In Buddhist teachings, anger is most often metaphorically compared to either an “out of control forest fire” or a “rampaging elephant.” Why these two? Simply because anger reacts and destroys quickly; we often don’t have time to control it — it tends to explode destructively outwards: angry words that hurt, angry fists that bruise, angry weapons that kill, angry actions that destroy relationships, angry reactions that destroy business deals.
It is worth remembering the story of Buddha calming the “rampaging elephant” with a simple gesture and a peaceful demeanor. With practice, the quiet, patient mind can overcome the destructive flash of anger.
Five Ways to End Anger
Although Sutras discuss solutions to anger in great detail (see three full sutras below), the recommendations of the Buddha can be thought of as these five, led by mindfulness, which is chief among all anger-management solutions:
- meditate mindfully in the present moment, observing anger but not participating in it (Even psychotherapists use mindfulness to help patients manage anger.)
- be attentive to the kindness of others, and overlook their unkindness
- practice metta kindness and compassion for all beings, putting your enemies first in your meditations
- use wisdom (and patience, a form of wisdom): analyze anger meditatively, understand its cause and effect; approach problems with patience — with time, anger fades
- “substitution” method: substitute something positive for the negative. In other words, if a person’s action angers you, analyze the person to find the positives you can focus on. (For example, a police chief angers a community because of a “no leeway” rule on traffic tickets; but if you analyze the police chief you see that your community has the lowest crime rate in the area.) In Tantric practice, substitution becomes “conversion” where afflictive emotions are converted into positive action and practice. (Classically, Yamantaka wrathful deity meditation for anger.)