How can we deal with anger in the Diamond Way?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Many people have difficulties with anger and other disturbing emotions. There are three basic types of people: mostly confused, mostly angry, and mostly greedy. One can work with all three types on three different levels.

In the case of anger, on the outer level we can try to turn anger into compassion. We can wish others happiness, especially when we see that they experience many things that cause them difficulties. On the inner level, one works with meditation. Here we invest a lot of time in the building-up phase of meditation; and the melting phase—in which the Buddha dissolves into light and melts into us—we keep very short. On the third level of the Diamond Way (Mahamudra for us or Maha Ati for the Nyingmas), one doesn’t put any more energy into the emotion. One can let anger in like a thief entering an empty house. He can run around, look into the drawers and under the carpet, but he’ll find that everything is empty. He doesn’t get any energy. And then when he disappears, he won’t come back again so easily. One can also think of the song about Lili Marleen: “Everything passes, everything will be over sometime.”

If you look at the cause and the effect of anger, then you can see that neither bearing it in silence nor playing it out can help you deal with it better. Only when you are no longer angry should you act. Anger is confused; you make many mistakes while you are angry. You act as if you were under the influence of alcohol: you have red eyes, say strange things, and break things with your hands. You can’t drive a car well and you can injure yourself easily. Adrenaline poisoning is exactly the same. Without anger you can act much better in any situation, and you also get to the root of an issue better.

You have to know that anger is not our friend. Anger might give warmth, but it is like burning our money instead of coal or oil. Within a very short time, anger burns up a lot of good impressions that have accumulated in the mind. It burns all the joy out of you, which could have led to more development otherwise. As soon as you have identified anger as an enemy, you have to catch it and defeat it.

Anger is a real weakness. It gives us a perceived feeling of strength, but in reality it harms us. When one is certain of this and really has realized, “Anger is not my friend, it doesn’t help me, it only harms me,” then one can remove this feeling. For this kind of work, there is a method with three levels:

  1. Give less food to the tiger to keep it from getting too loud. Anger only lives from the energy you put into it. Watch out for the situations where it always throws you into the water.
  2. Check closely how the tiger functions, how it paces back and forth baring its teeth and rolling its eyes. Observe precisely how it works, how the emotion is.
  3. Then ride the tiger. Once you know it well, use its power as raw energy for all the tasks in front of your nose.

1st level: Avoid.

As long as you don’t feel very strong, I advise avoiding situations that come too close to you and where you don’t have any control. This is better than embarrassing yourself in front of your friends or destroying friendships. It is not cowardly to get out of the way of difficulties and trouble if you know that you usually become very angry in such situations. It is better to take a walk in the fresh air; that’s much healthier. Normally, we cannot avoid anger very easily, because the reason we become angry is actually that we have difficulties ourselves. If we don’t have anger, then it cannot be triggered. But if we have the vibration of this feeling within ourselves, then it can be activated. So that you don’t have to avoid such situations all the time, you can learn to attain inner distance. This is how to become stronger and able to do more on the 2nd level.

2nd level: Develop compassion.

If you always finds yourself in situations where anger arises again and again, then you can turn the negativity around and transform anger into compassion.

To get some inner distance, you can make clear to yourself, “The anger wasn’t there before, it won’t be there later, and if I respond to it now there will only be suffering.” Or one builds up a protective barrier by experiencing the situation as if in a dream. This means just observing everything as if it were a movie. Observe each scene and use the salami technique—cutting them into individual sequences. With this technique you will become able to act where you otherwise might have stiffened up or done something illogical. For example, in a situation where someone is approaching you with a knife, or if someone is always talking badly about you, then you can transform your reaction into compassion. You can think, “People have so many difficulties; they need me as a scapegoat because they have a real problem themselves. And they have to endure themselves twenty-four hours a day, while I only have to spend ten minutes with them.”

3rd level: Transform anger into mirror-like wisdom.

You are angry, but you don’t act on it. You observe how the anger appears in the space of mind and how it dissolves again. You might think of throwing a few cups of coffee into the other’s face or slamming the door. But you don’t do it. You just sit there—like a tree trunk, as the Tibetans say—and you see how the feeling dissolves again. You perceive that feelings come, change, and leave again. You are aware of what’s there, but you don’t hit anyone and you don’t yell or reach for your gun. Instead you just sit there and observe how it passes by.

The disturbing emotions awaken your interest more and more rarely, until one day they just stay away. You experience anger like a bad program on TV: you don’t have to watch it or take it seriously. Then the anger leaves, like waves that come and go in the ocean. And when the wave, the emotion, later returns to the mind, it has changed. Suddenly you have experiences of complete clarity, of real insight and total understanding. Such experiences of beyond-personal, fully clear, mirror-like states will appear ever more powerfully until you are able to hold this state of wisdom.

This is the transformation of anger. It is called “mirror-like wisdom” and it appears within everyone who is able to let their emotions dissolve back into space. This creates a domino effect: transformed anger brings down pride, pushes over attachment, removes jealousy, and finally it even dissolves ignorance. And then everything is wisdom.

4th additional step: Learn to use the energies.

If you have pacified the disturbing emotion with the hundred-syllable purification mantra or through compassion, then you have regained control; you can’t explode anymore. The moment after the biggest wave has passed by—when the energy itself is still there but unable to seduce you into doing something negative—then you can use it for things that have to be done anyway. When you recognize your anger, pride, jealousy, and so on, then wash the car, clean the toilet, tidy up the house, dig in the garden, take care of your thirty phone calls and fifty letters.

It also doesn’t make sense to turn feelings into dramas, to work them out by doing something like beating a pillow while imagining beating someone up. Mind is truly a creature of habit—it becomes what we put into it. If we play out our anger, we’ll see that the next chance it gets it will come back with even more force. And after a while, all our friends are suddenly gone because no one likes angry people. Anger creates bad vibrations. Don’t give any power to it; don’t think about it. Rather push it into a corner until it dies by itself, and do something useful instead!

Disturbing emotions are like clouds that pass in front of the sun. Treating them like waves in the water that come and go, one doesn’t have to take them seriously; but the water in them can be very useful. Actually, in Buddhism our view of disturbing emotions is very different from that of other religions. In the Diamond Way, we see all disturbing emotions as raw material for enlightenment.