What should I do about my anger if it is already there?

Lama Ole’s answer:

If it is anger that gradually builds up and that you can feel physically, then dig in the garden. If it is a violent temper instead, then think, “Now I’ll become like a tree trunk;” or simply imagine Karmapa above of your head, then let him fall into your heart and radiate.

If you can get so much space in mind that you can recognize the things before they come, then you can work with them. Then you are not the target; you can see everything in a beyond-personal way. Then you also know that all beings want to have happiness and avoid suffering, but they don’t know what is really happening. People can’t help it. There is no one who doesn’t want to have happiness and avoid suffering. But people are so confused that they almost always grab the nettles instead of the flowers. They believe that they can create an advantage for themselves by harming someone. But that is impossible; sooner or later the difficulties always come back on oneself. Everything is cause and effect. And if you have a connection to some difficult people, then think, “I must have done something to them previously. Now I will drop the ball, because if I throw it back, then it might come back at me in my next life. Rather, I’ll push the ball away and not pick it up. Then I won’t owe those people anything anymore. Bye-bye, good luck.” It would be smart to think this way.

The most stupid thing one can do is to take personal trips seriously, to believe they are real and thus hold on to them.

What is the difference between anger and disappointment?

Anger is the wish to harm others. Disappointment means regret that great possibilities couldn’t be used. If, for example, a great opportunity passes by or friends are not doing well, then a deep feeling of regret appears. If the missed opportunities affect oneself strongly, then one has to be careful that the feeling doesn’t degenerate into anger.

Is it true that anger is the worst of all disturbing emotions?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Anger is the biggest enemy of our development. If one is angry, one destroys everything: the joy, the good feelings—everything.

Anger is actually a confession of weakness. At least this is how we see it in Scandinavia, my home. If you become angry, you have already failed. It means you couldn’t handle the situation.

But this doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t act powerfully! Powerful action is important; but one must not be angry in the process. One can do all kinds of things as long as the motivation is to bring the least possible amount of suffering into the world. With this motivation, one can even become a soldier as a Buddhist. I would also take drastic measures if someone got in the way of a good cause; but it would be without anger. It is all about the feeling one has while doing something. A doctor who doesn’t operate on a patient because it causes pain is not a good doctor.

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.

Is it true that the actual cause of anger is ignorance?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Yes, all suffering and difficulties appear from ignorance. We don’t know what causes happiness and suffering, and so we grab the nettles instead of the flowers; we make mistakes all the time. The local religion here [Christianity] has the opinion that anger appears from evil. But Buddha says that its cause is ignorance.

Basic ignorance is mind’s inability to recognize the unity of the observer, what is observed, and the act of observing itself. In other words, subject, object, and action form a totality and condition each other. The unenlightened mind is unable to recognize this unity—just as the eye can see outwardly but cannot see itself.

If we do not recognize this unity, then everything that is happening in the space of mind fragments into an “I” and a “you.” Due to the tension between “I” and “you,” likes and dislikes appear.

More complicated emotions like pride, jealousy, and confusion appear, and one considers them real even though they change constantly. One does one thing, thinks another, and says yet a third thing. This brings results and creates habits, which then come back on oneself. So this is how ignorance becomes the cause of anger.

How does anger arise?

Answer of Lama Ole

If one is completely within the flow of things, then no anger arises. The precondition for anger is a separation in the mind: “I am here and something is happening there.”

If you don’t create this separation, then you can enjoy everything. You share a totality, everything flows. But if you start to think, “I am here and they are there,” and so on, then things get funny. From that point on, anger can develop.

Then there is also idealistic anger. It appears when one thinks that things should actually be different from how they are. I am disturbed by a few such things as well—for example, by what people in Africa or in the Islamic world are doing to each other. But if instead one has compassion and hopes that maybe those people can resolve their difficulties in the foreseeable future, then one is smart. One can transform anger into compassion. That is good and it doesn’t cost anything. Anger, on the other hand, costs a lot.

Until puberty, one experiences the continuation of one’s previous life. Starting with puberty—when the big engine of sexuality is turned on and the ego-illusion and habits become stronger—one creates one’s new life. Later on, from age sixty or so, people’s faces show what they have done with their lives—whether beneficial or harmful actions were predominant. Then it’s a pity if someone looks like three days of rainy weather. One can really see how anger and bad feelings become stronger and stronger. But someone who has many good feelings and makes good wishes for others looks really good even at the end of his or her life. It is important to be vigilant here.

What exactly is anger?

Anger is the wish to harm another being. The conditions for real anger are that

– I know you are a human being,
– I don’t like you and I want to harm you,
– I do it or have it done,
– and afterwards I am satisfied with it.

This is real anger. To blow up and make a mistake is a very ordinary reaction, but the clear intention to want to harm someone is not present.

Most people let themselves be provoked by something and then act in a thoughtless way, but not with the conscious intention to harm others.

How do you experience an unpleasant situation on the highest level — for example, if you are caught in smog and can’t breathe well?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Then I am aware of the inability to breathe for a moment and imagine how all those lead molecules find their way into my blood stream, where they go from there, and so on. Of course I try to leave the place, but it’s no tragedy.

We will all grow old, get sick, and die. The question is whether you make a problem out of it or not—here you can decide. You might also enjoy holding your breath. Instead of experiencing the breath in the throat, you experience it in the chest, and then comes pressure in the eyes. It’s possible to turn anything that happens into a party in the mind. In the same way one celebrates a beautiful lady, mind can celebrate itself.
And again, it’s about doing two things at the same time. On the one hand, one maintains the fresh moment of experiencing whatever is happening, and on the other, one considers what is worthwhile and what isn’t—how to manage to live a bit longer and to take better care of oneself.

Also remember that nobody will want to listen to you if you are caught in too many dramas and tragedies. The joyful view is better, where people say, “Ah, here there might be possibilities” and “here we can do something.” The way you act will influence people. If you can do something witty, joyful, and meaningful, then people will listen to you. You should always stay in a good mood.

If you lose the feeling of people’s buddha nature, of their potential, then you will become lonesome. Try to think instead, “OK, we made a little mistake there; maybe we can change it in this or that way,” and come in with surplus. Then you’re in a good position.

Aren’t we suppressing our disturbing feelings if we try to hold a pure view at all times?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Keeping the pure view starves out the disturbing feelings. We deliberately do not take them seriously or perceive them as real, because we know that the mirror behind the images is greater than any image could be—that the experiencer, our mind itself, is far more exciting than anything that is experienced. The experience itself is not distorted by this view; on the contrary, one sees things more as they are. One chooses only to see what is real and to draw energy away from what is not real.

So, if a disturbing feeling means a lower level of truth than a happy feeling, then you are simply smart if you direct your awareness and energy towards happiness and truth instead of giving attention to where nothing good can be expected anyway. I would say that this is not suppressing disturbing feelings, but simply being smart.