From AN 3.25, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi:
And what, bhikkus, is the person whose mind is like an open sore? Here, some person is prone to anger and easily exasperated. Even if he is criticised slightly he loses his temper and becomes irritated, hostile, and stubborn; he displays irritation, hatred, and bitterness. Just as a festering sore, if struck by a stick or a shard, will discharge even more matter, so too some person here is prone to anger…(as above). This person is said to have a mind like an open sore.
We can recognize this metaphor of anger as an open sore in ourselves and in others. If we see it in ourselves, we have work to do. If we see it in others, we can have compassion for their misery and avoid “poking” them to bring out more unhappiness.
The main work, of course, is on ourselves. Are we blessed with a disposition that is non-reactive, that takes things in without judging or criticising? Are we so good at avoiding conflict that if there’s a chance of unpleasantness, we absent ourselves, physically or psychologically? This can be a good general strategy, but on the whole, I believe it’s impossible to live a life that contains no provocations, no irritations. What bothers you may be different from what bothers me, but there’s always something that we wish was not as it is.
We can start by making an honest baseline assessment of how prone to anger we are. We can ask a trusted friend to corroborate our understanding. We might feel we are very even-tempered, while someone else might see us as seething beneath the surface. There’s no one answer here, just an acknowledgement that each of us has some clinging (even if it’s to peace) that causes us to suffer, and that our own clinging may be harder to perceive than others’.
There are many places in the Pali canon where the Buddha talks about anger, so we’ll spend a few posts on this subject. The next few imperfections on the list are variations on anger, so we’ll have a chance to explore this topic in depth, which is appropriate because for many of us, this is the main obstruction to seeing clearly, the main obstacle to developing wisdom.