The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
Anger, if not restrained, is frequently more hurtful to us than the injury that provokes it. – Seneca
Anger is momentary madness, so control your passion or it will control you. – Horace
Anger and intolerance are the twin enemies of correct understanding. – Gandhi
By now, most people accept the fact that our rage and anger come from internalized pain. But few know we have hard-wired brain circuitry that, when stimulated, can lead to immediate rage.
Walter Hess, the Swiss physician, scientist and brain researcher who won the Nobel Prize in 1949, was the first to learn that electrical stimulation to certain brain regions will produce instant rage in animals and in humans. We all have that potential rage within us, his research proved.
I had a patient once who exemplified Dr. Hess’s finding. While I was in college, I worked in a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane, where everyone warned me about Sam (not his real name). Normally a nice, mild-mannered guy if everything was going well, Sam would fly into a violent rage at the slightest discomfort, irritation or provocation. The psychiatrist at the hospital told me Sam had a rare brain injury that caused his hair-trigger behavior—his brain could no longer mediate and control its rage impulses. Sam had murdered his entire family, and soon after I stopped working at the hospital he killed one of my friends and co-workers.
Luckily, Sam’s rare brain injury remains highly unusual—but we all have felt our own anger, and we all have wondered, after the rage passes, what to do about it. How can we control it, and move past it?
Throughout history, religion has offered us some excellent suggestions:
Conquer the angry one by not getting angry; conquer the wicked by goodness; conquer the stingy by generosity, and the liar by speaking the truth. – Buddha, The Dhammapada, verse 223.
An angry person is ugly and sleeps poorly. Gaining a profit, he turns it into a loss, having done damage with word and deed. A person overwhelmed with anger destroys his wealth. Maddened with anger, he destroys his status. Relatives, friends, and colleagues avoid him. Anger brings loss. Anger inflames the mind… A man conquered by anger is in a mass of darkness. He takes pleasure in bad deeds as if they were good, but later, when his anger is gone, he suffers as if burned with fire. He is spoiled, blotted out, like fire enveloped in smoke. When anger spreads, when a man becomes angry, he has no shame, no fear of evil, is not respectful in speech. For a person overcome with anger, nothing gives light. – Buddha, Kodhana Sutta
Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools – Ecclesiastes 7:9.
If a man be under the influence of anger his conduct will not be correct. – Confucius
He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly… Who is strong? He who subdues his evil inclination, as it is stated, ‘He who is slow to anger is better than a strong man, and he who masters his passions is better than one who conquers a city.’- Proverbs 14:29, 16:32.
You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment… – Mathew 5:21.
A man said to the Prophet, “Advise me! “The Prophet said, “Do not become angry and furious.” The man asked (the same) again and again, and the Prophet said in each case, “Do not become angry and furious.” – from the Muslim Bukhari Hadiths, number 127.
Certainly you see the problem here—we all have, in the oldest part of our mammalian brains, the innate instinct and the built-in mechanism for anger and rage. But every great Faith tells us not to use it against others.
The Baha’i teachings bring some clarity to that conundrum:
…the heart that partakes of the outpouring grace of the Holy Spirit and becomes sanctified is made goodly and pure. The purpose is that the reality of man be purified and sanctified from the defilements of the world of nature, which are vile attributes such as anger, lust, worldliness, pride, dishonesty, hypocrisy, deceit, self-love, and so on. Man cannot free himself from the onslaught of vain and selfish desires save through the confirming grace of the Holy Spirit. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, pp. 103-104.
If our hearts and souls seek a connection with the spiritual reality, the Baha’i writings say, we can learn to transcend our animalistic tendencies and turn the impulses from our lower nature toward higher, more constructive ends. In his Most Holy Book, Baha’u’llah advises us not to lose our tempers, and not to anger our neighbors. Abdu’l-Baha asks each one of us to strive to become holy souls, freed from ignorance, rage and anger, so we can discover the truth of our oneness:
Holy souls are like soil which has been plowed and tilled with much earnest labor; the thorns and thistles cast aside and all weeds uprooted. Such soil is most fruitful and the harvest from it will prove full and plenteous. In this same way man must free himself from the weeds of ignorance, thorns of superstitions and thistles of imitations, that he may discover reality in the harvests of true knowledge. Otherwise the discovery of reality is impossible, contention and divergence of religious belief will always remain and mankind, like ferocious wolves will rage and attack each other in hatred and antagonism. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 76.