Mar 31, 2024
Jenny Hall

Verses from The Dhammapada 133

While it may feel like anger works in the short term, when left unchecked it can quickly lead to a race towards the bottom.



Angry speech brings trouble and blows in return.”

The writer Elizabeth von Arnim would often speak of her husband as ‘The Man of Wrath’. We may smile at this satirical reference. Maybe we recognise it as an appropriate title for someone we know. We rarely consider it being applicable to ourselves. 

However, we may greet many situations with a silent angry ‘No!’. It may be triggered by the sight of yet another piece of litter dropped in our front garden. It maybe the traffic lights turning red just as we approach them. It may be an elderly relative repeating an anecdote we’ve heard many times before. 

Chanting the Repentance Sutra, we acknowledge that when the delusion of ‘I’ is thwarted, in any way, the hot emotional energy in the form of anger is roused. Behind the anger is fear. The ‘I’ is always seeking security in an insecure world. We strive to eradicate what threatens us. Even if we refrain from speaking harshly, many thoughts are negative. The following story from Tibet reveals the importance of being aware of them. 

There was once a young man whose mind was teeming with negative thoughts about his parents. He visited the local Lama and asked for his advice. The Lama told him to find one white bowl and one red. He also told him to collect twenty small pebbles from the mountains. He instructed him to place the bowls on a table with the pebbles. The Lama then told him to sit quietly in front of them for seven days. When a negative thought was noticed, he should place a pebble in the red bowl. When he became aware of a positive thought, he should place a pebble in the white one. As soon as the young man followed these instructions, thoughts arose. He began to feel very angry. He sheepishly placed a pebble in the red bowl. He went back to his task. Irritation welled up as he decided it was time he gave his parents a piece of his mind. He put another pebble in the red bowl. In no time at all it was full of pebbles. This made him even more annoyed and he stormed off to bed. The next day his mind was still full of hatred. The thought occurred that perhaps he should leave home. Another pebble went into the red bowl. He then realised that this was impossible. His parents were old and frail and depended upon him. This kind thought resulted in a pebble being put in the white bowl. He remembered how naughty he’d been as a child but still his parents had cared for him. Another pebble went into the white bowl. As gratitude arose, the resolution to be more patient grew. More pebbles were added to the white bowl. By the end of the week the red bowl was completely empty. He was filled with love for his parents. When he returned to the Lama to thank him, the Lama smiled and said, “It is not the world that is the problem, but our negative response.” Awareness brings transformation. 

The Zen training is concerned with the transmutation of the hot, churning emotional energy. The first step is to become aware of its flames. The second is to suffer them rather than allowing them to create thought streams. We reverently ask the energy to ‘burn me away’. The wisdom and compassion of ‘choiceless awareness’ (Buddha Nature), then opens. 

Paul Ekman once spoke of an encounter with the Dalai Lama. His childhood had been a very challenging one. His father had physically abused him and his mother had taken her own life. The result was that he would regularly fly into a rage. With deep compassion, the Dalai Lama held his hands and looked into his eyes. Paul Ekman said he felt all the anger he was holding just melting away. For a little while he lost his temper less frequently. 

There is no difference between individual anger and the anger of a society that stockpiles weapons to destroy its ‘enemies’. Hate constantly stretches from the past into the future. Archeologists uncover prehistoric graves containing skulls and bones fractured by sharp axes and arrowheads. Today there are dozens of wars being waged. No ideology will eradicate such conflict. Loud protest marches often create more division and dissent. 

It is only when we are aware of the hate in ourselves that disassociation from all partisanships is possible. Then there is the opportunity for hate to change into compassion. Only then will  the ‘trouble’ and ‘blows’ cease.

Dharma Centre

We have just launched our online Dharma Centre. All are welcome...

Join our Community!


The virtue of generosity, charity or giving. Your donations are welcomed.

Learn more