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Avoiding Anger as if it was a Lion

Often when we’ve been hurt, our first response is to get angry; to want to punish someone as much as we feel we’ve been hurt, but holding on to anger is prejudicial to our health:

. . . anger [is] very prejudicial to health ((Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 107))

Specifically to the liver, as Bahá’u’lláh teaches:

Anger doth burn the liver: avoid [it] as you would a lion.  ((Bahá’u’lláh, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 460))

I used to think this meant I shouldn’t feel anger at all, but I don’t think that’s what it means.  If we just ignore the lion (our anger), it will attack! If I’m in a jungle and see a lion, I would be foolish to deny its existence.  No – first I say:  “There’s a lion”, what should I do now?”

I googled “How to Prevent a Lion Attack” and this is what I found:

Preventing an Attack

Be alert and pay attention

First we have to know the terrain we’re travelling in – if it’s lion country (known catalyst for anger attacks), we might want to take a guide with us (the Writings).

We’re told to read the Writings morning and night and there’s a reason for that. It plants the right ideas and thoughts in our hearts so that we can call upon them when we need them.

The Word of God may be likened unto a sapling, whose roots have been implanted in the hearts of men.  It is incumbent upon you to foster its growth through the living waters of wisdom, of sanctified and holy words, so that its root may become firmly fixed and its branches may spread out as high as the heavens and beyond. ((Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p.93-94))

Pen your livestock at night and put up an electric fence

How do we pen ourselves up against other people’s anger?

‘Abdu’l-Baha gives us some good ideas:

If you seek immunity from the sway of the forces of the contingent world, hang the ‘Most Great Name’ in your dwelling, wear the ring of the ‘Most Great Name’ on your finger, place the picture of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in your home and always recite the prayers that I have written. Then you will behold the marvellous effect they produce. Those so-called forces will prove but illusions and will be wiped out and exterminated. ((‘Abdu’l-Baha, Lights of Guidance, p. 520))

This prayer is the best way to erect a perimeter I can think of:

O Lord! Protect us from what lieth in front of us and behind us, above our heads, on our right, on our left, below our feet and every other side to which we are exposed. Verily, Thy protection over all things is unfailing. ((The Bab, Baha’i Prayers, p. 133))

Do Not Feed Deer, Elk Or Other Wildlife!

There’s a wonderful story going around the internet and unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a source. It goes like this:

An old Cherokee told his grandson: “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, and resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth.”

The boy thought about it, and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”

The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.”

‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us what to do with angry thoughts:

When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. ((Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 29))

Install motion-activated security lights to discourage them from staying

People don’t’ have a reason to fight back if they feel they are heard and there’s no better way to let someone feel heard than to choose your words carefully, and make them as mild as mother’s milk.

Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible . . . Therefore an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured and edified thereby and may attain the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding and nobility. ((Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 172-173))

Defending Ourselves

Anger alerts us to an injustice, so that we can recognize it and take action. It’s there so we can pay attention to something that needs to change. So there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle anger:

If he exercises his anger and wrath against the bloodthirsty tyrants who are like ferocious beasts, it is very praiseworthy; but if he does not use these qualities in a right way, they are blameworthy. ((‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 320))

We’re allowed to defend ourselves:

A hitherto untranslated Tablet from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá points out that in the case of attack by robbers and highwaymen, a Bahá’í should not surrender himself, but should try, as far as circumstances permit, to defend himself, and later on lodge a complaint with the government authorities. A statement in a letter written on behalf of the Guardian indicates that in an emergency when there is no legal force at hand to appeal to a Bahá’í is justified in defending his life. ((Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 117))

We’re not allowed to keep guns for our protection and defence:

We have, however, advised the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States that under the present circumstances in that country it is preferable that Bahá’ís do not buy nor own arms for their protection or the protection of their families.  ((Universal House of Justice, Messages from the Universal House of Justice: 1963-1986, p. 148))

There is a difference between how an individual is to react to an injustice (forgiveness, pardon); and how an institution is to do the same (protect and administer justice):

Then what Christ meant by forgiveness and pardon is not that, when nations attack you, burn your homes, plunder your goods, assault your wives, children and relatives, and violate your honour, you should be submissive in the presence of these tyrannical foes and allow then to perform all their cruelties and oppressions. No, the words of Christ refer to the conduct of two individuals toward each other. If one person assaults another, the injured one should forgive him. But the communities must protect the rights of man. ((‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, pp. 270-271))

When it’s all over, we have a right to ask the appropriate institutions to intervene:

A Bahá’í should not surrender himself, but should try . . . to defend himself, and later on lodge a complaint with the government authorities. ((Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 117))

If I was to sum up what I’ve learned about the parallels between anger and lions it would be: use a Guide; be alert; take measures to keep yourself safe; take the right kind of action; and get help from the authorities.

A Baha’i Perspective

In a pilgrim note attributed to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, we’re told that the best antidote to anger is to sacrifice our self, our talent, our time, and even our rest to someone who has to bear a heavier load than we do:

Be not the slave of your moods, but their master. But if you are so angry, so depressed and so sore that your spirit cannot find deliverance and peace even in prayer, then quickly go and give some pleasure to someone lowly or sorrowful, or to a guilty or innocent sufferer! Sacrifice yourself, your talent, your time, your rest to another, to one who has to bear a heavier load than you. (([The Research] Department has found that these words were attributed to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in an unpublished English translation of notes in German by Dr. Josephine Fallscheer taken on 5 August 1910. As the statement is a pilgrim note, it cannot be authenticated.))

I’ll let the House of Justice have the final word:

You ask how to deal with anger. The House of Justice suggests that you call to mind the admonitions found in our Writings on the need to overlook the shortcomings of others; to forgive and conceal their misdeeds, not to expose their bad qualities, but to search for and affirm their praiseworthy ones, and to endeavour to be always forbearing, patient, and merciful. ((Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 454-455))

As a devoted believer you are urged to strive to develop forgiveness in your heart toward your parents who have abused you in so disgraceful a manner, and to attain a level of insight which sees them as captives of their lower nature, whose actions can only lead them deeper into unhappiness and separation from God.   By this means, you can liberate yourself from the anger to which you refer in your letter, and foster your own spiritual development. ((The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self))

In these quotes we see that we are to:

  • overlook the shortcomings of others
  • forgive and conceal their misdeeds
  • not expose their bad qualities
  • search for and affirm their praiseworthy qualities
  • endeavour to be always forbearing, patient, and merciful
  • strive to develop forgiveness in our hearts
  • attain a level of insight which sees the other person as a captive of their lower nature, whose actions can only lead them deeper into unhappiness and separation from God

References

Avoiding Conflicts with Mountain Lions

 

How do you think this applies to the quote by ‘Abdul-Bahá?  What does it teach us about how to avoid anger?