I go online and am confronted by the vile, hateful things that people say and do. I'm thinking of the terrible violence of ISIS, the Israelis and Palestinian conflict, of the inflammatory rhetoric of Donald Trump and Ann Coulter.
The Buddha said that the world and all of our senses are on fire; they are burning with greed, hatred, and ignorance. When we are confronted with--or experience--someone else's anger, naturally we get angry ourselves. This anger can reveal aspects of ourselves that we ordinarily don't like to admit exist.
For instance, when some sexist oaf utters an ignorant comment about women or a degrading slur about homosexuality, I feel a surge of indignation. Why, I want to shout, are people so close-minded?
But if I turn that criticism inward, I can see the boundaries of my own tolerance.
Other people's intolerance and ignorance reveal my own. The more I study my frustration with others, the more evident my own prejudices become.Anger can shed light on areas of our personalities that we'd rather not confront. Humans are all hypocrites to some degree; some people are just better at hiding it than others (even from themselves).
When I'm being honest with myself, examining the rough edges of my own prejudices, am I as open and compassionate as I think that I am? No.
Anger reveals our flaws, expectations, and limitations. Unlike in other forms of Buddhism where anger is viewed as a fetter to be uprooted, in the lineage of Zen that I practice, all phenomena can be our teachers.
The more intimate that we become with our emotional triggers, the more freedom we have to choose whether to act on them. We can learn from the anger in the world, both from others and ourselves.
Knowing oneself means knowing all aspects of oneself, not just the pleasant parts.