general thoughts on the mental factors which went into the anger’s manifestation. The second part of the assignment was a reflection on the whole experience, which I realized part-way through would be worth putting up here for people to possibly take something from it.
Now what did this experiential observation project reveal to me about my general habits of anger and patience? It was clear that my practices of mind-training to overcome anger have been very effective, but I still have work to do. Under certain circumstances, my patience was greatly reduced:
a) Tiredness, fuzziness of mind, non-clarity or non-lucidity resulting from lack of sleep was most often the primary, or the only contributor to my frustration, anger, or overall lack of patience.
b) Stress plays a big part. I don’t feel stress very often, but when I do, it’s much easier for anger to arise in my mind.
c) When my concentration is interrupted, especially given the presence of the former two factors, I will usually feel anger.
d) The only real noticeable thing that isn’t so dependent upon stress or tiredness which contributed to my frustratable mind was discussing subject matters which i generally am displeased about or are overall uncomfortable with (past relationships, politics, the education system, intolerant or closed-minded individuals, etc.), which actually could be considered a form of stress, since stress and general discomfort towards something that you are faced with go so hand-in-hand that they might as well be separate only semantically.
Outside of these four things i can’t really think of any things which ever cause me to become angry or frustrated. And nothing ever fills me with the desire to hurt someone physically or emotionally in any way; that impulse I have thankfully removed all traces of from my mind. So I’d say I’m doing well in regards to the paramita of patience.
Definition of Essential Terms
What is a paramita, you may ask? Well it means perfection, and there are 6 according to standard Buddhist philosophy. They are to be mastered in order from beginning to end, with a firm devotional compassion that is rooted in an unlimited soteriology called bodhichitta as the prerequisite. From there you master in order: generosity, moral ethics, patience, perseverance/zeal, meditation/concentration, and wisdom (regarding the ultimate nature of reality). The focus here is the 3rd paramita, patience, which is considered in relation to the three poisons (the sources of all human suffering), ignorance, desire, and aversion. The patience of aversion is what most Buddhist teachings and literature about patience look at, and it’s what the focus will be even more precisely aimed at here.
Bearing this understanding of patience in mind, appropriately we should consider what a patient mind is. One of the premier Tibetan Buddhist scholars and monastics today, Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche describes the patient mind, in the Buddhist sense, as “a mind free from rage, resentment, and harmful thoughts, a mind that is not disturbed by other’s criticism and does not blame others in anger.” Now we’ve got something to work with.
What should one do when in a situation where anger may arise, or when it begins to arise? Be firmly aware of the fact that the aggregate components that make a personality, like one’s actions, are not really the essence of the person themselves. Anger towards actions is often justifiable, but anger or hatred towards an individual is not. Anger is never righteous. Whether we have sufficient reason to be angry or not we shouldn’t let the anger arise in our minds because it disturbs the peace and clarity of the mind which is otherwise innately present. Hatefulness abounds in beings everywhere that beings exist, and obstacles to peace are equally as ubiquitous. The parable often used is of the world being covered in thorns: either you can blanket the world with leather to protect your feet anywhere you go, or you can just put leather on your feet, and it will have the exact same effect. In this way, Khenchen Rinpoche explains, we must master our minds if we are to be free of the mental suffering which stems from anger and hatred.
Rather than blame the individual or thing causing your suffering or frustration, contemplate that the situation has been brought about by you in some way – not by them. Perhaps you wronged them in the past in a similar manner; perhaps the thing causing them anger is a very legitimate indicator of an area of yours that needs more awareness and practice; or perhaps the thing frustrating you is only doing so from your own ignorance or lack of awareness (e.g. you stub your toe because you weren’t mindful enough of your surroundings, you forget to fulfill a promise or obligation to someone and they get very angry at you for it). Thus, you should accept the disfavorable condition as it is, and try to grow from it by making the firm decision to better yourself in such ways that the disfavorable occurance does not arise in the future.
Next you should move your focus beyond yourself by trying to generate very firm compassion (preferably during or just after the experience of anger or frustration) towards all the people and other sentient beings out there who are experiencing equal or greater obstacles of this nature. This mantra or prayer can accompany your practice of patience to further solidify the mind-training: “By this practice of patience, may all sentient beings experience joy and happiness, and be free from suffering.”
So if we look at these things as a whole, the means to prevent anger from arising in your mind is quite simple. First, maintain your awareness of things as much as possible. Second, always try to maintain your reason, and use that reason to recall that the suffering stems from you, not the situation you’re in (The situation is not imbued ontologically with a certain amount of suffering that your mind is absorbing or sensing. Your mind creates the suffering in itself, and then projects that onto the phenomenological experience.) Lastly, bring to mind anger’s opposite, which is compassion; then from this compassion any leftover anger will naturally dissipate, and you will be left again with a tranquil mind. Implementing these three steps should ensure that one develops a mind free from the great spiritual and psychological obstacle of anger.
I really hope I can implement this better in my own life in the near future.