I have recently begun to think about the power of anger and hatred — not so much because of what’s going on in the world, but because of my own effort to understand the intolerance that I have held for many years toward people who hate on the basis of sexual orientation, religious or social issues. In the past, I have actually told people that I couldn’t tolerate those who are intolerant!
Thanks in part to my own reflection and to a book I received for my birthday, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s “Healing Anger: The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective,” I have come to understand just how destructive the emotions of anger and hatred are, not only to myself, but to those around me and the wider world. In fact, Shantideva, an Indian Buddhist scholar from the 8th century, said in his Bodhicaryavatara (A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way Of Life) that one single moment of anger can wipe out lifetimes of merit. That is because a person has no way of knowing how their anger — be it through harsh words, and obscene gesture while sitting in traffic or even an quick glance of impatience in the grocery check-out line — will go beyond that moment and affect other people. Just as a single act of kindness can ripple out beyond a specific moment and affect numerous people, so, too, can one moment of anger or impatience.
For those seeking a higher understanding of anger — including those who want ways to deal with and dispel their own afflictive emotions of anger or hatred — I can not recommend His Holiness’ book enough, be you Buddhist or otherwise. Along with Shantideva’s Guide, they have enabled me to take the first real, tangible step in nearly 20 years toward letting go of my own anger and instead turning those feelings into compassion for the benefit of all.