January 29, 2012

How can you be angry? You're a Buddhist!

This entry was written by Dolma, an Angry Asian Buddhist who works for an interfaith organization.

In an interview with Time Magazine, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was asked, “Do you ever feel angry or outraged?” His Holiness laughed as he replied, “Oh, yes, of course. I’m a human being. Generally speaking, if a human being never shows anger, then I think something’s wrong. He’s not right in the brain.” While I enjoyed His Holiness’ initially confused expression, I also appreciated his answer. Because really, it’s a silly question, especially when you consider the obstacles and difficulties that His Holiness has faced throughout his life. However, many Buddhists are asked this same question. I’m often asked, “Do you get angry?” or worse, “How can you be angry? You’re a Buddhist.”

From the looks of shock I receive, it seems like I’m confessing to some debilitating habit or addiction. But it’s simply my truth, one aspect of my humble experience. I’m an angry, South Asian, Buddhist woman. And sometimes, it isn’t easy being an angry Buddhist. It isn’t easy when someone trivialises your ability and need to be angry.

Of course any unexpected reaction is bound to be surprising. But it’s the dismissal of anger that’s insulting. The, “you’re overreacting” or “Buddhists aren’t supposed to get angry.” While it’s definitely true that the Dharma encourages us to acknowledge and then release our anger, I don’t understand the high expectations many have of Buddhists. It’s ridiculous to assume that Buddhists have a monopoly on kindness. And at the same time, does any religion promote anger? Or does any religion suggest that one should never be angry? If a Christian expressed his/her anger at the commercialisation of Christmas, I doubt a common reaction would be, “How can you be angry? That isn’t very Christ-like.” Or if a Muslim expressed frustration with Islamophobia, would anyone say, “Well, the Holy Quran states, ‘Those who spend in Allah’s Cause, in prosperity and in adversity, who repress anger, and who pardon men; verily, Allah loves.’” But many individuals, whether they have any knowledge of Buddhism or not, seem to be comfortable with hushing a Buddhist critique. A patronising “calm down,” some poorly recited Sutras, and a “Well, I’ve read Siddhartha.” That’s what we get. Fantastic.

These dismissals truly stem from Orientalist ideologies. Asians are perceived as submissive and obedient, and therefore, adherents to an Asian religion must contain themselves in a similar manner. This is where my anger truly stems from, which is why I feel disheartened when my fellow Buddhists suggest that I’m overreacting. I always welcome discussion on religion, theology and spirituality. However these situations are not respectful engagements, they’re the layering of weary prejudices that are inherently violent. They’re disrespectful to my religion, ethnic community, and to my identity as a whole. In his teachings on anger, the Buddha encouraged us to avoid harmful speech, and to apply lovingkindness where there is anger. He also said, “Speak the truth, control anger.” So, how can I get angry if I’m a Buddhist? It’s very simple. I’m a human being, I get angry sometimes. I just don’t let my anger consume me; instead, I speak my truth.

4 comments :

  1. I find that unless someone has dealt with their own anger (or grief or whatever complex emotion you want to talk about) they are afraid of and unable to handle someone else who is dealing with theirs.

    I agree that sometimes it is a perpetuation of stereotypes and therefore expressions of ignorance. I also think it's a misunderstanding of what anger and/or kindness (sometimes mistakenly linked to compassion) actually is or how it's actually expressed or talked about in Buddhist doctrine.

    I think your "anger" is awesome. Please continue to express your life with such clarity and honesty. Suzuki Roshi is quoted as saying, "When you are you...Zen is Zen." I like that, and think that when I am truly practicing, I get to be me more.

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  2. And at the same time, does any religion promote anger?

    Yeah. Some do, at least sometimes. There's a lot of nasty bits in the Bible, and have you ever tried to read the Koran? The deities in those books are not without anger management issues.

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  3. It never seems to go away, and part of this consists of the images used to market or otherwise exploit Buddhism, zen aesthetics, and meditation in general. Beautiful people (most of them glamorous and white) sitting in beautiful clothes in immaculately clean structures or pristine natural settings. It puts out a ridiculous and unrealistic image of spiritual practice and the people engaged in it.

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  4. "Asians are perceived as submissive and obedient, and therefore, adherents to an Asian religion must contain themselves in a similar manner."

    You are mistaken.

    One of the ten virtues of the karmic path (daśa-kuśala-karma-patha) is not becoming angry (vyāpāda-viramaṇa), which constitutes a precept that one undertakes. There is also extensive Buddhist literature, such as the works of Shantideva and other notable authors, that suggest anger eradicates vast amounts of merit and must thus be avoided. It is optimal to remedy one's anger as best one can rather than simmer in it or rationalize it as justified as it harms not only oneself, but others.

    Reading such literature we can indeed conclude that ideally Buddhists should never become angry, but most ideals, such as becoming an arhat or bodhisattva of great ability, is seldom ever achieved. Still, it is best to recognize our anger, confess it as a transgression and commit oneself to avoiding it in the future.

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