By Swami Veda Bharati
The Indian approach to anger management is to cultivate its opposite tendency until we conquer the harmful disposition.
The concept of the ethics of emotions we talked about last month is not new. It has been a part of all traditional cultures including, quite emphatically, the western culture. No prophet, no philosopher, has ever espoused anger as a permissible trait to cultivate. The second half of the 20th century is an aberration and there are already voices challenging its arguments justifying human weaknesses as mere existential phenomena. That existentialist path is self-defeating; the path of the saints leads to conquest, a Jina (as in the tradition of the Jainas, the followers of the Jinas who are the true conquerors).
Gregory the Great in the 6th century A.D., listed anger among the seven deadly sins to be conquered. In our own times, the Oxford University Press has published a series of books on the same seven deadly sins. The one on anger, called Anger, is by Robert A. F. Thurman, and may be helpful as it supports the arguments presented by Manu, Gita, Patanjali, Vyasa, Buddha, Mahavira, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Shantideva, Gandhi and the present Dalai Lama.
We have spoken above about the poisons, the stress hormones that anger generates. The angry are more prone to heart attacks than others. There are cases of people who have died in an intense fit of anger. The angry have shorter life spans. Why would we wish to poison ourselves? Why would we wish to shorten our life spans? Why not learn the art of using one’s volition to choose the most creative emotions rather than destructive ones?
It is simply a matter of retraining oneself. The re-training goes in these steps:
Self-Observation: Noticing one’s thoughts and moods. Catching the fact, ‘I am now getting angry’, ‘I am at the verge of losing control’. Recognizing it and making sure not to deny it.
Affirmation: ‘I am a conscious, self-aware being with freedom of will; I cannot be enslaved by emotions that are destructive and harmful to me and to others. Let me choose volitionally the reaction I need at this time.’
Analysis – Internal: ‘I see this anger rising in me. Is it helpful to my health and well being and to that of others? No. From what I have read and understood, it can be very harmful. I had better abandon it and choose a different reaction that would be creative, positive, helpful, beneficial and benevolent.’
Analysis – External: ‘I know I am upset by this person’s attitude. I came to this shop to buy something and the salesperson has been rude. No doubt about it. How should I react? Let me try and understand. Is she/he perhaps very tired? Did she/he leave a sick child home and is worried but cannot talk to strangers about it? Has she/he suffered some loss or demotion lately? Is she/he ill but still needing to remain on the job? I am a spiritual person. Spirituality teaches me to be kind and helpful. Let me give her a smile, and speak even more softly than I did.’
Conclusion: ‘Ah, it worked. The person smiled back and chose to speak softly to me. My effort at self-regulation was successful; my spiritual aspiration is not a failure. I must try this again and again, till this kind of volitional choosing of creative emotions becomes my normal pattern and people congratulate me on having become a ‘saumya’ person. This is the way to enlightenment and liberation I would like to follow.’
Prayer: For those who believe, it is an additional self-empowerment. ‘May God and my gurus help me in the path I have now chosen.’
This kind of technique is called prati-paksha-bhavana (cultivating opposite of the negative emotion) by Patanjali (YS. 2.33). This series of techniques applies to all destructive emotions and leads one to a state of mind that is hitam, beneficial to others and sukham, easeful, pleasant and comfortable to oneself.
Coupled with the daily practice of meditation, these methods make life a series of happy events for oneself and for those one loves or comes into contact with.
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