Authors: Amod Lele (Boston University), and Anna Lännström (Stonehill College)
Śāntideva (Shantideva) is an eighth century Indian Buddhist philosopher from the Mahāyāna tradition. His most famous work is the short and largely accessible Bodhicaryāvatāra (Undertaking the way to awakening or Guide to the Bodhisattva way of life). This work was an important influence on the Tibetan Buddhist tradition generally and on the current Dalai Lama in particular.
Śāntideva’s discussion of anger is in chapter 6, where, arguing against anger, he praises the virtue of patient endurance (kṣānti). He treats anger as equivalent to hatred and singles it out as the most troublesome of the three root poisons (hatred, delusion, and craving) because, more than the others, it prevents us from developing compassion.
Śāntideva makes a psychological argument against anger, pointing out that it disturbs our relationships and our peace of mind. It makes us suffer, preventing us from being happy.
He also argues that anger stems from our misunderstanding how things are. More precisely, it is based on our belief in independent agency. We don’t get angry at a stomachache because we understand that it is conditioned by other events. But we treat human actions differently, assuming that they flow from independently acting agents. Śāntideva argues that we should have the same attitudes towards the human action and the stomachache: They are conditioned events, bad things we have to deal with, but not worthy of anger. Instead of getting angry, we should cultivate patient endurance.
In other words, Śāntideva rejects anger in part because of his position on free will; he regards human actions and choices as determined.
Crosby, Kate, and Andrew Skilton. 1995. The Bodhicaryāvatāra: A New Translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press: Chapter 6. The text contains extensive introductory material as well as a good translation.
Secondary Sources – Online:
Lele, Amod. “Śāntideva“. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Section 5c focuses on the benefits of patient endurance and examines Śāntideva’s case against anger.
Goodman, Charles. Śāntideva. Stanford Encyclopedia. Section 3.2 outlines the argument against anger and also provides an overview of conflicting interpretations about Śāntideva’s specific form of determinism.
Secondary Sources – Books and Articles:
Dalai Lama. 1997. Healing Anger: The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective. Translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications. A book-length commentary on chapter 6 of the Bodhicaryāvatāra, which shows how to use it as a guide for overcoming anger and practicing patient endurance.
Flanagan, Owen, 2017. The Geography of Morals: Varieties of Moral Possibility, Oxford University Press. Part III of the book argues that Westerners are much too attracted to anger and that we should consider trying to root anger out altogether. Chapter 8 draws on Śāntideva’s arguments to help make this case.
Lele, Amod. 2015. “The Metaphysical Basis of Śāntideva’s Ethics.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 22 (2015): 249–83. Pages 261-65 discuss endurance and anger.
Thurman, Robert A.F. 2004. Anger: The Seven Deadly Sins. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chapters 6-9 provide a detailed commentary on chapter 6, and argues for a Buddhist view of anger.
Śāntideva’s discussion of anger could be included in a unit about anger and other emotions: Is anger a valuable part of our emotional lives, or are we better off without it? Does the absence of anger signal that we do not care enough about injustice and wrongdoing? What motivates us to challenge such things if they don’t anger us?
- Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics5 and Rhetoric 2.1
- Seneca’s “On Anger”
- Robert C. Solomon, 2007. “Anger as a Way of Engaging the World” from True to Our Feelings: What Our Emotions Are Really Telling Us, Oxford UP.
See also: Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra