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Inside the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine Print

Look inside the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine

FEATURING: Judy Lief, Norman Fischer, Emily Horn and Melvin McLeod on working with anger; Jack Kornfield on how to join the call for peace in Burma; Insight meditation teacher Gina Sharpe gets real about racism; Noah Levine's prescription for "Refuge Recovery," Thich Nhat Hanh's answers to children's questions; plus, book reviews, "About a Poem," and more.

Click titles below to read excerpts and select complete articles.

this issue's editorial:

All the Rage

Andrea Miller on how anger manifests in our lives. What good is it doing?

special feature section: discovering the wisdom of anger

How to transform anger from a cause of suffering into the powerful energy of compassion.

• The Angry Buddha

The buddhas are angry about the suffering of samsara. Melvin McLeod on the enlightened power of no.


• The Poison Tree: How to Transform Anger in 4 Steps

Anger is like a poisonous tree—you can prune it back, chop it down, or find ways to use it. Judy Lief offers four Buddhist techniques to work with our anger. 


• How RAIN Cools the Flames of Anger

Emily Horn teaches us how to recognize, accept, investigate, and not identify with our anger.  


• Abandon Hope & Other Surprising Slogans to Help You Handle Anger

Zen teacher Norman Fischer applies five surprising mind-training slogans to anger and other strong emotions


• There Is a Path that Frees Us from Suffering

Insight Meditation teacher Gina Sharpe is working to create a truly inclusive sangha. The place to start, she says, is facing the truth that even Buddhist communities aren’t free from the suffering caused by racism. Andrea Miller reports.  


• Is Nothing Something?

Children’s questions reveal that they, like adults, are grappling with the human condition. We’ll all benefit from Thich Nhat Hanh’s answers to their questions.  


• A Refuge from Addiction

Taking refuge in the Buddha means taking refuge from our suffering. Noah Levine offers Buddhist principles and practices to help people free themselves from the suffering of substance abuse.  


• On Track with Paul Newman

Paul Newman was one of the world’s biggest stars. But according to former employee Michael Stone, he was also someone who could sit still and watch the rain fall. 

other voices

• Obstacles on the Path

In meditation, you can’t just pretend obstacles aren’t there, says Sakyong Mipham. You have to relate to them.  


• Buddhists Betray the Teachings

A religion known for nonviolence is being used to fuel a genocidal campaign against the Muslims of Burma. Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield urges us to join the call for peace.  


• Nothing Special 

No one wants to be just another person in a world of seven billion people. Geri Larkin on what happened when she embraced being ordinary.

reviews & more

• Books in Brief

This issue’s roundup features books by Tom Robbins, Peter Matthiessen, Nyanaponika Thera, and more.

• About a Poem

Willis Barnstone on “Our White House,” by Charles Baudelaire

Shambhala Sun, March 2014, Volume Twenty Three, Number 1.

On the Cover: Yanluo, King of Hell, China, 1523 CE. Royal Ontario Museum Gallery of Chinese Architecture. Photo by Rajeshwar Chahal

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All the Rage (Editorial; September 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | September 2014

All the Rage

If a kid is cute enough, their anger is also cute. I used to know a little girl like that. About eighteen months old, she had curly hair and dimpled arms. She never seemed to cry or scream, and she liked to be picked up and cooed over by adults, even strangers. Yet I remember being at a dinner party once when she saw her mother hold someone else’s baby, and in a flash her brow furrowed into unadulterated rage. I laughed as this tiny girl in a velvet dress charged her mother like a bull.

This was an it’s-funny-because-it’s-true situation. The little girl’s anger held up a true mirror to our adult anger. From my grown-up vantage point, I could see that what she was mad about didn’t really matter. Likewise, most of what gets us adults riled up is equally unimportant.

The little girl’s anger was a disguise for other, more vulnerable emotions. She was jealous, and underneath that jealousy she was hurt and afraid. She loved her mother more than anyone else and, moreover, she depended on her for everything. The thought that she could be replaced by another child was terrifying to her.

Adults also get angry when experiencing softer, more vulnerable emotions. Hurt, sadness, despair—they’re so painful that we try to protect ourselves from them with anger’s fiery energy. But adult anger isn’t funny. At its best, anger is a formidable tool that shows us when something is unjust and needs to be rectified. Much more commonly, however, anger is simply an ugly and destructive force.

Recently, I edited the anthology All the Rage: Buddhist Wisdom on Anger and Acceptance, which will be released by Shambhala Publications in October. While I was putting together that book, as well as this issue of the Shambhala Sun, I gave a lot of thought to anger and how it manifests in my life. I became curious about what it would be like if I stopped getting angry in the face of my soft, uncomfortable feelings, and so I experimented. The first time was when I went to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan.

On the first floor I saw personal artifacts from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—photos of newlyweds, worn shoes, menorahs. I had that bittersweet feeling I always have when seeing the photos and belongings of people long dead. But I also felt a thread of dread. I wondered who died before the war that was to come and who had to suffer it.

On the second floor, dedicated to the Holocaust, anger immediately bubbled up in me. How could one group of human beings do this to another? Then I came to the section on children and I felt like my chest was going to burst with rage. Instead of protecting children, the Nazis had targeted them—starved, tortured, and killed them. The anger just kept pounding through me.

But what good was it doing? Suddenly I realized that there was a hard nugget of violence in my anger, which if given the circumstances could explode. Taking a seat, I stripped my anger to the sadness behind it. I inhaled and exhaled and discovered that my soft, vulnerable feelings were bearable after all—maybe more bearable than the fire I’d been trying to cover them with.

Whether angry or grief-stricken, I do not have the power to travel back in time to rescue those children. I do not even have the power to rescue all of today’s children from painful circumstances. But I could—when I left the museum—be a little less angry and a little more full of compassion for the human condition. That, I think, is the place to begin in doing good.

—Andrea Miller, Deputy Editor

From the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

The Poison Tree: How to Transform Anger in 4 Steps (September 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | September 2014

The Poison Tree:
How to Transform Anger in 4 Steps

Using the traditional metaphor of the poison tree, JUDY LIEF teaches us four Buddhist techniques to work with our anger.

According to Buddhist psychology, anger is one of the six root kleshas, the conflicting emotions that cause our suffering. Its companions are greed, ignorance, passion, envy, and pride. 

Anger can be white hot or freezing cold. Anger can be turned outward to other people, to a particular situation you are stuck with, or to life in general. It can be turned inward, in the form of self-hatred, resentment, or rejection of those parts of yourself that embarrass you or make you feel vulnerable. Anger can cause you to kill; it can lead you to commit suicide.

Anger is fueled by the impulse to reject, to push away, to destroy. It is associated with the hell realm, a state of intense pain and claustrophobia. That quality of claustrophobia or being squeezed into a corner is also reflected in the origins of the English word anger, whose root means “narrow” or “constricted.”

Anger can be extremely energetic. You feel threatened and claustrophobic, and that painful feeling intensifies until you lash out like a cornered rat. Or it can manifest as a subtle simmering of resentment that you carry along with you always, like a chip on your shoulder.

Like the other kleshas, anger is a part of our makeup. We all have it, but we deal with it very differently, both as individuals and culturally.

Because the experience of anger is so potent, we usually try to get rid of it somehow. One way we try to get rid of it is to stuff it or suppress it, because we are embarrassed to acknowledge or accept that we could be feeling that way. Another way we try to get rid of our anger is by impulsively acting out through violent words or actions, but that only feeds more anger.

Since anger is a natural part of us, we cannot really get rid of it, no matter how hard we try. However, we can change how we relate to it. When we do, we begin to glimpse a quality hidden within this destructive force that is sane and valuable. We can save the baby while we throw out the bathwater.

In Buddhism there are many strategies and practices for dealing with anger. The overall approach is to start with meditation. In the context of formal sitting practice we can begin to understand the energy of anger, as well as the other kleshas, and to make a new relationship with it. On that basis, we can begin to apply this insight in the more challenging environment of day-to-day living.


How Mindfulness Undermines Aggression

The formal practice of mindfulness is the foundation for exploring the powerful energy of anger. It is hard to deal with anger once it has exploded, which is why meditation practice is such a helpful tool. By slowing down, and by refining our observational powers, we can catch the arising of anger at an earlier stage, before it has a chance to overtake us completely.

The practice of sitting still, breathing naturally, and looking attentively at one’s moment-by-moment experience is in and of itself an antidote to aggression. This is true because anger and other emotional outbursts thrive on being unseen. They thrive on the ability to lurk below the surface of our awareness and pop up whenever they please. So extending the boundary of your awareness takes away the natural habitat that sustains the kleshas.

Through meditation, we learn to tune in to what we are feeling and observe that experience with dispassion and sympathy. The more we can do that in formal mindfulness practice, the less under anger’s iron grip we will be. In turn, the more chance we will be able to transform our relationship to anger in the midst of daily life as well.

Where does anger arise? It is in the mind. So by taming the mind we can establish a strong base for understanding how anger arises in us and how we habitually respond to it. We can see how anger spreads and settles in our body, and how it triggers formulaic dramas about blame and hurt. We can expose our conceptual constructs about anger, our justifications, defensiveness, and cover-ups. On that basis we can go further using the following practice.


The Poison Tree: A 4-Step Anger Practice

One traditional analogy for a progressive, step-by-step approach to dealing with anger and the other kleshas is the poison tree.

How do you deal with a poison tree? The first thing you might do is prune it, to keep it from getting too large or from spreading. But that just keeps it under control. The tree is still there.

However, once the tree is a more manageable size, it might be possible to dig it up and get rid of it completely, which seems to be a slightly better approach.

But just as you are about to do that, you may remember that a doctor once told you that this tree’s leaves and bark have medicinal qualities. You realize that it doesn’t make sense simply to get rid of that tree. It would be better to make use of it.

Finally, according to this story, a peacock comes along, notices the tree, and without further ado, happily gobbles it up. The peacock instantly converts that poison into food.


1. Pruning the Tree: Refraining from Indulging in Anger

The first step is to refrain from speech and actions based on anger. When anger arises, it has usually already taken us over by the time we notice it. The intensity of the emotion and our reaction to it are so tied as to feel almost simultaneous. We are desperate to do something with this anger, either to feed it or to suppress it.

In this step, we refrain from doing anything, no matter how strong the urge to do so may be. The practice is to stay with the experience of anger. We begin on the boundary, with the second-thought level, where we are tempted to add fuel to the flame or try to stomp it out and get rid of it. The practice is to engage in neither of those two strategies. It is to be with our anger without interpreting it or strategizing.

Our reactions tend to be so strong and immediate that initially we may not really get to the anger itself. But as our reactivity becomes less heavy-handed, a small, almost miniscule gap opens up between our anger and our reaction. In that gap it is possible for us to be with the anger and at the same time refrain from being caught up in it. We can relate to our anger more purely and simply, without second thoughts.


2. Uprooting the Tree: Seeing Through Anger’s Apparent Solidity

Once we are able to be with anger with more openness and less judgment, the second step is to look at it more precisely.

When anger arises, we examine it. We ask questions. To what do we attach the label “anger”? Is it a sense perception, a thought, or a feeling? How real is it? How invincible? Is it still? Is it moving? When we try to pin it down, does it slip away? Where does it come from? Where does it live? Where does it go? What are its qualities? Its texture? Its color? Its shape? What gives anger its power over us?

In this step we examine anger as a simple phenomenon. Where is the anger coming from? What is it aimed at? Is it our fault or is it the fault of someone or something else?

Look as directly as you can. What are anger’s roots? What is feeding it? Go level by level, deeper and deeper. Can you find its root cause?


3. Distilling the Medicine: Uncovering Wisdom in the Midst of Pain 

In the third step we contemplate what it is about anger that is harmful and what might be of benefit. How could anger possibly be a form of medicine? If we got rid of our anger what would be lost?

Here the practice is to discern the difference between harmful anger and anger that benefits in some way. Clearly, the mindless expression of anger through words or deeds leads us to harm others and suffer harm ourselves. Yet repressing our anger also causes harm. The anger doesn’t actually go away but shows up in devious ways, wearing a disguise. So is there another option?

According to Tibetan Buddhism, there is a flip side to anger: there is wisdom in it. Normally we are too caught up in our personal struggles to connect with this wisdom, but anger actually has an integrity and a sharpness. It is a messenger that something is wrong, that something needs to be addressed. Anger’s awakened energy is said to be crystal clear, like a perfect mirror. It tells it like it is with no dissembling. Anger clears the air. It is immediate, and it is abrupt, but it grabs our attention and gets the point across. Anger interrupts our complacency and mobilizes us to take action.

When we encounter injustice being done to another, when we see violence inflicted on innocent beings, when we see the ways that humans justify almost any crazy act of violence, it is heartbreaking and makes us angry. So anger could be the catalyst that causes us to act with courage and compassion to address violence, injustice, and entrenched ignorance. And the more clearly we see such tendencies in the world around us, the more we come to recognize within us traces of these same tendencies to violence and dissembling. So anger has the power to strip the screens from our eyes, to cut through our ignorance and avoidance of harsh realities.

The destructive force of anger is real and apparent. In addressing its destructive force, we practiced restraint in the first step and we began to see through anger’s apparent solidity in the second. Now we are working with the wisdom potential of anger.

In fact, it may not be the anger itself but our tendency to hold on to our anger and its accompanying story line and self-absorption that is so harmful. When anger awakens us to a real problem that must be addressed, we can respond by wallowing in the anger and feeling good about ourselves for doing so. Or we can actually listen to whatever message that anger is bringing to us, while at the same time dropping the messenger. Then we can deal with what has been exposed to us by anger’s clear mirror.


4. The Peacock: Engaging Anger Without Fear or Hesitation

The final step is not actually a further practice, but more the result or fruition of mastering the other three steps. We continue to practice refraining from impulsive displays of anger, seeing through the apparent solidity of anger, and opening to the messages anger brings without clinging to the messenger. When we can do all that with ease, we may finally begin to be able to make use of anger as a tool or skillful means. If anger is called for and would be useful, we are not afraid to apply it. And when destructive anger does arise, we are not seduced, nor do we run away from it. We gobble it up on the spot. Not a trace remains.

Buddhist teacher Judy Lief is the author of
Making Friends with Death and the editor of many works by her teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, including the recent Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma.

Read the rest of this article inside the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

About a Poem Willis Barnstone on Baudelaire’s “Our White House” (September 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | September 2014

About a Poem
Willis Barnstone on Baudelaire’s “Our White House”


Our White House

Outside the city I have not forgot

Our white house, small but in a peaceful lot,

Her chipped Pomona and her old Venus

In a skimpy grove hiding their bare bust,           

And twilight sun both dazzling and superb

Behind the pane where its immense eye burned

Wide open, and the intense curious sky               

Pondered our long silent meals and the eye

Of sun mirrored in candlelight to merge   

On frugal tablecloth and curtain serge.


Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) is often called the father of modern poetry. A drunk, a sinner, and a street stroller, he was also an impeccably dressed dandy and an unusually courteous gentleman. He was sentenced to prison for a year for his “obscene” writing, specifically his series of poems alluding sympathetically to Sappho and her lesbian friends, but the sentence was commuted. Baudelaire wrote about the lowest ranks of society—the beggars, the blind, and the freezing prostitutes and sneak thieves on winter streets. A master of sonorous prosody, he rendered many poems hard to forget.

In “Our White House,” the poet speaks as a city man, off to the country to visit his maternal refuge, probably on a Sunday evening. Baudelaire’s twice-widowed mother, whom he adored, was Caroline Archenbaut Defayis Aupick. She angered him by not turning over all his inherited estate, but her prudence ultimately guaranteed him a lifetime allowance to carry him through the years. They also fought because she didn’t approve of his “black Venus,” Jeanne Duval, on whom he lavished moneys he didn’t possess, and because of his dissolute ways that led to his early death. But his mother was loyal to him and his art, and he died in her arms in hospital. Then in her remaining years, she devoted her life to editing his work and enhancing his name, making him the most fabled poet in the French language. In many ways Baudelaire was closer to his mother than to any other person, as we may observe in their silent dinner in this short poem.

The first lines reveal Baudelaire’s nostalgia for their modest house with rundown neo-classical statues. Our white house is peaceful, he states. “Her chipped Pomona and her old Venus” and the skimpy trees are a sorrowful patch of nature. But then, the poet declares the grandeur and beauty of the sun and intimately humanizes the heavens, speaking of the “curious sky.” He also reveals the material setting of the table, citing the “frugal tablecloth.” The poem ends not with drapes made of linen, cotton, or silk, but cheap serge curtains.

The power in the poem resides in its understatement. Baudelaire is writing a poem about his mother’s house, which is also about him and his mother and their full relationship. To do so he paints the sun and sky, the garden, the table, and the candlelight of intimacy, and only then does he yield one key personal phrase: “our long silent meals.” The voyeur sun witnesses the scene.

On a personal note, Baudelaire is a French poet I’ve been attached to since my student years in Paris. One afternoon in my room on la rue Jacob, a young woman, whom I’d seen for only a few moments at a cafe, came to the door with the unexpected gift of a pre-war leather-bound edition of Baudelaire’s poems, and then she left. I now take this same volume to France each summer and, though the Baudelaire corpus of poetry is not large, I never finish reading it.


Willis Barnstone’s many books include The Restored New Testament, The Gnostic Bible, and the volume of poetry Moonbook and Sunbook. He lives in Oakland, California.

From the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

RAIN Cools the Flames of Anger (September 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | September 2014

RAIN Cools the Flames of Anger

EMILY HORN teaches us how to recognize, accept, investigate, and not identify with our anger. 

The best way to transform anger and other strong emotions is to befriend them. As with any relationship, it takes time to become intimate with the inner workings of our minds. To do it we need courage and strength. And we need the help of an effective technique.

Peeling away the layers of anger moves us closer to life and empowers us to stand up for justice. One of the most effective ways to deepen and transform our relationship with anger is a four-step mindfulness-based practice known by the acronym RAIN: Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Non-Identify. Here’s how it works.


1. Recognize Anger

The first step of the practice is to recognize the many forms that anger takes. The energy of anger can move from irritation to resentment to rage. One form can fuel another in a fiery chain reaction that takes just seconds to explode.

We must be willing to face the demons that lie inside us so we are not controlled by them. There are many moments when anger arises without being recognized. Because we fear the intensity of anger, we allow it to build up over time, but pushing anger away or denying it only causes unconscious aggression.

Anger doesn’t just disappear when we start to meditate. But with mindfulness practice and the support of others, we can recognize it more quickly when it arises and have the presence to respond appropriately.


2. Accept Anger

Learning to accept anger is the second aspect of RAIN. Nonjudgmental acceptance melts the frozen and unconscious aspects of anger and cools the heat of active anger.

It is natural for our protective instincts to arise in certain circumstances. These are an important part of our evolutionary history. Befriending anger requires us to welcome our survival instincts as they arise. You don’t need to judge or condemn them.

We must learn to accept not only our personal anger but also the collective anger that permeates our world. Patience and forgiveness, for both ourselves and others, are important practices to help cool the flames of aggression.


3. Investigate Anger

The third step is to investigate the nature of anger. What is this energy that morphs and changes? That can burn like fire and harden like ice?

When you recognize anger is arising, you can use your attention to zoom into all the different layers and forms of anger. This includes bodily sensations, thoughts, and the whole range of feelings on the anger spectrum.

Is the anger light, dark, murky, or hot? Where is it felt in the body? What happens to your breath when you’re angry? What are the themes of your thoughts?

By applying your curiosity directly to the feeling of anger, you can change a potential damaging moment into a powerful experience of energy. This will create wise change.

By investigating anger you begin to notice how anger morphs into other emotions. You see the subtle ways you identify with your anger, and how the intensity of anger is like a glue that sticks you to your storylines. This leads to the final step of RAIN practice.


4. Not Identify with Anger

When we practice non-identification, we set aside the stories we tell ourselves about our anger. Focusing on the movement of the breath softens our identification with these stories so we can simply be with what’s happening.

When we move beyond our personal story, we open into awareness. Non-identification brings the understanding that anger arises and passes away. In that moment we become even more intimate with anger.

We burn out quickly when we identify with our anger, when we don’t recognize how it is driving us, when lack curiosity and investigation. But when we befriend anger, it fuels empowerment, resilience, and change. It deepens into non-separation and living in less harmful ways. Learning to use RAIN—recognizing, accepting, investigating, and non-identifying—turns the suffering of anger into a conscious and workable energy. Through the art of mindfulness, we see the harm that our anger has caused and use it instead to power our lives for the benefit of all.


Emily Horn is an Insight Meditation teacher and the community director of Buddhist Geeks, which explores what it means to be a Buddhist in this high-tech world. She lives with her husband in Asheville, North Carolina.

From the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

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