Understanding Anger

From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati

Everyone without any exception whatsoever is a victim of this horrible malady called anger. The control of anger brings with it supreme peace and immeasurable joy. Therefore, let me describe in detail what anger is, its various forms, how it affects the nervous system, its exact relationship with passion and lastly the various practical methods that can be safely employed to eradicate it – root and branch. My fervent appeal to all spiritual aspirants is to apply themselves heart and soul to the eradication of this disease by following these valuable practices.

Nature of anger

Anger is a vritti, a mental modification, that arises in the mind-lake when the two gunas or qualities, rajas, passion and tamas, darkness, predominate. It is a wave of unpleasant feeling that arises when one is displeased. It is a modification of desire or passion. Just as milk is changed into curd, so desire is changed into anger. It is the most formidable enemy of peace, knowledge and devotion. It is the straightest road to hell. Identification with the vritti is the cause of human sufferings.

Anger resides in the linga sharira, astral body, but it percolates into the physical body just as water percolates to the outer surface of an earthen pot. As heat melts lead, as heat and borax melt gold, so desire and anger, the heating factors of the mind, melt the mind.

Anger begets eight kinds of vices: injustice, rashness, persecution, jealousy, taking others’ property, killing, harsh words and cruelty. If anger can be eradicated, these negative qualities will die by themselves.

When a person’s desire is not gratified and someone stands in the way of its fulfillment, the person becomes angry. His desire turns into anger. When one is under the sway of anger, there is memory loss, understanding becomes clouded and one’s intellect is perverted. In such a state, one is susceptible to committing all sorts of atrocities. Sri Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita (2:62 and 2:63):

When a man thinks of objects, attachment to them arises; from attachment desire is born; from desire anger arises.

From anger comes delusion; from delusion the loss of memory; from loss of memory the destruction of discrimination; from the destruction of discrimination, he perishes.

Forms of anger

Anger is the greatest enemy. Contentment is a garden of heavenly flowers and peace. An angry person commits murder. He does not know exactly what he does. He becomes emotional and impulsive. When a man is angry, he says and does anything he likes. A hot word results in fighting and stabbing. He is intoxicated. He loses his normal consciousness at that time. Irritation, frowning, resentment, indignation, fury, wrath are all varieties of anger according to the degree of intensity.

If a person wants to correct another person and manifests slight anger unselfishly, as a force to check and improve the other person, it is called ‘righteous indignation’ or ‘spiritual anger’.

If a man molests a woman and a bystander becomes angry with the criminal, it is called ‘righteous indignation’ or ‘noble rage’. This is not negative, but when anger is the outcome of greed or selfish motives, it is negative. Sometimes a guru has to manifest a little anger outwardly to correct his disciples. This is not bad and he has to do it. But he should be cool within and hot and impetuous outside. He should not allow the anger to take deep root in his mind for a long time. It should pass off in the next moment just as a wave subsides in the sea.

Strength and weakness

If a person is often irritable with trifling matters, it is a definite sign of mental weakness. If one keeps quiet in the face of abuse, it is a sign of inner strength. Self-restraint or self-control is a sign of great mental strength. An easily irritable person is always unjust and swayed by impulses and emotions.

Anger gains strength by repetition. If it is checked, one gains immense strength of will. When controlled, anger is transmuted into ojas, spiritual energy, which is capable of moving the world. Just as heat and light may be changed into electricity, so anger can be changed into ojas. The energy only takes another form.

Energy is wasted enormously when one is angry. The whole nervous system is shattered by an outburst of anger. The eyes become red, the body quivers, the legs and hands tremble. Various poisons are thrown into the blood when one is angry. It is known that women have unknowingly killed their children by nursing them with breast milk when they were in a fit of anger,. Fiery dark arrows shoot out from the astral body which can be seen by a clairvoyant eye. It takes some months to restore normal equilibrium in the nervous system. In the light of modern psychology, diseases have their origin in anger. Rheumatism, heart disease and nervous illnesses are due to anger.


Passion is the root and anger the stem. One has to destroy the root and then the stem will die by itself.

The root causes of anger are ignorance and egoism. Through vichara, ‘right enquiry’, egoism should be removed. Then alone can one control anger completely.

Anger can be controlled to an enormous degree through the development of the opposite virtues such as patience, love, peace, mercy, friendship, etc. The force can be reduced. Atma jnana alone can fry all samskaras of anger and eradicate it totally. If an aspirant has controlled anger, half of his sadhana is over. Control of anger means control of passion which is really control of the mind. Once anger is controlled, a person can no longer do any wrong action. He is always just.

It is difficult to say when a person will be thrown into a fit of fury. All of a sudden one can fall into an irresistible fit of anger for trifling matters. When anger assumes a grave form, it becomes difficult to control. It should be controlled when it is in the form of a small ripple in the subconscious mind. Therefore, one should watch the mind very cautiously. Whenever there is the tiniest symptom or indication of some light irritability, it must be nipped immediately. By being careful and vigilant and watching the ripple, one becomes a sage.

Whenever there is a little irritability, one should stop all conversation and observe mouna, silence. Daily practice of mouna for one or two hours greatly assists in the control of anger. In speech, words must be soft and sweet but the arguments hard. If the reverse is the case it will lead to discord and disharmony. There is a sharp sword in every tongue.

If it is difficult to control the anger, leave the place at once and take a brisk walk. Drink some cold water immediately. This cools down the body and mind. Chant ‘Om’ loudly like a lion for ten minutes and then chant ‘Om shanti’ mentally or verbally for five minutes. Think of the image of your ishta, chosen deity. Pray and repeat your mantra for ten minutes. Gradually, the anger will subside.


Everyone must find out the real cause of anger and try to eradicate it. If a person abuses you and calls you names, you become furious and your blood becomes hot. Why do you feel offended when someone calls you ‘a dog’ or ‘a donkey’? Have you grown four legs and a tail? Why do you care about little matters? Enquire: What is the abuse? Is it not a mere vibration in the ether? Am I the body or the atman? No one can injure atman. Know that the atman of the abuser and the abused is one.

Say to yourself: Do I really gain anything by retaliating or do I waste my energy? I hurt the feelings of another person. I disturb and pollute the thought world and really harm the world by sending out a current of hatred. This world is unreal. I will live here only for a short time. Therefore, let me bear this insult and excuse him. I develop inner mental strength and the power of endurance.

You can effectively eradicate the feelings of anger. A time will come when you are neither irritated by harsh words, abuse nor insults. If critical and negative words are spoken about you, you will no longer pay any attention. You will just laugh the whole matter away. Try to remain cool even in the most provocative conditions. Know that an irritable person is weak and lacks mental strength.

If a person is hungry or suffers from any disease, he usually becomes more irritable. If he faces some difficulty or loss, he is irritated by small matters. If a sannyasin who lives in a cave says that he has controlled anger, one cannot believe him. The waves are suppressed for the time being. There are no opportunities for him to get irritated. If some transaction takes place, if he is ill-treated, his anger will manifest again. The world is a better training ground than the cave in gaining control of anger.

Tips and tricks

Sattwic food, japa, regular meditation, prayer, satsang, service, enquiry, kirtan, pranayama and brahmacharya are some of the most potent factors that pave the way to eradication of this malady. A combined method should be adopted. A spiritual aspirant should direct his attention towards the conquest of this powerful enemy. Therefore, to assist in this conquest, the following attitudes and practices may be cultivated:

  • Choose your company carefully.
  • Talk little and mix little.
  • Plunge yourself into spiritual sadhana.
  • Develop forgiveness, cosmic love, mercy and absence of egoism.
  • Become a witness, become indifferent and do not identify yourself with the vritti of anger. Let the vritti die by itself, let it not disturb you.
  • Say to yourself: I am the witness of this modification. I am distinct from this vritti. I have nothing to do with this wave.
  • Remember the saints and their lives.
  • Meditate in the morning on the virtue of patience for ten minutes.
  • Reflect and repeat the phrase ‘Om patience’ mentally several times daily.
  • Say to yourself: I am patient. I will never become irritated from today onwards. I manifest the virtue of patience in my daily life.
  • Think of the advantages of possessing the virtue of patience and the disadvantages of irritability. You may fail many times but you will develop patience gradually and become an embodiment of patience.

When a wave of anger arises in the mind-lake, identify yourself with the atman. Live in the spirit of the verse given by Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (5:23):

He who is able to resist the force of desire and anger even before he quits his body – he is a yogi, he is a happy man.