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Looking at the Ninth Zen Precept-I Do Not Indulge In Anger

Today’s post is a “guest” post—the first for this blog. It’s written by Don Mead, new friend of mine who I met through this blog. Getting to know Don and exchanging ideas about the Buddhism, I have come to appreciate Don’s insights, his intellect, and his dry humor.

Don has studied and practiced Buddhism most of his life. He has a very strong Tibetan and Zen background, and when I read his essay on the Ninth Zen Precept, I wanted to share it with others. When I asked him about this, he said, sure, he felt he had something to share, “but I am not looking for people to agree with me, but rather to think for themselves.”

In that typical Zen spirit, I offer you this friend’s essay. I was greatly helped by it, and I hope you will be too.

The Ninth Zen Precept—I keep my mind calm and at peace. I do not indulge in anger.

I am sadly aware that we tend to see in others what we refuse to acknowledge in ourselves. Therefore what follows must be understood in that light. It appears that throughout human history not one person has ever been angry without feeling that there was something or someone outside of the person who made the anger happen.

Of course, none of this is true. Nonetheless, this feeling of justification allows the person to feel that somehow the pure justice of the situation allows one to indulge in the anger without being subject to the laws of cause and effect.

It is important to note that in Zen, anger is one of the Five Poisons, the other four being greed, ignorance, pride, and jealousy. As such, anger is a great cause of unnecessary suffering to both the individual who indulges in it and others.

Isn’t it amazing that anyone could feel that they could drink poison without being affected by it, just because they felt that they were justified in doing so?

No One Can Make Us Angry

So let’s really get to the point. No one or no-thing can make another person angry! It simply just is not possible! Perhaps, someone might serve as a catalyst to bring the anger that was already there to the surface. Of course, when this happens, we should be grateful, for it gives us a chance to confront our own anger and hatred (yes they do appear to go together) head-on.

We need to understand that no matter how loving and kind that we may appear on the surface, there is bubbling underneath this “poisonous” anger that infects even our purest actions. The Ninth Precept does not ask us to be free of anger, but rather urges us not to indulge in it. I, myself, have witnessed folks who are still indulging in anger that is over 15 years old!

Now let us look for a moment at anger itself. It seems that anger is really a desire to murder someone or something outside of one’s self. Now before you say that I am being a bit overboard here, let’s look at the situation.

I am angry with someone—let’s say you. So I come to you and say something like, “It is your fault that I am angry. If only you did not do this or say that.” You see, my anger wants you to not be and do what you are being and doing, but rather wants you to be and do what pleases me. In order words, my anger wants the “you” that exists to stop existing, and in its place I want you become and do something that pleases me.

Now I suppose that I could say something like, what pleases me is what is good for you. But that excuse has been used so much over the course of human history that it appears that it should be worn out by now.

“Ah, young lady, you are not who I think you should be, so we are going to burn you at the stake. It’s all for your own good, ya know.” And how many battered mates and children have heard the classic, “I didn’t want to hit you, it just that you made me so mad?” So from this point of view, we can say that the Ninth Precept is another facet of the First Precept—do not kill; affirm life.

The Buddha’s Great Insight

In the first moments following Lord Buddha’s enlightenment, it is said that he saw that all living beings were no different than him, in that they were all endowed with Buddha Nature. And His last words just before His death were to remind us that we are the light itself, and that we should only trust ourselves and practice the Dharma.

If we can look beyond our anger and hatred of the world, we can clearly see that all living beings are not here to fulfill our desires. They are here to become what they are—just like us. If we are truly going to walk in the path of the Buddhas, we have to accept responsibility for ourselves. No one makes me angry. No one is responsible for my emotional well being. Nobody has to change one atom of his or her being to please me. No one owes me anything!

As I said, we are not here to fulfill each other’s desires, but I do believe that we are here to love and care for each other. We feed the hungry because the hungry need to be fed. We love our children because they need to be loved. We see what needs to be done and we do our best to do it. But we do not blame others for our own weaknesses and character faults.

At the same time, the Ninth Precept seems to tell us that we need to find a way to weaken anger’s hold on us. We need to deal with anger in the same non-violent manner that we use to deal with ego, that is, boycott! Starve the son of a bitch to death! We train ourselves to avoid those subjects that feed our anger. If a person’s presence causes us to be angry, then we should, as best as we are able, for a while, avoid that person and if we are able, we might consider avoiding even the thought of that person.

The Great Test of Anger—Self-Righteousness

But, one might say, “My anger is Vajra (spiritual) anger. There is no hate in it. My anger works for the good of all sentient beings.” Luckily for us, there is a very easy test to check if our anger is ego-centric or not.

If there is even the slightest bit of self-righteousness, then we, are 100% in the wrong. In fact, I would go so far to say that self-righteousness is the Ninth Precept’s best friend. It is so easy to recognize in ourselves that all excuses to indulge our anger are washed away. But we need to examine ourselves honestly. “Do we, in fact, like the energy of anger?”

Another self question might also help. Ask yourself, “From the deepest darkest corner of my heart, what do I really want for the object of my anger?” These are the type of questions that are so important, that there is absolutely no room for even the smallest amount of self-deception. So from the bottom of my heart, to all who read this, be happy and healthy, and, of course, . . .

Be kind to yourself.

Don Mead

♡♡♡

Related Posts:

Remaining Calm in the Face of Anger

Book review—Freeing the Angry Mind—A Book for Angry Men

Taming Elephants—How to Transform Negative Habit Energies

At Hell’s Gate—Confronting Suffering to End Violence

A Veterans Day Book—At Hell’s Gate-A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace by Claude Anshin Thomas

♥♥♥

About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

30 Responses to “Looking at the Ninth Zen Precept-I Do Not Indulge In Anger”

  1. With all respect, my impression is that Don is using the term mindfulness, but what he is decribing is actually judging the anger. It will never work, not long term. Mindfulness is not enough. Investigation is what transforms. You go and meet that anger, welcome it in (this is having figured out how to hear it w/o acting on it, mind you), understand it deeply, find out what wounds it is protecting, then it relaxes back of itself. As in The Guest House, poem by Rumi.
    To be at war with parts of yourself is the very definition of neurosis. To be mindful is to not have an agenda. Following the precepts is another matter- and very important. But mindfulness does not crush or change any mindstate in any way. It does not prefer one mindstate over another. It simply observes and eventually allows for true investigation. Listen to any of the great vipassana teachers on this on dharmaseed.org. Particularly Ajahn Succitto, monk for 40 years and abbot of Amaravati and wonderful human being. Better yet, sit a retreat with him. or any of them. but please, do not go to war with your anger, “you” will lose.

  2. I see what you did there, with the misspelled “induge” in the title.

    I felt myself questioning, at first, “who doesn’t spell check the title, at least”,

    and then “what kind of lazy idiot doesn’t then correct it”,

    followed by “what a lack of respect for readers, do they think we wouldn’t notice”,

    and “does he think I’m stupid!”

    Etc.

    Relax.

    Breathe slowly.

    There.

    I’m calm, at one.

    I am Zen.

    • Hey John! I can’t believe I’ve had that misspelled title since 4/30/10! And you are the very first person to mention it after, literally, thousands of reads according to my counters! Your post was very funny, and kind. Actually, I’m somewhat dyslexic and I often don’t see such typos.

      Thanks for your humor, and kindness, and for being Zen!

      With warm metta,
      Steve

  3. Overall, very nice, coming from good-hearted people (pun?).

    The ancient Greek stoicists (Epictetus is a favorite of mine) disprove the statement “It appears that throughout human history not one person has ever been angry without feeling that there was something or someone outside of the person who made the anger happen.” Creative license, I suppose.

    The Eastern perspective shows us “zone 1”, the subjective aspect of our experience, with great depth and beauty, and informs us that we choose to indulge, or not indulge, and therefore brings us to a choice point as to responsibility.

    The wisdom of the West offers us developmental and integral perspectives as well.
    From an inter-subjective perspective, others can and do have an interaction with the self, and can tempt us (sometimes, with great skill and planning, like a chess champion; remember the movie “Se7en”?) towards actions which further their agendas.

    I agree that anger is violent, and in spirit, at its core, it is murderous in its intention, and desires to manifest something akin to adolescent power fantasies of control over the “other”, be that people and/or situations.

    I disagree with Don’s statement “We train ourselves to avoid those subjects that feed our anger.” as theoretically and practically invalid; temptation will always present itself in our lives, and running away from it DOES give it power, through the fear that underlies the impulse to avoid the stimulus.

    As J. Krishnamurti clarified for us, there are the mindless and mechanical choices to conform (in this context, get angry), and to conform to rebellion (in this context, avoid the stimulus, run away from the temptation).
    The only choice that is NOT mindless and mechanical and determined by the stimulus (positive and/or negative reaction) is the choice to become very sensitive and mindful to the movement of energy and awareness in one’s being, as Lao Tzu states;
    “The sage allows all things to pass through him, both good and evil, none leaving a mark.”

    I really liked Don’s ending question, “Ask yourself, ‘From the deepest darkest corner of my heart, what do I really want for the object of my anger?’”
    Here, he exposes the concept of “Vanity of Principle” that Krishnamurti spoke of, where a truth in zone 1 subjectivity is used as a weapon by the zone 2 structure of consciousness.
    People often chant “LOVE!” as they kill, with hate; a quick glimpse at the history of politics and religion reveal this to all but the hopelessly biased.

    In closing, thanks for your kind wish, Don, as I hope that we all learn, individually and collectively, to “Be kind to yourself.”

    • Hey Eliot. I contacted Don Mead, and he asked me to post this reply for him. Thanks for stopping by and for your very thoughtful comments.

      Steve

      Don Mead’s reply:
      (Don’s comments are in italics)

      Overall, very nice, coming from good-hearted people (pun?).

      The ancient Greek stoicists (Epictetus is a favorite of mine) disprove the statement “It appears that throughout human history not one person has ever been angry without feeling that there was something or someone outside of the person who made the anger happen.” Creative license, I suppose.

      The Eastern perspective shows us “zone 1″, the subjective aspect of our experience, with great depth and beauty, and informs us that we choose to indulge, or not indulge, and therefore brings us to a choice point as to responsibility.

      The wisdom of the West offers us developmental and integral perspectives as well.
      From an inter-subjective perspective, others can and do have an interaction with the self, and can tempt us (sometimes, with great skill and planning, like a chess champion; remember the movie “Se7en”?) towards actions which further their agendas.

      I don’t see the point here. I did not say that outside forces cause anger, I said that people feel as though they did. The outside cause of anger is an illusion.

      I agree that anger is violent, and in spirit, at its core, it is murderous in its intention, and desires to manifest something akin to adolescent power fantasies of control over the “other”, be that people and/or situations.

      I disagree with Don’s statement “We train ourselves to avoid those subjects that feed our anger.” as theoretically and practically invalid; temptation will always present itself in our lives, and running away from it DOES give it power, through the fear that underlies the impulse to avoid the stimulus.

      As J. Krishnamurti clarified for us, there are the mindless and mechanical choices to conform (in this context, get angry), and to conform to rebellion (in this context, avoid the stimulus, run away from the temptation).
      The only choice that is NOT mindless and mechanical and determined by the stimulus (positive and/or negative reaction) is the choice to become very sensitive and mindful to the movement of energy and awareness in one’s being, as Lao Tzu states;
      “The sage allows all things to pass through him, both good and evil, none leaving a mark.”

      Ah but I was not writing for the sage. Sages and I have very little to say to each other. No, what I was presenting was one of many methods (skillful means) that have been found to be of benefit. Once for three months I did not touch my face with my left hand. There are all sorts of things that one can use, and a world of wisdom to draw upon.

      I really liked Don’s ending question, “Ask yourself, ‘From the deepest darkest corner of my heart, what do I really want for the object of my anger?’”
      Here, he exposes the concept of “Vanity of Principle” that Krishnamurti spoke of, where a truth in zone 1 subjectivity is used as a weapon by the zone 2 structure of consciousness.
      People often chant “LOVE!” as they kill, with hate; a quick glimpse at the history of politics and religion reveal this to all but the hopelessly biased.

      Thank you. We must be really honest with ourselves. Sadly far too many people go through life living with a fear of who they are. In fact, most are so afraid that they will resort to most anything to distract them, drugs, tv, internet, and we must not forget righteous anger. It is only when we find the courage to begin to make friends with ourselves, that we begin to see that our so-called “dark side” is really just a collection of wounds that we have been living to cover up. As John Lennon said, we have to learn to feel our own pain. Now, as our wounds begin to heal (having been exposed to the air) we are naturally happier, saner, and more friendly. While I would not call this enlightenment, it ain’t bad.

      In closing, thanks for your kind wish, Don, as I hope that we all learn, individually and collectively, to “Be kind to yourself.”

      You are welcome, but let me thank you as well as everyone else that liked my offering. St. Francis asked his God to make him an instrument of His peace. The greatest joy that any tool can have, is to have been found useful. Thank you all so much.

      Be kind to yourselves,

      Don

  4. Anger has a tendency to devastate social relationships, but it springs from a willingness to damage the relationship one has with their self. When angry, we put our duty to be good to ourselves in the back seat in order to pursue the goal of making a point. How much personal anguish it causes us, how many opportunities we miss, how miserable it makes us — all are worth it when we put ourselves in the service of anger. Thanks again and again, Steve. Right on point as usual.

    • Hey beloved tokenbearcub! Another great observation. You make me remember how self-defiled and hurt I feel after I give way to some anger and indulge it without the least shred of mindfulness. What I mean by that, is not that I hate myself for having become angry, because I must own that and look into the seeds that this anger came from (the incident, or person who made me angry only being the trigger) but that I can feel the psychic damage it does to me when I identify totally with anger and thus lose myself.

      I’m most grateful to Don Mead for allowing me to share this with others, and I know he’s seen all these comments, and it’s been a great happiness to him. Thanks for seeing and appreciating what’s here, and for your kind words.

      With warm regards,
      Steve

  5. Be yourself. that is where God is. All of your issues are sacred becomings.
    You are a unique example of Gods will as a process of becoming. All of you is good, even
    what you or others say is not.——Doug

  6. James B, Heaton Reply 2010/05/10 at 12:19 PM

    True Happiness,

    Well after birth one has two choices life or death,No,? So between those two there is Happiness and un happiness , No,?
    Let’s a sum that at birth we have it all and that it is not until for the very first time we are tolled that we don’t for one reason or another, that that is our first tinge of anger that we have being conscious of our self. How is this self ? So we ask thing’s like, (Who is thinking of what I am thinking of while I am thinking of who is thinking I am thinking who is think!) and so on.
    This line of thought in the end leads to this. Thank you for the Grass that grows beneath my feet, Thank you for the Trees that grows to above my head and thank you for the brazes that blows amongst the Grass and Trees, But most of All ,Most of All, Thank you for ME,).

    • Hey James. Thanks for stopping by and for your astute comment.

      I loved what you said, and it’s so sad that people can take so long, and may hardly glimpse in this life, the “thank you’s” that you talk about. People are so hurt, so abused in childhood in many cases, that gratitude for ME can be the furthest thing from their hearts and minds.

      Indeed, to be grateful for oneself, if we identify ourselves as “bad” or “unworthy” because this is how we were able to survive our parents disapproval and rejection of us, can seem impossible, because we define ourselves by very self-rejection. It seems an impossible self-reinforcing trap, but finally, because our true nature is love, is freedom, we can come to grips with that self-hatred and learn to love ourselves.

      The kind of self-enquiry you describe is truly the path that leads to those that wonderful gratitude your describe. This fact is a great and liberating truth we can all prove for ourselves.

      Thanks for your sharing,

      Steve

  7. My previous presentation is an example of simplicity. “I AM IS ME”—Doug

  8. If we choose the happiness that comes from sellflessness or true kindness in behalf of others,
    our path in life will be assured to be productive of happiness. True happiness is the product of
    a continuous meditative attitude of love for the one and a knowledge that one is the one.
    I use this saying given to me by the one as my password “I AM IS ME”. I use it for all my business.
    It means that I am an offspring of the great spirit having all that the great spirit is and has.
    realizing this guides my thoughts and my actions. This is an act of beingness. —Doug

    • Hello again, Doug. Thanks for sharing this wisdom with us. Living in continual relation to the divine Spirit, or to divine Love, is a powerful and effective path. I’ve found it requires a constant self-immolation, a daily, moment-by-moment (when we are awake!) to what Love reveals as the good, the beautiful, and the true.

      So many people who follow the “God path” seem to have “God Free” zones, and don’t see that if the Spirit is all, then not the least part of our life, nothing we can see or do, really is apart from what is, this “I AM” that you are referring to. But people, whether Christian, Muslim Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, or whatever, who are “in love” with Love, find all self-surrender and self-immolation worth it, for their divine Object and Goal.

      Thanks again for sharing,

      Steve

  9. This is so true. Great Article.

  10. Anger and hate are an admission of failure to love and so we give in to destruction.
    Love is the protection of other. Anger and hate are the destruction of otherand therefore
    of self. Fear is the apprehension of death. Love is the absense of death and the ongoingness
    of life. Sooner or later, we make the choice to live and that decision leads us into living eternally.
    The decision to live can only be to live eternally because that is the true nature of that decision.
    Choose life and you choose eternity. Love is the protection of eternal life. Life is all. In order to love life you must love all of life. If you hate part of life, you hate all of life because the part
    is like one person out of the many. each one of us is the great oneness. To love one is to love
    all. To hate one is to hate all. To love truly is to do nothing for then, love which is being will
    be its own perfection.——–Doug Rosbury

    • What a beautiful, deep comment, Doug. Thanks for sharing it here. What you say sure rings true in my life and practice. And I too have seen this deep connection between love and life, and am seeing more and more that love, real love, truly is life and living—and finally, deathless.

      Thanks for stopping by,

      Steve

  11. I loved it and it is soooo true….what we see that we do not like in others is really what we ddo not like in ourselves. M.ost will not agree with thatbut I am her to tell you that if you look deep enough…you will find that trait in yourself. Really

    • Thank you, Barbara. I sure have found what you say true, again and again, in my own heart. Self-enquiry is essential, honesty wedded to compassion, and the reinforcement that whatever does cause anger can finally be seen as impermanent and “not self”—not I, me, or mine. What a release that is!

      Thanks for stopping by,

      Steve

  12. Thanks for sharing this great article. I thought you touched on some insightful points. “No one or no-thing can make another person angry! ” So true. We’re the guardians of our thoughts and feelings: we choose how we feel. We can all choose to be happy at any moment.

    Peace

    Jonathan

    • Jonathan, thanks — I too think Don Mead wrote a great article, and I’m so grateful he agreed to let me share it on my blog.

      The Buddha says a lot about us being “guardians” of our thoughts in terms of mindfulness and seeing what’s up with our feelings and actions. And yes, we always have what I call the Frankl choice, as the great man says:

      “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

      Yes, even in Auschwitz, he saw that people could, can, choose. This great truth is a fulcrum from which we can literally move the world of conditioned being and doing. Of course, a choice that comes from fear of anger, or of what may underlie the anger, would be a less skillful choice than one that is willing to courageously see what our anger is all about—lovingly and compassionately, yes, but with courageous honesty and openness to the truth.

      Thanks again for stopping by, and peace to you, too, my friend,

      Steve

  13. Thanks so much for this, Don (and Steve). You really address in a very helpful (shall I say “skillful”?🙂 ) way my own struggles with anger–especially the question of self-righteous anger, which, as you say, can be very insidious. I’ve been asking myself the question, “When (if ever) is it OK to be angry?’ and your “litmus test” is a big help in thinking that through.

    Funny–I’d never heard of anger being referred to as one of the “poisons” by Buddhists, but just the other day I was trying to explain to my son why he needed to try to let go of his anger at a school-mate, and I referred to anger as “poison.” When one acts on it, that’s exactly what it feels like, and it always seems to feed upon itself rather than dissipating.

    I’ve been trying to address my own anger like this lately (it’s kind of an experiment)–I try to look at the situation that’s causing me anger as if I have no role in it–almost as if I’m an objectively-minded spirit, simply watching from the corner of the room. Once I’ve taken my own ego out, the situation looks very different. Of course, remembering to do that in the heat of anger is the real trick…

    But are you SURE that other living creatures aren’t put on earth just to fulfill my desires? Damn…🙂

    Thanks again,

    Nancy
    http://saradode.wordpress.com

    • Hey dear friend. Thanks for stopping by and your remarks. Sorry for the delay in answering — I’ve been inundated with e-mails and the like.

      I think most of us wrestle with the stuff you are talking about, which is why this kind of article is so down-to-earth and practical. I think the way you are going at the issue of anger is very skillful and helps us see through the “I-ing” “me-ing” and “my-ing” that makes anger so sticky and hard to let go of. The “trick” is being able to be with anger, not suppress it, in one sense of that word, but be willing to see what’s behind it that we need to look into. My Thay would say that anger is not “bad” — it’s just the garbage that we need to compost to make the flowers of liberation. He talks about that a lot.

      You last comment made me smile…thanks for your sense of humor.

      With warm metta,
      Steve

  14. Thanks for this post today. Anger – wow, I can so relate, especially today. This morning while driving to get an early cup of coffee, I began to feel a pain that has been residing deep within me for some time. That pain, quickly, turned into anger triggered by self-righteousness, by the idea that I had been deeply, and maybe intentionally hurt. Immediately I began to think what to say to this person, demanding in my mind, that he stop behaving as he had because his behavior was wrong, hurtful and aggressive! I wanted so much to explode with self-righteous anger and pain.
    But fortunately, I naturally became mindful, for my body sensations, triggered by the anger, became too overwhelming. I was instantly moved back to the place of my pain. I was compassionate for myself, for what I had gone through and thought it would be better to avoid further hurting myself with so much anger. I also felt compassion for my friend. After all, all I wanted was to love my friend, that is where the pain was coming from, from my friends departure. And I could also stop demanding that my friend stop being other than himself and spare him from my aggressive rant. I had to come to terms with things as they are … for now … for today.
    I look forward to adding Metta practice to my meditation. I have felt my anger and now I want to gift myself with lovingkindness for myself and others – as the 9th precept says, I want to affirm life, my life, those of others and life in general

    Thanks to Steve and to Don.

    • Ananda, thanks for your wonderful comment — and apologies for my delay in responding to something so heartfelt and real.

      What you described in your transformation of that pain, the details, the skillful means you brought to bear, really touched my heart, made me mist up, frankly, because it rang so true and deep. Isn’t the dharma wonderful? It works! It literally saved me life, and continues to transform it and free it up, though there’s still lots of work to do!

      It’s great you are going to look into loving-kindness meditation; it’s been the core of my practice, and frankly, I’m far more experienced and skilled with it than with the deeper states of concentration, or jana, and yet, I think metta can take you every bit as deep. I have some great resources on metta on this site, as you may have noticed, and especially recommend the “Metta Resources” page:

      https://mettarefuge.wordpress.com/metta-resources/

      Thanks for stopping by and for sharing. I think someone reading your true-life account would find it a tremendous confirmation of what the article talks about. I know that Don is very grateful to have touched so many people with this article of his.

      With warm metta,
      Steve

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    […] A Look at the Ninth Zen Precept-I Do Not Induge In Anger Today’s post is a “guest” post—the first for this blog. It’s written by Don Mead, new friend […] […]

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