Robert Thurman "The Wisdom of Anger"

Published by:
Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

Video Description:
Robert Thurman, PhD, makes the teachings of the Buddha interesting and meaningful to people all over the world. He is cofounder and president of Tibet House, US, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the wisdom and the arts of Tibet.


I’m not sure I totally get the point here. Is it anger without attachment? Is that possible by definition? I’d appreciate any elaboration to help me to better understand “The Wisdom of Anger.”

For me its the beginning where he says to talk about the wisdom of anger is to talk about anger as a peace-seeking, non-violent, forceful action to right-the-wrongs and create (more) harmony.

1 Like

These days anger doesn’t seem to be leading to “peace-seeking, non-violent, forceful action to right-the-wrongs and create (more) harmony.”

I keep thinking of this saying from Shantideva, “good works gathered in a thousand ages, such as deeds of generosity, or offerings to the blissful ones, a single flash of anger shatters them.”

1 Like

It does always seem that way, for sure… but I don’t think that’s how it has to be. I keep thinking, if only we had a leader or leaders that can (help us) harness the anger and use it collectively for positive change - how much better off we could be.

I also think, in relation to the current times, perhaps the collective anger and outrage hasn’t been very wise all the time - but it has accomplished some good (like some cities reforming their police force, for example).

And I also think about people who feel like the only way to change a broken system is to burn it down. Maybe they are right?

At around the 4:00 mark Thurman starts talking about anger in the context of Buddhism and he goes into how the different schools of Buddhism address anger. He even briefly mentions Shantideva…

Thurman says,

“Mahayana would agree with the dualistic view of Buddhism that anger is no good”.

This sounds like the Shantideva quote you reference :slight_smile:

Thurman then goes on to say (roughly),

The Mahayana would also say the Bodhisattva, like the peacock who uses poison to be beautiful, the Bodhisattva can use the heat/fire of anger, take it away from the naive, mental approach where you become helpless (and lack all judgement), and use anger in a cool way, without hatred - take the anger away from the hatred, and cool-ly use force to improve a situation - in a loving way.

At around the 6:45 mark Thurman starts talking about Tantra and Vajrayana. He says,

In Vajrayana you go directly to the place where the heat of hatred and anger arises from. Its the place where you just don’t want to see wrong things, you don’t want harm and suffering to exist in the world. You will arise even in fury if necessary to stop it (if you are capable of that).

Thurman then says,

The problem with the un-enlightened person (practicing Vajrayana) or the person with no self-critical attitude is that they see something bad happening, they arise with fury, but then once gripped by the fury they add to the bad… They can’t control themselves when they’re playing with that fire/energy of pure anger, pure hatred.

Thurman rounds it out by saying,

But in Vajrayana, this pure energy can be used creatively…


Language may be part of the problem Andy. During the '60s—as riotous and contentious as these days—when people expressed the desire to burn down the system I always asked, “What are you willing to sacrifice in this burning down?” Family, business, livelihood? Perhaps it’s the polarization of the issue that is leaving no room for the middle way? But I always believe in the Middle Way (The Razor’s Edge). Maybe that’s why I am still an “unenlightened practitioner?” After listening again, I think it would be better to focus on the “The Wisdom of Non-Anger.”
:man_with_turban: Good exchange.

1 Like

@_Barry, RE:

“The only person who could do it is a completely enlightened person.” 1:37

“The Heat of anger can be creative.” 1:56

I still hold that men are capable of anger that women can never know (unless supplementing with lots of testosterone - the phrase " 'roid rage" holds true).

I’ve read a little on the Hell Realms and can’t connect to the explanations. They’re based on anger. I suppose the “mamma bear” anger might be closest? I have no experience of that either…

Think: Wrathful Diety. Wrathful Compassion.

They are not “mad” - that are so full of compassion their heart is constantly bursting forth. But they tried to Pacify a situation - and still it grew. They tried to Enrich the situation, but no such luck. Then they tried Magnetizing…still no change. So now they have to take that last step - to Destroy.

(not destroy another person - perhaps destroy the magic ego-carpet they seem to be flying on, or destroy a relationship/alliance, or even destroy their own reputation if that’s what’s necessary!)

He’s talking about using the experience of anger to wake up. To “sit in the stew” while holding your seat for the 90-or-so seconds it takes for an emotion to self-liberate - if not given CPR. Sit with that burning pit of lava in your gut and just feel it. It’s heat! “Seeing red?”

So I guess I do have some reference. Mine is usually felt as slowly sinking into the hot-tub of humiliation when I realize “omg, I am THAT!” So maybe not anger. That’s “burning the seeds of karma” I think.

Now jump to the 5 buddha families - sorry everyone to take the buddhist slant but that’s how I’ve come to understand it. It’s the vajrayana notion to use all experience as path. So you use anger to wake up. But you have to have a stable mind in order to stay on your cushion, so to speak. To not react in kind - as in meeting force with more force. That’s another definition of idiocy. Imagine you met your OWN force and didn’t react? That’s the key I think.

That’s the Vajra Family - as I’ve learned it. During The Art of Dying, Bob said the White and the Blue switch, depending on the lineage (and that being consistant - and curiously ok with it not being right or wrong at the same time).

I don’t have any proper teaching on this, just what I’ve come to understand from this fascination I’ve have with the elements/energies/wisdoms/chakras. So in my “buddhaverse”, Vajra family is Blue, the element is water, and the underlying energy that seems to be a surge of heat is what we shut down to and immediately label it “anger” and maybe “bad” or “righteous anger” - and then REact. (well, I do at least; I’m light-years from where I was and backing up). The unenlightened aspect of this energy is acting out in anger. The enlightened aspect of this very same energy is wisdom. “Mirror-like Wisdom.”

Water - an anger so icy cold and frozen that nothing could be felt - I’ve felt that actually. Towards myself. I started sitting by a “creek” that was overflowing during a really wet spring in an effort to break that icy self-hate. The river took out trees, the banks, my ‘sit spot’, and was creating new routes in the land - That’s a lot of power. Rushing water - imagining being in a raging river, water forcing me over and over in some kind of confused blindness - that was the felt ‘vision’ that hit home for me. That’s perhaps what blind rage feels like. (I usually shut down and fall asleep before ever getting to that point, hence seeking out rushing water).

Once that energy moves, you see everything a lot clearer and somehow know exactly what to do or say - Skillful Means. (hence choice is a myth to those enlightened, as I understand it) You do the right thing. You’re a bodhisattva/buddha and know how to dispell the situation skillfully with minimal carnage. Maybe some bruised egos, but they will see the error of their ways and have an ‘awakening’ of sorts themselves.

It’s like you know how to respond like the Aikido Master Thurman mentions. (hi @Steve_Gleason !) They don’t “spar” in training like other martial arts, they practice with a partner at their same level. (I did manage to take a couple classes and it was fun and challenging and a total mind f* - I was hooked! but couldn’t pursue it :frowning:) The Aikido Master uses the opponent’s energy to dismantle the opponent. Complete and utter awareness of what’s going on around him/her. They just know what the opponent is going to do because their minds are so trained in the present moment and all sense perceptions are awake, the opponent might as well be speaking on rpm33 (or whatever the fast record speed is). Every nerve is aware and sensing.

That’s what’s possible if one can keep their seat when the energy we call ‘anger’ arises. That energy is merely information that something is (I hate to use the word ‘unjust’ - where’s Andrew when I need his magical words!) - something needs to be destroyed. Not caught up in anger, not acting FROM anger, they transmute the energy of anger and SEE.

" Just as the clear surface of a mirror reflects everything before it, the wisdom of dharmadhatu ‘reflects’ all the phenomena of samsara and nirvana. This clear reflection is the mirror-like wisdom."

There’s a lot of power behind that energy! Untrained, we go unconscious to it, non-lucid. And it consumes us. But if we can tame that energy and harness it, it’s like having jet-packs behind our intentions and vows (of which I haven’t taken, only postulating here). And Right View is what guides our actions.

So I hear.

In theory.

Told you I was a hopeless romantic. :sigh:

Here’s one take on the 5 wisdom energies:

And the usual cheezy example of “wrathful compassion” - when little Johnny wobbles towards an electrical outlet with a butter knife in his hand, aiming for that perfect fit…

Pappa Bear - acting from a place of pure love and compassion - swats both the knife and little Johnny across the room away from imminent death. (ok, let’s say a lightning storm is going on outside too, at the time).

Now little Johnny’s face is a red contorted mess, howling in shock and maybe fear, he’s not sure what just happened! And he has no concept of what “might have been” - so that act of compassion looks like an act of WRATH! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

Anyway, in my avoidance of reality today I got sucked into a stoopid Amazon binge. I NEED ARTING STUFF NOW apparently. :roll_eyes: The funny part is that I ran across Thurman’s book that he mentions! :grin:

But - I ended up buying “Inner Revolution” instead. I just adore how he spoofs on sci-fi to explain dharma - it lands in a super clever way for me! I want to be that clever!!! To speak 4+ ‘languages’ at once and still make sense, WoW.

(or maybe he’s speaking in tongues - whatever that means)

Again - hopeless romantic… Beautiful Avatar forests here and now… dreamy sigh :heart_eyes:


I’ll read the book. Thanks.

1 Like

Oh I didn’t mean it as a book recommendation! I haven’t even read it!

And so now Barry is my guru.

It was more an acknowledging of synchronicity, but using my “out loud voice”.

What you just taught me:
For some reason I don’t even get what I’m getting at until I get some sort of feedback.

Astro tangent:
My Mercury (knowledge, information and the transfer of it) is in my 7th House (relationships and open enemies, also one source of astrological shadow propensities).

Also, my Sun (archetypal essense) is conjunct (same position as) Uranus (mad scientist, rebellion, independent). My sun is in Scorpio (death/transformation).

The AHA! :
I see have to “think out loud”, and with another person, to get what I’m trying to grok. Don’t have access to anyone face-to-face because I’m a bit “out there” conventially. My “inside voice” Complaint Practice the past year+ has been around the inaccessibility to peopke who use the same “lingo” I’m learning to discuss deep-end of the pool stuff. They just aren’t interested in “going there” and that’s the only way I can.

(and why I’m so windy and random here!)


1 Like

I’m not mathematical so I use the Sacred Symbols of the Ancients in maybe a similar fashion. Do you know it? Holy cow, just checked eBay at it’s selling for $200. Maybe I should sell my copy? I’ve used this book in an earlier printing since the '60s, though not for years now.

There’s also another (cheaper) book with a similar bent, Cards of Your Destiny, though I think he ripped off the earlier book and though it doesn’t seem as insightful, it does have a lot more to it and it’s 10x cheaper.

1 Like