Anger vs Angry

Of the teachings in Usui san's precepts, one has been more challenging for me, and that is the precept on anger.

Looking back at my growing years, I can see the streak of temper that has surfaced now and then since childhood.  What would cause an explosion of that temper, for me, would be some experience where I was judging someone or some situation as being unfair, irrational, or stupid.  I guess one can say that it has been a part of "my personality".

The targets of these temper explosions could be anyone, but often it was always the dear ones, the ones that really mattered in my life.  In contemplative moments, through the years, on the one hand, I'd feel guilty or ashamed for these transgressions, and on the other hand, I'd try to justify the same as something necessary to "correct them" for their own good!

Enter Reiki in 2001 into my life.  The first version of Usui san's precepts I had encountered, had the English translation of the precept on anger something like "Do not be angry", or in an affirmation form as "I will not be angry".  I interpreted it as "do not get angry" or "do not become angry". In those early days of learning Reiki, I tried to incorporate this, but with little success.  The rational mind in me would periodically lash out at this precept -- "Well!  If I could achieve not being angry, I'd already be a saint and not need these precepts!  So, what is the point of telling me not be angry, without telling me how not to be angry?"  Hands-on healing, as I learned with Western / Modern Reiki then, helped a bit. I knew of nothing else in the system of Reiki that could be used to help with this, back then.

Through the journey till today (2014), the temper explosions have softened.  There is now a witnessing that accompanies such an incident, watching dispassionately the flow of the temper explosion through me.  But the fact remains that I still run into these situations that trigger this type of angry reaction in me.  In a weak moment, this aspect of me can easily draw a nasty, harsh self judgment in me too!  Usui san also reminds us of the need to "Show compassion to yourself", and remembering that allows me to let go of this cycle of being angry, criticizing myself and feeling like crap afterwards.

It was clear to me that I didn't entirely grasp this whole anger thing.  What is anger?  Can one ever really be in a state in this human form, where they don't get angry, at least momentarily?

Real masters have a way of piercing the veils of illusion, ignorance, and more, with their words, with their actions, or with just their mere presence. I was recently reading the book "Your Life Is Your Message", by Eknath Easwaran, one of the great spiritual teachers in the 1900s, who taught the practice of meditation to thousands, and inspired them with his wonderful writing.  This passage popped out, speaking to me, as it were.

Anger is not one thought but a large number of angry thoughts - "I hate her, I hate her, drop dead, drop dead" - repeated a hundred times until they look like one long, sinister crocodile.
~  Eknath Easwaran

Aha!  Anger is a large number of angry thoughts!

Here are Usui san's precepts, as translated into English and shared by Frans and Bronwen Stiene  through their courses and materials:

Do not anger
Do not worry
Be humble
Be honest
Show compassion to yourself and others

Notice, Usui san says  "Do not anger".  

In the original precepts of Usui san, as shared in the IHReiki course materials, we see the following:

Do not bear ANGER
For anger is illusion

Here again, notice, Usui san says "Do not bear ANGER". To me, this is very different than saying "Do not be angry".  

Angry thoughts might come and go, like storm clouds that gather suddenly, dumping some rain and disappearing just as suddenly.  For sure, these are annoying to anyone who has experienced their destructive power on self and others, but they don't necessarily cloud our judgment in a lasting way.

Bearing anger, i.e. having a large number of angry thoughts come back to back, this is a matter of concern.  Like the monsoon in regions like India, bearing anger is stormy weather can last for days, weeks or even months, and can cripple our ability to navigate life in a sane way, and can drive us into harsh action whose destructive effects can last even longer.

In our path to realizing our true nature, bearing anger will definitely keep us bound in our drama, our story, and that bondage will make the journey of self discovery more complex.  This is why, I believe, Usui san beseeches us not to "bear anger", and didn't set the bar to the seemingly unachievable height of "do not be angry".

If that makes sense, then the next logical question follows, "How can I stop bearing anger?"

In the same book passage that I cite above, Easwaran goes on to say this:
As long as your thinking is speeded up, there is no way to escape from this crocodile.  So what you try to do through meditation and repeating the mantram is to slow down your thoughts until you begin to see the light between one "drop dead" and the next - just a little beam of light. Seeing this space between your thoughts is the first step towards realizing that you don't have to be anger's plaything.

(Note: The "Mantram" that Easwaran refers to is also known as "Mantra".)

There's the clue to stop bearing anger. Meditate. Use mantra chanting.  That  makes a ton of sense to me, and from my experience, I've gained much from following this wisdom.

Usui san has given us the tools needed in the system of Reiki to stop bearing anger.  For meditation, among the many tools that Usui san gives us, there is the foundational meditation - Joshin Kokyu Ho - i.e. the method of focusing the mind on one thing with breath.  For mantra chanting, among the tools that Usui san gives us is the mantra associated with the first symbol (i.e. CKR), a tool, the practice of which enables us to be very grounded in our life experiences.

To summarize, as I see it, "Do not bear anger" and "Do not be angry" are very different things, and Usui san tells us that part of the secret of many blessings, is not bearing anger.  Meditation and chanting are practices that can help slow down the chain of angry thoughts that make up anger, and let  the light shine between those thoughts.   And, Usui san has given us powerful meditation and chanting tools in the system of Reiki to work with, so we can stop bearing anger.

So what is left?  Our diligent practice!  Yes, it always comes back to this, doesn't it? Dang! No shortcuts there :-)

Am I splitting hairs here, or does this make sense?  Would love to hear your thoughts as always in the comments below.

Sundar Kadayam is a Shinpiden graduate of the International House of Reiki.


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  1. by Elly on October 01, 2014 at 01:04 am

    Hi Sundar! I am so delighted that you, too, read and cherish Sri Eknath Easwaran’s writings! I often quote him on The Reiki Blog, and think that all those on the spiritual path should at least read his book “Words to Live By.” I agree that controlling anger is one of the hardest Precepts, since controlling anger essentially equates to controlling ego. When every least thing brings out a flash of anger (“I told you ten times that if you put that jar there someone would break it, and now look what you’ve done!” “Why did you finish the milk and not tell me so I could get a new carton?!”), you can look at it two ways: As another failure, or another opportunity to do better. As Sri Eknath says, if you can push a little sliver of self-awareness between yourself and your anger, you can see what’s happening and stop it. I agree that not getting angry (allowing anger to arise) and not bearing anger (holding on to it once it’s arisen) are two different things, but I think they’re both worthwhile things. I believe Usui Founder gave us “Just for today, don’t get angry” as an inspiration, an aspiration: Just try, try not to let anger arise, this moment, this second. As with all the Precepts, the “Just for today” is the key to help us fallible humans stay on the path. However often we find ourselves straying (“That damned cat just threw up on the carpet again!”), we can return with “Just for today…”

  2. by Sundar on October 01, 2014 at 04:28 am

    Hi Elly, thanks for sharing your insights on bearing anger vs getting angry.  Yes, as you point out, “just for today ...” is the key to letting go and returning to the moment. 

    I’ve also noticed one more thing - if I try to wrestle a burst of anger into submission, it may temporarily disappear, but has only gone within, into hiding, only to surface later again.  Instead, if I notice, without judgment, that very same burst of anger, and let it pass, let it go, it seems to be gone never to return.  Not easy to do, but works great.  That, I think has to do with resistance - resistance is something that naturally arises when we don’t like something happening, and we use our will and push against it - when this occurs, the problem persists to return at another time!  This has made me wonder about whether we should fight and attempt to control something like anger, or approach it another way and observe the arising of anger without judgment and let it go.  Your thoughts?

    I find that Eknath Easwaran’s books are gems.  I only have a few of his books, but every one of them has helped me greatly in my journey.  I’ll follow you in recommending his books to practitioners - the clarity and simplicity of his sharing is invaluable.  Thanks again!

  3. by Russell on October 01, 2014 at 04:39 pm

    Great article, Sundar. I can see the great chasm between being angry and bearing anger for the first time. Anger is certainly something I struggle with and I appreciate your wise words.

  4. by Sundar on October 02, 2014 at 02:14 pm

    Russel, thanks for those kind words.  I find that many practitioner friends glide along with anger not being any sort of issue for them.  Not for me though.  This is a tough one, and has taken a long, long time to soften for me.  The practice has definitely helped with the softening and erosion of anger.  Wish you the strength and courage and commitment in your practice to be able to be free of it one day.

  5. by Elly on October 02, 2014 at 09:01 pm

    I totally agree, Sundar. Fighting something implies that there’s an “I” who’s fighting and an enemy, an “other,” who’s being fought. I always cringe when I see ads or articles where someone proclaims that they’ll “beat” or have beaten some dreadful disease, only to see it recur, more virulent than ever. The only thing we can “beat” is our sense of self, of separation from the All. Rather than taking on something like anger or worry, we can simply observe that it is there: “Ah, there’s that old ghost anger (or worry, or envy, or frustration, or vanity, or whatever, even fear and pain). Where are you going today? Shall we share the road for a little while? Do you have anything to teach me before we go our separate ways?” Recognizing the negative emotion, then letting go of it rather than clinging to it as an identity marker, letting it go its way while you go yours, is the best way to handle it, I think. It not only weakens the attachment to patterned responses, but frees us up to use our precious time as we wish rather than endlessly circling the drain.

  6. by Sundar on October 02, 2014 at 11:10 pm

    Elly, that was beautiful as it was helpful. Thanks.  In modern living, particularly so, we are tuned to continue to live off the fight vs flight approach, it seems to me.  This may be why so much emphasis on fighting this or that, so much use of the war metaphor as in wsr against this or that. And, with that approach also seems to come fear as part of the package. Evolutionarily, fight vs flight was a survival mechanism, but it is one that uses so little of the higher order faculties in our brain. A really more evolved way to approach experiences in modern life may be more along the lines of what you suggest. That could cut the vicious cycle of anger and fear in time, it seems to me.

  7. by Lynn Pearen on October 04, 2014 at 12:46 am

    Thank you Sundar and Elly for your dialogue on anger. Like you Sundar I have always had a quick temper and like you Elly I realize it surfaces when things do not go the way I expect them to-of course the key word here being (I) - my ego.
    To see anger as a sequence of thoughts rather than as a single event is so helpful. I will indeed attempt to insert light into the sequence.
    Usui san’s precepts are so profound. I attempt to live by them day by day, and feel I have failed when my anger arises. That failing is failure to progress on my path to enlightenment.

  8. by seema on October 04, 2014 at 01:52 am

    Thanks Sundar and Elly ,
    for insights on anger vs “angry”

    Recently I have realized I think there is no “failiure”, When we think we failed it is in a way our “I” which comes back to us saying ” you failed, you are no good etc. etc.”

    the same way when we seem to “conquer” one of “defilements” and “I” say that you are doing so well etc. etc.

    So , perhaps its useless to fight that “thought” and go with it all…

    “Do not bear anger , for anger is an illusion”—some times that anger is not just towards others that we bear, it is the anger against “ourselves”. Which is the “worst” kind of anger.As we live with it every day , make opinions , lable things , say we are not good enough, we judge ourselves , do not forgive “ourselves” , if we do any “mistake” we are too hard , blah blah…in short we are not compassionate to ourselves..

    “letting go” the need to be “perfect” and the stupid need to “get rid of ego” seem fine to me right now.And if it comes it comes .

    I think with meditations and mantra , slowly perhaps we could see those “signs” when those thoughts and pattern will arise and than we can pause , breathe and let it go…more we practice with Usui -San teachings more our mind can start to become “sensitive” to these patterns and sooner than later we could recognize them ...

    :-)) so not easy to do ..

    Until next time , I cling to this thought too ;-)

  9. by Gayle Lynch on January 04, 2016 at 01:31 am

    Sundar-This is one of the simplest, clearest, and most helpful writings on addressing the issue of anger in spiritual life and practice that I have seen. Thank you!

  10. by Laurie Lubsen on October 25, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    Hi Sundar, thanks for exploring this precept. I like the addition of “bear”, Do not bear anger.
    Anger is a natural human emotion that arises. Often, underneath anger is fear. Years ago I read Michael Brown’s book, The Presence Process, which encourages the exploration of the emotions while practicing deep breathing. Once, while feeling extremely angry, I purposely breathed deeply while exploring the feeling of anger with all the attention I could muster. Much to my surprise, the emotion felt like a hot energy that coursed up and down my entire body. As I continued to explore the feeling fully, something shifted and the hot energy started to dissipate. Before long I was actually laughing, really laughing! This emotion that I had been so afraid of, when faced and explored with intention, did not hurt me or kill me, but actually, like it’s phantom nature, dissipated and left me feeling light hearted and free. It was a light bulb moment. This practice is a tool in my tool box that I can utilize any time I remember too use it.

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