The End of Anger

In his book, The End of Suffering and The Discovery of Happiness: The Path of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama describes an approach to anger that may help us resolve the anger that keeps us from being happy and offers a way to maintain our compassion in harmful circumstances. He describes situations in which anger arises. One of these is when we are being harmed. He advises that “a way to conquer anger is to investigate the nature of the object which is actually harming us, examining whether it is harming us directly or indirectly.” He uses this example: “Suppose we are being hit with a stick; what is directly doing us harm is the stick. The root cause which harms us indirectly is not the person wielding the stick, but the anger which motivates him to hit us, so it is not the person himself with whom we should feel angry.”

It would seem that our natural anger response is designed to get the stick to stop hitting us. But we identify the cause of the pain as the person who is wielding the stick. That’s natural enough, because we see both the thing hurting us and the thing that makes it move as the causes of our pain. It takes a more sophisticated logic to see the root cause of our pain as the anger in the person who uses this stick to harm us. To make this leap, we need to be able to see people not just as things, but as changeable beings who behave as the result of inner conditions. If those conditions can change, the behavior will change. He who appears to be our enemy today could be our friend tomorrow were conditions to change.


Be mindful of the irritations you encounter. For 10 minutes or so as you go about your daily routine, just observe the times when something stimulates frustration, anger or irritation. As these occur, practice non-judgment. Notice the emotions that arise and cultivate acceptance of conditions that are not as you would prefer them. In some cases your observation may motivate you to change a condition, in others your choice may be to merely tolerate what you chose not to change or don’t have the power to change.

When you notice your anger at another person, consider whether you are responding to them as if they were a thing that is directly harming you. See if you can shift your awareness to the cause of their behavior. Are they acting out of fear, for instance? Include in your awareness the recognition that there are conditions in that person’s life that have given rise to their emotions and the behavior that flows from those emotions.

Reference: The End of Suffering and The Discovery of Happiness: The Path of Tibetan Buddhism, Dalai Lama, Hay House, 2012.

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© 2013 Tom Barrett