*Brian Wilcox. 'Clemantis Flower ~ 'Queen of Vines'' no. 1. Flickr
I was the new pastor at a little church in a little community in Mississippi USA. At that time, I was a seminary student. While calm on the outside, I had a lot of pain on the inside, and this was a root of anger. So, a man, I will call Bill, in the congregation got ill one Saturday and was taken to the hospital by emergency unit. I was not aware of this. A man, whom I will call George, in the congregation, who wanted to become a deacon, and whom I had not agreed in support to push his desire onto the congregation, decided I had intentionally not gone to the assistance of Bill before he was removed from his home to the hospital. Yet, no one had informed me of the emergency. I could have gotten to Bill within a few minutes and provided pastoral care for his family and him, but no one called me.
So, I got a phone call at my home the following weekend, and George was angry with me for failing to fulfill my pastoral care duties. I replied to George with anger. I was, you could say, ready for an emotional fight. I invited George to the church, to meet with me.
We met. He was angry. I was angry. He accused me. I retorted in defense, with hostility, explaining how I was not made aware of the situation. Then, I tried to turn the meeting in a positive direction, even apologizing for the hostility I had expressed. I do not recall George offering any apology. My sense was George was glad for all this, as he was apparently angry that I had not supported his wish to the leadership role, when he met me in privacy after worship meeting the Sunday prior to the emergency in the home of Bill.
The following week, while I was back in New Orleans in school, George spread a lie about me among the congregation. No one informed me. When I got back to the church, it was too late. I was invited to a meeting at the church building. I was informed by the deacons that I had been fired from my pastorate. A false charge, accusing me of heresy, was presented, and, now, with my presence, I calmly clarified what I had meant in saying this misinterpreted by 'someone.' The group realized the mistake and was apologetic, and one, an older man, was in tears for having taken part in this manipulation that had led to my firing. He spoke his apology in tears, in private with me. The following day, concluding the worship meeting, my last there, only one person failed to express sorrow and regret ~ George.
I could blame George for all this. What I came to see, was not that George was innocent. I came to see, however, that I would not have lost my pastorate, and many persons would not have been hurt, if I had not reacted angrily to George. I realized he did not make me angry, the anger was from within me, regardless of the conditions that stimulated the arising of that anger. I came to see that I could have been angry and chosen more wisely how to respond. So, I cannot blame George, and I cannot assume responsibility for his hostility, either. After taking responsibility for my hostile response, I was able to forgive myself.
Years later, I see that anger is not who I was, it was a result of deep hurt from over many years. I see, still, the malicious role George played in what happened. Still, I can only be free by taking responsibility for what I said, what I did, and the hostility expressed in defending myself and my calling before George.
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In Buddhism is the wise reminder, words attributed to the historical Buddha:
You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.
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A man, who received regular guidance from the sage, was enraged at an acquaintance. He went to complain to the sage, explaining all the reasons he thought the other was the cause of his anger.
The sage asked, "If your hand were in a fire, would you keep it there, blaming another for the burning?"
"Of course not," said the man. "I would remove my hand."
"Good," replied the sage. "And how soon would you remove your hand?"
"As soon as possible," came the reply.
"See, this other, regardless of what he did or did not do, is not causing the present burning. Remove your hand now, for now is possible, and the burning will stop."
*Brian K. Wilcox. "Meetings with an Anonymous Sage."
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The following is from the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Bible:
Do not be quick to anger,
for anger resides in the lap of fools.
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A Buddhist story ...
A sumurai spoke to Hakuin, “I want to know about heaven and hell. Do they really exist?”
Hakuin replied, “Who are you?”
“I am a samurai,” affirmed the proud warrior.
“Ha!” exclaimed Hakuin. “What makes you think you can fathom such deep things? You are merely a brutish soldier! Go on, now! and do not waste my time with your foolish questions."
The enraged samurai drew his sword, preparing for the kill, when Hakuin calmly spoke, “This is hell.”
The soldier was taken aback. Humbled, his spirit and face softened. He put away his sword and bowed before the Zen Master.
“And this is heaven,” said Hakuin.
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Buddhism teaches the Three Poisons (Mahayana Buddhism), or the Three Unwholesome Roots (Theravada Buddhism), the three being the underlying of all other causes of inner suffering. These poisons, or roots, lead to our inner suffering and our bringing our suffering onto others. The third is a word rendered "aversion; anger, hostility, aggression." We oft become angry when we resist what is, and anger subsides when we accept what is.
In early Christianity anger was positioned as one of the 7 Deadly Sins. Anger was represented as a demon spiritual practitioners had to face and do battle with. Those who went into the silence would discover the anger within and could blame no one else, for the anger arose from within oneself.
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Anger can be like a fire. Anger can arise and motivate us to act, such as, for justice for others. Yet, like a fire, anger can bring much harm to others and our own self. We could become so overcome by anger, we could say, "I am no longer angry, I have become anger."
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So, what to do with anger when in quiet meditation and outside it? We must be honest about it. Seeing anger, we need to befriend it. In befriending it, we can learn from it and witness how transient it is, and how it transforms from anger to non-anger ~ anger is simply a shape energy takes, and transformation is the re-shaping of it. Yet, we cannot befriend it denying it or blaming someone else for it. In the moment of anger, now, no one is causing that anger. Simply, anger arises. Where from? Anger arises not from any one cause, but from a variety of causes and conditions, as with the hostility in my response to George.
How odd we might blame someone else for this poison, even many years after the other did or said something we trace the anger back to. We are the only one who can prolong, holding on to, the anger now. No one else is keeping our hand in the fire.
And, rather than thinking, "I am angry," we can see anger as not something we are, rather, anger arises. Anger has no solidity in itself, for we all can see how anger can be and, then, not be. We can see how, as we grow more into Grace, anger stays present for less and less a time, more quickly disappearing than prior. So, we do not identify with the anger, for we are not anger. Anger is not who or what one is. So, allowing a shift from anger to non-anger, which occurs spontaneously and through cultivating compassion, we see the shift from hell to heaven.
*Brian Wilcox. 'Clemantis Flower ~ 'Queen of Vines'' no. 2. Flickr
*(C)Brian K. Wilcox, 2019