By Alison Page
I think anger gets a bad rep in Buddhism and other spiritual paths.
As a practitioner, I feel a self-created pressure to always be kind to others, put the needs of others before my own, and always help out even when it is not reciprocated. This inevitably leads me to feel used and burnt out, and I end up losing touch with my own feelings and needs. Getting in touch with my anger has helped me realize when I need to assert myself and set a boundary; something has occurred that I do not feel good about, and anger is the messenger.
Anger manifests as a form of psychological protection for ourselves or others.
Often a past hurt or trauma, stemming from childhood wounding or other traumatic events, causes us to become angry when that past wound is triggered. If a friend tells us that they do not want to hang out, our fear of rejection or abandonment from past situations may be triggered and we may react with anger as a type of psychological protection. This type of anger is our responsibility to recognize and no action is necessary. We need to see that the anger stems from a wound and that the reality is that our friend is not rejecting or abandoning us. They are busy.
On the other hand, sometimes something has occurred that we do not feel good about and anger arises. Someone may have ignored a boundary we set, betrayed our trust, dismissed our thoughts of feelings, or done something to make us feel unsafe. This type of anger is important because it lets us know that we need to set a boundary to protect ourselves either within the relationship or from this person moving forward.
The Buddha talks about the importance of caring for ourselves on the spiritual path and seeing all sentient beings, ourselves included, as equally worthy of happiness, respect and love. Sometimes, caring for ourselves will mean feeling anger and setting clear and assertive boundaries in response to that anger.
Anger is not an emotion that is healthy to ignore or abandon.
We live in a world where there are dangerous people who do bad things, and we live in a world where we interact within relationships. We need to be able to protect our bodies, morals, thoughts and feelings in order to establish balanced and healthy relationships, and establishing and asserting boundaries is a necessary component of that.
Rājan Sutta: The King
Searching all directions with your awareness, you find no one dearer than yourself. In the same way, others are thickly dear to themselves. So you shouldn’t hurt others if you love yourself.
I interpret this sutra to mean that every sentient being holds their happiness and comfort in the highest regard. We all want to be happy. Once we realize this, we should never do anything to harm ourselves or another. This is an example of the “Golden Rule” of reciprocity that so many religions hold:
One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself
One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated
What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself
Chavalata Sutta: The Firebrand
Monks, these four types of individuals are to be found existing in the world. Which four? The one who practices neither for his/her own benefit nor for that of others. The one who practices for the benefit of others but not for his/her own. The one who practices for his/her own benefit but not for that of others. The one who practices for his/her own benefit and for that of others.
Just as a firebrand from a funeral pyre—burning at both ends, covered with excrement in the middle—is used as fuel neither in a village nor in the wilderness: I tell you that this is a simile for the individual who practices neither for his/her own benefit nor for that of others. The individual who practices for the benefit of others but not for his/her own is the higher and more refined of these two. The individual who practices for his/her own benefit but not for that of others is the highest and most refined of these three. The individual who practices for his/her own benefit and for that of others is, of these four, the foremost, the chief, the most outstanding, the highest, and supreme. Just as from a cow comes milk; from milk, curds; from curds, butter; from butter, ghee; from ghee, the skimmings of ghee; and of these, the skimmings of ghee are reckoned the foremost—in the same way, of these four, the individual who practices for his/her own benefit and for that of others is the foremost, the chief, the most outstanding, the highest, and supreme.
This sutra describes the four types of people and distinguishes that the most balanced and “advanced” person will practice for the benefit of themselves as well as others. We do not need to sacrifice our own feelings and needs on the spiritual path and be completely self-sacrificial. I believe it is very important to create a strong sense of internal security on the path, with the ability to connect to ourselves and be respectfully assertive towards others when necessary.
Otherwise, we will be pulled off balance and the path will become unnecessarily arduous and painful.
Alison Page lives outside of Boston, MA and is an artist and a Buddhist. She enjoys watercolor painting, writing, camping, the ocean, and being around compassionate and open-minded people. Check out her website, Creative Buddhism and also visit her Etsy shop: WaterBrushPaint.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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