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.