Overcoming the Impulse of Anger

There is an illustrative tale in the Mahabharata. The Pandava and Kaurava princes were being instructed by their noted teacher Dronacharya. Today’s lesson was ‘not to become angry’. The 100 Kaurava princes were asked if they had learned the lesson and they all replied in the affirmative. The 4 youngest Pandavas replied similarly. When Dronacharya came to the eldest, Yudhisthira, who was being groomed as the next king of Hastinapur, he received an unexpected reply, namely, that he had not learned the lesson. The next day the scene repeated, with the same result. On the following day, after going through this same scenario, Dronacharya lashed out and struck Yudhisthira across the face. This was a potential death sentence for Dronacharya to strike the crown prince, but Yudhisthira answered that he had now learned the lesson. As we learn later in the epic tale, none of the others actually learned how to control the impulse of anger in real-life situations, other than Yudhisthira.

We experience anger when we are unable to fulfill a desire, or when someone acts contrary to our wishes. Road rage is a great example of an instant rising up of anger due to a traffic failure, whether someone cuts us off on the road, drives too close, or does not let us pass when we are hurried. Spiritual seekers are not exempt from the uprush of anger, and, as with other vital impulses, it needs to be addressed.

As long as we remain based in the ego-consciousness, anger remains with us, and we tend to identify with it, and undergo ‘anger management’ procedures and training to address the anger which we accept as our own. Sri Aurobindo reminds us that the impulse actually arises outside in universal Nature and it is a matter of our tuning to it and accepting the impulse when it comes that leads to an expression of anger. The answer, then, is to find a way to change the channel, so to speak, and tune our awareness to other and higher energies, thus not giving anger an opportunity to express itself through us.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “I think you have always had an idea that to give expression to an impulse or a movement is the best way or even the only way to get rid of it. But that is a mistaken idea. If you give expression to anger, you prolong or confirm the habit of the recurrence of anger; you do not diminish or get rid of the habit. The very first step towards weakening the power of anger in the nature and afterwards getting rid of it altogether is to refuse all expression to it in act or speech. Afterwards one can go in with more likelihood of success to throw it out from the thought and feeling also. And so with all other wrong movements.”

“All these movements come from outside, from the universal lower Nature, or are suggested or thrown upon you by adverse forces — adverse to your spiritual progress. Your method of taking them as your own is again a wrong method; for by doing that you increase their power to recur and take hold of you. If you take them as your own, that gives them a kind of right to be there. If you feel them as not your own, then they have no right, and the will can develop more power to send them away. What you must always have and feel as yours is this will, the power to refuse assent, to refuse admission to a wrong movement. Or if it comes in, the power to send it away, without expressing it.”

“Of course the best way will be if you can keep the contact more with the Mother and her Light and Force and receive and accept and follow only what comes from that higher force.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Anger and Violence, pp 296-299

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