While anger can also be nothing more than a mild frustration, wishing things were different than they are; usually anger is the wish to inflict harm on others because they hurt us in some way. Anger always feels like it is “justified.” The other person is wrong, they have treated us unfairly, they have hurt us deeply and when we think of them we feel nothing but rage. We want to say things to them which we know will hurt them so that they realize the hurt they have caused us. But the truth of the matter is anger hurts the person who is angry far more than it hurts the person we are angry with. We are harming ourselves.
(6.3) If I harbour painful thoughts of anger,
I shall not experience mental peace,
I shall find no joy or happiness,
And I shall be unsettled and unable to sleep.
Usually we justify our anger in our mind by thinking at least by getting angry we will get what we want. But even if we get what we want, we are not able to enjoy it because our mind is not at peace, and inner peace is the essential condition for mental happiness. Mental unhappiness leads to anger, and since there is no inner peace we will be increasingly unhappy and we will look for something to blame. This then leads to yet more anger.
A few years ago, for about an 18 month period, my mind was consumed with anger – even rage – about a situation that transpired with my father. Because I couldn’t let go of my anger towards him (despite trying every day to do so), I became an angry person. This anger pervaded every aspect of my life, clouding my enjoyment of anything. During the day, I couldn’t stop thinking about my hurt and how wrong he was for inflicting it on me. I would awake in the middle of the night and not be able to fall back asleep because my mind would resume its anger towards my father. Even from an ordinary point of view, anger makes us miserable. I was torturing myself.
We need to make a complete distinction between what we are experiencing now and what causes we are creating. All of the effects we are experiencing right now have nothing to do with right now, but are the ripening of karma from previous lives. What we will experience in the future is determined by what causes we create right now in our response to our situation. Knowing this, we can realize that the only thing that matters is what causes we create now, not what effects we are experiencing.
We all have countless negative seeds on our mind, some ripening, others not. We are all the same in this regard. Where people differ is how they RESPOND. If we respond with Dharma, happily accepting our situation as purification, then no matter how uncomfortable the situation may be, we will be doing what matters. Good causes, good future, guaranteed; bad causes, bad future, guaranteed. We realize that nothing we do in this life will really make a big difference in this life, so we stop worrying about what happens in this life and instead focus our attention on collecting our spiritual pennies for future lives. Then we become a pure practitioner and develop a genuine equanimity towards the inevitable tides of samsaric life.
(6.4) Overcome by a fit of anger,
I might even kill a benefactor
Upon whose kindness I depend
For my wealth or reputation.
Anger is at the root of most negative actions. Anger itself is a negative mental action, and so just the thought creates negative karma. But it also leads to us engaging in all sorts of negative actions such as speaking harshly, speaking divisively, harming others, covetousness, malice, etc. Anger always makes the situation worse because when we get angry with people they no longer want to help us, and if they do so it is only grudgingly, so in the long run it makes things worse. This makes it almost impossible even to accomplish our worldly goals.
If we look at the arc of human history and the story of our own lives, the most destructive and harmful acts are almost always driven by anger. Once we hit “send” on that angry email, there is no pulling it back; and sometimes the consequences of it echo for years to come. One moment of anger can destroy a lifetime of friendship. By getting mad at our family, our employers, our friends, we create problems and destroy our relationships. It makes “sense” to us to do senseless things. We need merely check our own life and that of those we know to come up with endless examples of the harm anger leaves in its wake.