Persistent anger (or not)

Monks, there are these three kinds of persons found existing in the world. What three? The person who is like a line etched in stone; the person who is like a line etched in the ground; and the person who is like a line etched in water.

(1) And what kind of person is like a line etched in stone? Here, some person often gets angry, and his anger persists for a long time. Just as a line in stone is not quickly erased by the wind and  water but persists for a long time, so too, some person often gets angry and his anger persists for a long time. …

(2) And what kind of person is like a line etched in the ground? Here, some person often gets angry, but his anger does not persist for a long time…

(3) And what kind of person is like a line etched in water? Here, some person, even when spoken to roughly and harshly, in disagreeable ways, remains on friendly terms with his antagonist, mingles with him, and greets him. Just as a line etched in water quickly disappears and does not persist for a long time, some person, even when…

(from AN 3:132, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

There are several qualities in this short sutta that make it memorable. We can recognize anger as a state that we all experience, and that some of us handle better than others. There is also the metaphor of wind and water eventually erasing whatever lines we can draw; so the rise and fall of anger is set within the natural world.

People at the extremes – those who always seem angry and those who never seem to anger – are easy to identify, but most of us inhabit the middle ground. We get angry to a greater or lesser degree, and the burning sensations last a longer or shorter time. But we can think about these three categories and choose to aim at a less discomfiting one. When we are in a rage, we are likely to be causing pain to ourselves (primarily) and to anyone who comes into contact with us. If we can take a few deep breaths and let ourselves be more liquid than rigid, we have a better chance of causing less harm.

How might we become less vulnerable to our own tendency towards anger? One strategy is to take things less personally. When someone’s being obnoxious or difficult, it is most likely caused by their nature or personality. Only rarely is it intentionally directed at us. Remembering this can allow us to get out of the way and not take on the negative feelings coming towards us. Another strategy is to lengthen the timeline of our perception. How much will this incident matter in a week? A month? Is it worth getting stuck into?

There’s no easy way to defuse or set aside our own anger, but by examining it closely, by considering what’s actually happening and what consequences will likely follow from different attitudes and actions, we may discover ways to ease anger’s grip on us.

2 Comments

Filed under Anger, General, Speech

2 responses to “Persistent anger (or not)

  1. cherylwilfong

    I love this sutta.

    Thanks, Cheryl

  2. AS ever, very helpful.
    What am I? I shuttle between the line etched in stone and that in water.
    Thanks for a wonderful topic for meditation.

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