Transmuting Anger
by Brian Ruhe

Anger is the acid test of any religion. "How should people deal with anger?" is the question that must be put to any humanistic philosophy or method of psychotherapy. The Buddha gave us several techniques in the metta sutra and in Middle Length discourse No. 20, such as replacing the thought with a more skillful thought, regarding the thought with revulsion like the corpse of a dog on a necklace around your neck, lack of attention to the thought, stilling the thought formation by visualizing the anger as a man walking quickly, then slowing down, and slowing until standing, then sitting, then lying down. This takes the gas out of anger. The Buddha even recommended pressing the tongue against the palate and clenching your jaws to get your mind off of anger. In the metta sutra the Buddha even advised suppressing anger if it is necessary in a situation, also regard others with onlooking loving kindness, compassion or equanimity, and contemplate that they are the heir of their deeds.
These are all practices to work with the tempestuous angry mind. The practice of transmuting emotions comes from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and it is mixed with Hinduism. Transmuting means that it is possible for you to uplevel your emotions from your lower energy centres to your higher energy centres and actually benefit from cultivating the energy of your negative emotions. This is an exciting possibility. These "chackras" were not taught by the Buddha as far as we know. This is not at all to say that they are invalid; perhaps the Buddha felt that it was unnecessary to reveal the existence of the chackras. This is a Hindu model which the Mahayana Buddhists have adopted.
The way in which transmuting takes place is that you deal directly with any negative emotions as they arise in your mind. This may be a bit more difficult to practice if you're in the middle of a fist fight with somebody, but even then this technique is applicable. What you do is that you "stare down" your anger, your passion, jealousy, envy, whatever it is. You bring your attention to it in your mind and you stare it down. This means that you do not act out your anger, you do not actually "get angry." You bring your attention to the physical feelings associated with your anger. Closely observe the knot in your stomach, your clenched jaw, the shoot of heat going up your spine and neck, etc. This is Buddhist meditation! You're practicing mindfulness/awareness.
The whole point is that you should observe your anger rather than engaging your anger and your body, speech and mind to create bad karma for yourself. Instead of getting angry at others you should avoid spreading more anger in the world and deal with your own mind first. It will not bless the world for you to scream one more time at your family- even if they deserve it. And it will not bless you to throw pots and pans at your spouse- no matter how disgusting he or she is. Stop the cycle. Break the anger response now. You can do it and this is perhaps the best technique known.
Ideally, if you can sit in meditation or control the environment around you, that would be good. If you are in your office and you slam down the phone is a huff, take that opportunity to quietly sit in your cubicle and meditate upon your anger. This is your one great opportunity to turn almost certain bad karma around and make it a moment to bring your negative emotions onto your spiritual path. The energy of anger can be cultivated just as manure on a farmer's field is cultivated to bring fresh new crops into being. After you slam down the phone with a face looking like 'Jason,' bring your mind inside your body with your eyes closed or open. As angry thoughts tumble and rumble through your mind, boycott your thoughts but stay with the feeling. Feel your pain. "Experience your experience," as they used to say in EST. Don't get into the mental rationalizations about that no good so-and-so because that will only entrench anger deeper into your mind. Your objective is to get rid of your anger and you can do that by going right into your anger. You go through your anger and out the other side, as it were. You can do it!
You can add a visualization method of your own to imagine the white power of your active, fluid energy coursing up through your spine and body. This visualization should match the physical feeling of the emotions at your body level. Imagine the energy transmuted until the point of it reaching your head with a warm soft whiteness enveloping your face and the crown of your head, then see the emanation of violet light beam upwards from your crown, going in many directions across infinite space. Visualize this connecting with the ultimate dharmakaya which you symbolically visualize as an outer sphere to the universe. Beyond the walls of this symbolic sphere resides nirvana - total enlightenment. Imagine that shooting the energy of anger up to there is the very best thing that you can possibly do with your anger and your other negative emotions.
When keeping vigil over your feelings, your emotions take on a translucent quality, they become flimsy and fall apart. No one can claim that their personal anger is as solid as concrete, that it has no gaps, that it is continuous and purely refined. No. Such anger does not exist in this universe because the Buddha's first noble truth applies to every corner of this particular universe. The truth of dukkha is that all things are impermanent so in this technique, when you put your focus keenly on your negativities, they eventually shift and change and their energy is transmuted. Boycott your thoughts- but stay with the feeling. What happens is that anger is associated with the lower of the seven chackras, and you are bringing that energy up, out of the top, as it were. "Chackras" are channel wheels or energy centres in the body.
The Seven Chackras
(Location on the body Colour Purpose or connection)
1. root red grounding
2. naval orange sex and creativity
3. solar plexus yellow emotional centre
4. heart centre green love
5. throat blue communication
6. third eye indigo mission in life
7. crown violet the ultimate- enlightened mind
As you bring your energy up, your experience of anger fades and you begin to feel alright- in fact this is a faster way of feeling better than going for a brisk walk or chomping on a stake. As the energy delicately makes its way upwards to your higher chackras, or even out the top, you feel as tough you have won, you have conquered this bout with anger. You want to keep on using your new found strength. In Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was asked "How does transmutation take place?" He replied:
Transmutation takes place with the understanding of shunyata [the emptiness of the self and other] and then the sudden discovery of energy (Trungpa, 1973; 234). You realize that you no longer have to abandon anything. You begin to see the underlying qualities of wisdom in your life-situation, which means that there is a kind of leap. If you are highly involved with one emotion such as anger, then by having a sudden glimpse of openness, which is shunyata, you begin to see that you do not have to suppress your energy. You do not have to keep calm and suppress the energy of anger, but you can transform your aggression into dynamic energy. It is a question of how open you are, how much you are really willing to do it. If there is less fascination and satisfaction with the explosion and release of your energy, then there is more likelihood of transmuting it. Once we become involved with the fascination and satisfaction of energy, then we are unable to transmute it. You do not have to completely change yourself, but you can use part of your energy in an awakened state.
The whole point is that we have not actually experienced our emotions, although we think we have. We have only experienced emotions in terms of me and my anger, me and my desire. This "me" is a kind of central governing structure. The emotions play the part of messengers, bureaucrats and soldiers. Instead of experiencing emotions as being separate from you, your rather unruly employees so to speak, you must actually feel the texture and real living quality of the emotions. Expressing or acting out hatred or desire on the physical level is another way of trying to escape from your emotions, just as you do when you try to repress them. If one actually feels the living quality, the texture of the emotions as they are in their naked state, then this experience also contains ultimate truth. And automatically one begins to see the simultaneously ironical and profound aspect of the emotions as they are. Then the process of transmutation, that is, transmuting the emotions into wisdom, takes place automatically. The problem is that we never experience emotions properly. We think that fighting and killing express anger, but these are another kind of escape, a way of releasing rather than actually experiencing emotion as it is. The basic nature of the emotions has not been felt properly.
If we are trying to be good or peaceful, trying to suppress or subdue our emotions, that is the basic twist of ego in operation. We are being aggressive towards our emotions, trying forcefully to achieve peace or goodness. Once we cease being aggressive towards our emotions, cease trying to change them, once we experience them properly, then transmutation may take place. The irritating quality of the emotions is transmuted once you experience them as they are. Transmutation does not mean that the energy quality of the emotions is eliminated; in fact it is transformed into wisdom, which is very much needed (Trungpa, 1973; 236).
Transmuting your emotions is possible and this is an exciting opportunity for you to practice the path of Buddhadharma even in the worst situations of your life. So, when you feel miserable, cheer up!