A Zen’s-Eye View: Precepts teach us not to harbour anger, but actualize harmony

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This is the 15th of 16 precepts of ethical behavior that guide the thoughts, words and actions of Zen students. Anger and the harboring of ill will are poisons for individuals and communities. Even more corrosive is the harboring of ideas of revenge. Zen centre members who have conflicts or tensions with individuals or with decision-making bodies try to resolve the conflict in a spirit of honesty, humility and loving-kindness.

Anger more commonly appears when we have been crossed or violated in some way, and we do not want to admit this or experience it fully. In this sense, anger is an intoxicant, a coverup for the painful hurt feelings we can’t bear to feel. Practicing this precept doesn’t require that we never be angry. That would be impossible — when the conditions for anger arise, anger inevitably appears. In practicing this precept, however, we make the effort to turn toward our anger when it arises, bearing witness to it and experiencing it fully, but not grabbing hold of it, justifying it, or acting on it. Practicing this precept will give us the confidence and the spaciousness to stop suppressing our anger — to see that we can feel our anger and honor it fully without being consumed by it. In practicing with anger we learn to allow it to be what it is. We give it space to fully express itself in our bodies and mind, without allowing it to affect our words and actions.

Anger is, in the end, a marker of our weakness, not of our strength. This is why it’s so useful. Practicing with not acting from anger but simply being present with it will show the limits of its power. Anger usually flares up in the places where we are most vulnerable and powerless. The person who doubts his intelligence will get angry when someone suggests that he has made a mistake. The person who handles fear by taking control of a situation will flare into anger when they are confronted with an inability to control others attitudes, words and behaviours.

Studying our anger shows us those places where we are brittle and defended. It points out those areas of our lives where we are weakest and most need to grow. As we practice not harbouring our anger, we come to see ourselves much more accurately and viscerally. Using our anger well, we can pinpoint our weak points, our personal narrowness, and expand there. As our practice progresses and the horizons of our personal power expand, anger arises less often and less virulently. When that happens we can begin to develop harmonious relationships that are safe from the ravages of uncontrolled anger. That is, we can actualize harmony.

Suggested practice: The next time something angers you, instead of speaking or acting, observe how it affects your body and your thoughts. When the flare of anger calms down, make a calm decision about how to deal with the situation that caused your anger.

Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information, she can be reached at 250-428-6500.