THE ELIMINATION OF ANGER
With two stories retold from the Buddhist texts
Ven. K. Piyatissa Thera
Bodhi Leaves No. 68
Copyright 1975, 1995 Buddhist Publication Society
BUDDHIST PUBLICATION SOCIETY
KANDY SRI LANKA
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DharmaNet Edition 1995
Transcription: Myra I Fox
Proofreading & Formatting: John Bullitt
This electronic edition is offered for free distribution
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The ultimate goal of Buddhism is the deathless condition of Nibbana,
the sole reality. Hence, one who aspires to that state should
renounce mundane pursuits and attachments, which are ephemeral, for
the sake of that reality. But there are very few who are sufficiently
mature to develop themselves to achieve that state in this very life.
Thus the Buddha does not force the life of renunciation upon those who
lack the spiritual capacity to embark upon the higher life.
Therefore, one should follow the path of mundane advantage which is
twofold, namely, the advantage obtainable here in this very life and
the advantage obtainable in future lives, as steps on the path to the
spiritual life. Although one may enjoy the pleasures of life, one
must regard one's body as an instrument with which to practice virtue
for one's own and other's benefit; in short, one should live a useful
life of moral integrity, a life of simplicity and paucity of wants.
As regards acquisition of wealth, the Buddha said: "One must be
diligent and energetic," and as regards the safeguarding of one's
wealth, "one must be mindful and economical."
It is not impossible that even the life of such a man may be somehow
or other disturbed and harassed as a result of the actions of
"unskillful" men. Although this might induce him to abandon his chosen
path, it is at such times that one must not forget the steps to be
taken for the purpose of establishing peace. According to the
teaching of the Buddha this includes the reflection: "Others may be
harmful, but I shall be harmless, thus should I train myself." We
must not forget that the whole spirit of Buddhism is one of
pacification. In the calm and placid atmosphere of the Buddha's
teaching there is every chance, every possibility, of removing hatred,
jealousy and violence from our mind.
It is no wonder if we, at times, in our everyday life, feel angry
with somebody about something. But we should not allow this feeling
to reside in our mind. We should try to curb it at the very moment it
has arisen. Generally there are eight ways to curb or control our
The first method is to recollect the teachings of the Buddha. On
very many occasions the Buddha explained the disadvantages of an angry
temper. Here is one of his admonitions:
Suppose some bandits catch one of you and sever his body limb from
limb with a two-handed saw, and if he should feel angry thereby
even at that moment, he is no follower of my teaching.
-- Kakacupama Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 21
As a log from a pyre, burnt at both ends and fouled in the middle,
serves neither for firewood in the village nor for timber in the
forest, so is such a wrathful man.
-- Anguttara Nikaya II, 95
Further, we may consider the Buddha's advice to be found in the
He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me of my
property. Whosoever harbor such thoughts will never be able to
still their enmity.
Never indeed is hatred stilled by hatred; it will only be stilled
by non-hatred -- this is an eternal law.
-- Dhp., vv. 4-5
Do not speak harshly to anyone. Those who are harshly spoken to
might retaliate against you. Angry words hurt other's feelings,
even blows may overtake you in return.
-- Dhp., v. 133
Forbearance is the highest observance. Patience is the highest
virtue. So the Buddhas say.
-- Dhp., v. 184
Let a man remove his anger. Let him root out his pride. Let him
overcome all fetters of passions. No sufferings overtake him who
neither clings to mind-and-body nor claims anything of the world.
-- Dhp., v. 221
Conquer anger by non-anger. Conquer evil by good. Conquer
miserliness by liberality. Conquer a liar by truthfulness.
-- Dhp., v. 223
Guard your mind against an outburst of wrong feelings. Keep your
mind controlled. Renouncing evil thoughts, develop purity of
-- Dhp., v. 233
If by contemplating the advice of the Buddha in this way one cannot
curb his anger, then let him try the second method.
Naturally, any bad person may possess some good quality. Some men
are evil in mind but speak in deceptive language or slyly perform
their deeds in an unsuspecting manner. Some men are coarse only in
their language but not in their mind or deeds. Some men are coarse and
cruel in their deeds but neither in their speech nor in their mind.
Some are soft and kind in mind, speech and deed as well.
When we feel angry with any person, we should try to find out some
good in him, either in his way of thinking, or in his way of speaking
or in his way of acting. If we find some redeeming quality in him, we
should ponder its value and ignore his bad qualities as natural
weaknesses that are to be found in everyone. Whilst we think thus, our
mind will soften and we may even feel kindly towards that person. If
we develop this way of thinking we will be able to curb or eliminate
our anger towards him.
At times, this method may not be successful and we shall then have
to try the third method. Basically, this entails reflecting thus: "He
has done some wrong to me and in so doing has spoiled his mind. Then
why should I spoil or impair my own mind because of his foolishness?
Sometimes I ignore support or help offered by my relatives; sometimes
their tears even shed because of my activities. Being a person of such
type myself, why should I not therefore ignore that foolish man's
"He has done that wrong, being subject to anger, should I too follow
him, making my mind subject to anger? Is it not foolish to imitate
him? He harboring his hatred destroys himself internally. Why
should I, on his account, destroy my reputation?
"All things are momentary. Both his mind and body are momentary
too. The thoughts and the body with which the wrong was done to me
are not now existing. What I call the same man now are the thoughts
and physical parts which are different from the earlier ones that
harmed me although belonging to the same psycho-physical process.
Thus, one thought together with one mass of physical parts did me some
wrong, and vanished there and then, giving place to succeeding
thoughts and material parts to appear. So with which am I getting
angry? WIth the vanished and disappeared thoughts and physical parts
or with the thoughts and material parts which do not do any wrong now?
Should I get angry with one thing which is innocent whereas another
thing has done me wrong and vanished?
"The so-called 'I' is not the same for two consecutive moments. At
the moment the wrong was done there was another thought and another
mass of molecules which were regarded as 'I', whereas what are
regarded as 'I' at the present moment are a different thought and
collection of molecules, though belonging to the same process. Thus
some other being did wrong to someone else and another gets angry with
another. Is this not a ridiculous situation?"
If we scrutinize the exact nature of our life and its happenings in
this manner, our anger might subside or vanish there and then.
There is another way, too, to eliminate upsurging anger. Suppose we
think of someone who has done wrong to us. On such occasions we
should remember that we suffer harm or loss as a result of our
previous //kamma//. Even if others were angry with us, they could not
harm us if there were no latent force of past unwholesome //kamma//
committed by us which took advantage of this opportunity to arouse our
adversary. So it is I who am responsible for this harm or loss and
not anybody else. And at the same time, now while I am suffering the
result of past //kamma//, if I, on account of this, should get angry
and do any harm to him, by that do I accumulate much more unwholesome
//kamma// which would bring me correspondingly unwholesome results.
If we recall to mind this law of //kamma//, our anger may subside
immediately. We can consider such a situation in another way too. We
as the followers of Buddha believe that our Bodhisatta passed through
incalculable numbers of lives practicing virtues before he attained
Buddhahood. The Buddha related the history of some of his past lives
as illustrations to teach us how he practiced these virtues. The
lives of the prince Dhammapala and the ascetic Khantivadi are most
illustrative and draw our attention.
At one time the Bodhisatta had been born as the son of a certain
king named Mahapatapa. The child was named Culla Dhammapala. One day
the Queen sat on a chair fondling her child and did not notice the
King passing by. The King thought the Queen was so proud of her child
as not to get up from her chair even when she saw that her lord the
King passed that way. So he grew angry and immediately sent for the
executioner. When he came the King ordered him to snatch the child
from the Queen's arms and cut his hands, feet and head off, which he
did instantly. The child, our Bodhisatta, suffered all that with
extreme patience and did not grow ill-tempered or relinquish his
impartial love for his cruel father, lamenting mother and the
executioner. So far had he matured in the practice of forbearance and
loving-kindness at that time.
At another time, our Bodhisatta was an ascetic well-known for his
developed virtue of forbearance and consequently people named him
Khantivadi, the preacher of forbearance. One day he visited Benares
and took his lodgings at the royal pleasure grove. Meanwhile, the King
passed that way with his harem and, seeing the ascetic seated under a
tree, asked what virtue he was practicing, to which the ascetic
replied that of forbearance. The King was a materialist who regarded
the practice of virtue to be humbug. So, hearing the words of the
ascetic, he sent for the executioner and ordered him to cut off his
hands and feet and questioned the ascetic as to whether he could hold
to forbearance at the severing of his limbs. The ascetic did not feel
ill-tempered but even at that time he lay down extending his
loving-kindness and holding his forbearance undiminished. He spoke to
the King in reply to the effect that his forbearance and other virtues
were not in his limbs but in his mind. The King, being unsuccessful
in his attempts to disturb the ascetic's feelings, grew angrier and
kicked the stomach of the ascetic with his heel and went away.
Meanwhile, the King's minister came over and, seeing what had
happened, bowed before the dying ascetic and begged him saying:
"Venerable one, none of us agreed to this cruel act of the King and we
are all sorrowing over what has been done to you by that devilish man.
We ask you to curse the King but not us." At this the ascetic said:
"May that king who has caused my hands and feet to be cut off, as well
as you, live long in happiness. Persons who practice virtues like me
never get angry." Saying this, he breathed his last.
Since the Buddha in his past lives, while still imperfect like us,
practiced forbearance and loving-kindness to such a high extent, why
cannot we follow his example?
When we remember and think of similar noble characters of great
souls, we should be able to bear any harm, unmoved by anger. Or if we
consider the nature of the round of rebirths in this beginningless and
infinite universe, we will be able to curb our upspringing anger. For,
it is said by the Buddha: "It is not easy to find a being who has not
been your mother, your father, your brother, sister, son or daughter."
Hence with regard to the person whom we have now taken for our enemy,
we should think: "This one now, in the past has been my mother who
bore me in her womb for nine months, gave birth to me, unweariedly
cleansed me of impurities, hid me in her bosom, carried me on her hip
and nourished me. This one was my father in another life and spent
time and energy, engaged in toilsome business, with a view to
maintaining me, even sacrificing life for my sake", and so on. When we
ponder over these facts, it should be expected that our arisen anger
against our enemy will subside.
And further, we should reflect on the advantages of the development
of mind through the practice of extending loving-kindness. For, the
Buddha has expounded to us eleven advantages to be looked for from its
development. What are the eleven? The person who fully develops
loving-kindness sleeps happily. He wakes happily. He experiences no
evil dreams. He is beloved of men. He is beloved even of non-human
beings. He is protected by the gods. He can be harmed neither by
fire, poison or a weapon. His mind is quickly composed. His
complexion is serene. At the moment of his death he passes away
unbewildered. If he can go no further along the path of realization,
he will at least be reborn in the heavenly abode of the Brahma Devas.
So, by every similar and possible way should we endeavor to quench
our anger and at last be able to extend our loving-kindness towards
any and every being in the world.
When we are able to curb our anger and control our mind, we should
extend from ourselves boundless love as far as we can imagine
throughout every direction pervading and touching all living beings
with loving-kindness. We should practice this meditation every day at
regular times without any break. As a result of this practice, we
will be able, one day, to attain to the //jhanas// or meditative
absorptions, comprising four grades which entail the control of
sensuality, ill-will and many other passions, bringing at the same
time purity, serenity and peace of mind.
* * * * * * * *
Two Stories Retold from the Buddhist Texts
Once while the Blessed One stayed near Rajagaha in the Veluvana
Monastery at the Squirrels' Feeding Place, there lived at Rajagha a
Brahmin of the Bharadvaja clan who was later called "the Reviler."
When he learned that one of his clan had gone forth from home life and
had become a monk under the recluse Gotama, he was angry and
displeased. And in that mood he went to see the Blessed One, and
having arrived he reviled and abused him in rude and harsh speech.
Thus being spoken to, the Blessed One said: "How is it, Brahmin: do
you sometimes receive visits from friends, relatives or other guests?"
"Yes, Master Gotama, I sometimes have visitors."
"When they come, do you offer to them various kinds of foods and a
place for resting?"
"Yes, I sometimes do so."
"But if, Brahmin, your visitors do not accept what you offer, to
whom does it then belong?"
"Well, Master Gotama, if they do not accept it, these things remain
"It is just so in this case, Brahmin: you revile us who do not
revile in return, you scold us who do not scold in return, you abuse
us who do not abuse in return. So we do not accept it from you and
hence it remains with you, it belongs to you, Brahmin."...
[The Buddha finally said:]
"Whence should wrath rise for him who void of wrath,
Holds on the even tenor of his way,
Self-tamed, serene, by highest insight free?
"Worse of the two is he who, when reviled,
Reviles again. Who doth not when reviled,
Revile again, a two-fold victory wins.
Both of the other and himself he seeks
The good; for he the other's angry mood
Doth understand and groweth calm and still.
He who of both is a physician, since
Himself he healeth and the other too, --
Folk deem him a fool, they knowing not the Norm." [*]
Abridged and freely rendered from Samyutta
Nikaya, Brahmana Samyutta, No. 2. Verses
translated by C. A. F. Rhys Davids, in "Kindred
Sayings", vol. I.
* [The "Norm" or law (dhamma), here referred to, may be expressed
in the words of the Dhammapada (v. 5):
"Not by hating hatred ceases
In this world of tooth and claw;
Love alone from hate releases --
This is the Eternal Law."
Translated by Francis Story]
* * *
THE ANGER-EATING DEMON
Retold from an ancient Buddhist Story
by Nyanaponika Thera
Once there lived a demon who had a peculiar diet: he fed on the anger
of others. And as his feeding ground was the human world, there was
no lack of food for him. He found it quite easy to provoke a family
quarrel, or national and racial hatred. Even to stir up a war was not
very difficult for him. And whenever he succeeded in causing a war,
he could properly gorge himself without much further effort; because
once a war starts, hate multiplies by its own momentum and affects
even normally friendly people. So the demon's food supply became so
rich that he sometimes had to restrain himself from over-eating, being
content with nibbling just a small piece of resentment found close-by.
But as it often happens with successful people, he became rather
overbearing and one day when feeling bored he thought: "Shouldn't I
try it with the gods?" On reflection he chose the Heaven of the
Thirty-three Deities, ruled by Sakka, Lord of Gods. He knew that only
a few of these gods had entirely eliminated the fetters of ill-will
and aversion, though they were far above petty and selfish quarrels.
So by magic power he transferred himself to that heavenly realm and
was lucky enough to come at a time when Sakka the Divine King was
absent. There was none in the large audience hall and without much
ado the demon seated himself on Sakka's empty throne, waiting quietly
for things to happen, which he hoped would bring him a good feed. Soon
some of the gods came to the hall and first they could hardly believe
their own divine eyes when they saw that ugly demon sitting on the
throne, squat and grinning. Having recovered from their shock, they
started to shout and lament: "Oh you ugly demon, how can you dare to
sit on the throne of our Lord? What utter cheekiness! What a crime!
you should be thrown headlong into the hell and straight into a
boiling cauldron! You should be quartered alive! Begone! Begone!"
But while the gods were growing more and more angry, the demon was
quite pleased because from moment to moment he grew in size, in
strength and in power. The anger he absorbed into his system started
to ooze from his body as a smoky red-glowing mist. This evil aura
kept the gods at a distance and their radiance was dimmed.
Suddenly a bright glow appeared at the other end of the hall and it
grew into a dazzling light from which Sakka emerged, the King of Gods.
He who had firmly entered the undeflectible Stream that leads
Nibbana-wards, was unshaken by what he saw. The smoke-screen created
by the gods' anger parted when he slowly and politely approached the
usurper of his throne. "Welcome, friend! Please remain seated. I can
take another chair. May I offer you the drink of hospitality? Our
Amrita is not bad this year. Or do you prefer a stronger brew, the
While Sakka spoke these friendly words, the demon rapidly shrank to
a diminutive size and finally disappeared, trailing behind a whiff of
malodorous smoke which likewise soon dissolved.
The gist of this story dates back to the discourses of the Buddha. But
even now, over 2500 years later, our world looks as if large hordes of
Anger-eating Demons were haunting it and were kept well nourished by
millions slaving for them all over the earth. Fires of hate and
wide-traveling waves of violence threaten to engulf mankind. Also
the grass roots of society are poisoned by conflict and discord,
manifesting in angry thoughts and words and in violent deeds. Is it
not time to end this self-destructive slavery of man to his impulses
of hate and aggression which only serve the demoniac forces? Our
story tells how these demons of hate can be exorcised by the power of
gentleness and love. If this power of love can be tested and proven,
at grass-root level, in the widely spread net of personal
relationships, society at large, the world at large, will not remain
unaffected by it.
Based on Samyutta Nikaya, Sakka Samyutta, No. 22
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TITLE OF WORK: The Elimination of Anger (Bodhi Leaves No. 68)
AUTHOR: Ven. K. Piyatissa Thera
AUTHOR'S ADDRESS: N/A
PUBLISHER'S ADDRESS: Buddhist Publication Society
P.O. Box 61
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DATE OF PUBLICATION: 1975
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