“Rage is a powerful energy that with diligent practice can be transformed into fierce compassion.”

achalanatha_the_immovable_buddha_zk09-230x300Teresa contacted me through Facebook to ask about this one:

Teresa: I just read this alleged quote by the Buddha, and I’m hoping you can confirm whether or not it is “real” : “Rage is a powerful energy that with diligent practice can be transformed into fierce compassion. However much we disagree with our enemies, our task is to identify with them. They too feel justified in their point of view.” …with gratitude

Bodhipaksa: Definitely not the Buddha

Teresa: Really? Did he say anything close to this? It was posted on a Buddha quotes page! oy [emphasis added]

Bodhipaksa: The Buddha never said anything even vaguely close to this. He wouldn’t have recognized the notion that rage can be turned into compassion. This quote is actually from an article in the Spring 2003 edition of Tricycle magazine: “Rising to the Challenge: Filling the Well with Snow,” by Bonnie Myotai Treace. In a fuller form it’s:

“Rage — whether in reaction to social injustice, or to our leaders’ insanity, or to those who threaten or harm us — is a powerful energy that, with diligent practice, can be transformed into fierce compassion.”

These are Treace’s own words — she’s not quoting the Buddha. The trouble with “Buddha quotes” pages is that most of what they post is not stuff the Buddha said. That’s why I started fakebuddhaquotes.com.

Someone’s copied the article and posted it here.

There are lots of Fake Buddha Quotes that sound like something the Buddha might have said, and there are some that are just way out there. This is one of the latter. And yikes, but it’s common!

Whether or not it’s true that anger is merely energy that can be transformed into compassion, the Buddha doesn’t seem to have talked in this way. He saw anger (let alone rage) as something to be abandoned. For example,

“Having abandoned ill will and anger, he becomes one with a mind of no ill will … [then the disciple of the noble ones] … “thus devoid of covetousness, devoid of ill will, unbewildered, alert, mindful — keeps pervading the first direction [the east] with an awareness imbued with good will, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth. Thus above, below, & all around, everywhere, in its entirety, he keeps pervading the all-encompassing cosmos with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, without hostility, without ill will.”

Anger is to be removed:

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

Anger is to be conquered:

Conquer anger by non-anger. Conquer evil by good. Conquer miserliness by liberality. Conquer a liar by truthfulness.

— Dhp., v. 223

It’s to be reined in:

He who checks rising anger as a charioteer checks a rolling chariot, him I call a true charioteer. Others only hold the reins.

– Dhp., v. 222

It’s to be guarded against:

Let a man guard himself against irritability in bodily action; let him be controlled in deed. Abandoning bodily misconduct, let him practice good conduct in deed.

– Dhp., v. 231

The Buddha appears to have seen anger as entirely unhelpful. There’s no suggestion in the Pali canon (that I’m aware of) of anything like “righteous anger.”

Thus the “mind of ill-will, with the intention of a mind affected by hate” is one of the “three kinds of mental conduct not in accordance with the Dhamma.”

The Buddha’s zero-tolerance approach to anger is illustrated in the famous Parable of the Saw:

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.

The later Buddhist tradition, having assimilated aspects of Tantra, began to see anger more as a form of energy that could be transformed into compassion, rather than as something inimical to it. I’m not aware of this perspective having found its way into the Zen tradition, but it’s something like this that Treace has in mind in her article.

I stress that I’m not saying that anger cannot be channeled in this way, just that this isn’t what the Buddha taught.

I’ll close this article with some words from a sutta on angry people:

When anger does possess a man;
He looks ugly; he lies in pain;
What benefit he may come by
He misconstrues as a mischance;
He loses property (through fines)
Because he has been working harm
Through acts of body and speech
By angry passion overwhelmed;
The wrath and rage that madden him
Gain him a name of ill-repute;
His fellows, relatives and kin
Will seek to shun him from afar;
And anger fathers misery:
This fury does so cloud the mind
Of man that he cannot discern
This fearful inner danger.
An angry man no meaning knows,
No angry man sees the Dhamma,
So wrapped in darkness, as if blind,
Is he whom anger dogs.

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