Tropical Zen: Dealing with Anger

We often joke that Malaysia has four seasons—hot, hotter, wet, and wetter. Zen Master Dae Bong arrived in Penang during the midst of the wet season—far more preferable than having to face the hot season. During his short stay here, he gave two dharma talks and led a one-day Zen retreat. His teaching trip ended with the first one day retreat in our newly relocated Zen center in Penang. The following is an excerpt of his talk titled “Dealing with Anger.” —Myong An Sunim JDPS

Everybody experiences anger—even little babies experience anger. They can’t talk, they don’t know any language to think in, but everybody who has seen a baby knows they can get angry very easily.

Dogs and cats and all kinds of animals can also certainly behave like they’re angry. So, anger is a common and natural experience.

The problem with anger is that it often leads to an undesirable result. Zen Master Seung Sahn had a simple way of expressing things, and he used to say, “Angry mind appears, then soon stupid action.” You may have experienced yourself doing some stupid action. This often means that you did not get the result you wanted.

However, there are some people—and you may know someone like this—who will use anger to get what they want. However, this does not mean that it’s smart to do this. It can also be stupid, as it means that the problems for them may not appear immediately, and instead they’ll appear a little later.

In addition to experiencing anger, we really ought to know what it is. It always has behind it has some kind of opposite idea—something that our body or opinion doesn’t want. It also can be something that we want but is taken away from us.

So, the root of anger comes from a view that is not true, that is incorrect and incomplete. If we can realize this deeply then we will rarely become angry.

We all take our body and think of it as “me” or “I.” But what makes this body “me”? These are my clothes, my beads, my hand, my head—these things are not “me.”

Many of you here have a car—“my car.” But sometimes even though it’s just your car, you act as though it is “me.” For example, why do some people buy a Mercedes Benz? Perhaps it is so that others will think that they are rich or cool, or both. Why do most car advertisements have a pretty woman in them? It may make some men think, “If I buy that car, I can meet someone like her too.” And some women might think, “If I buy that car, I can look as good as her.”

It all comes back to this idea we make of “I.” The first root of this idea of “I” is our body. But the Buddha realized that there is no “I” at all—it’s made by our thinking.

I first met Zen Master Seung Sahn more than forty years ago. During his talk, someone asked him, “What’s crazy? What’s not crazy?” I had studied psychology at university and worked in that field for five years. After that I left and got a job doing manual labor. I became very interested in the question because it was my previous field of study and I wondered how he would answer.

He replied, “If you are very attached to something, you’re very crazy. If you are a little attached to something, you’re a little crazy. If you are not attached to anything, you’re not crazy.”

Hearing that, I thought to myself, “That’s better than my ten years of studying and working in psychology!”

Zen Master Seung Sahn continued: “So, in this world everybody is crazy because everybody is attached to ‘I.’ But, this ‘I’ does not exist—it’s only made by our thinking. If you don’t want to attach to your thinking ‘I’ and want to find your true ‘I’ then you must practice Zen.”