Psychological Self-Help

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will briefly summarize Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s major suggestions for avoiding and
handling anger. Interestingly enough, Gyatso’s insights, based on 2400-year-old
Eastern wisdom, are quite similar to very recent Cognitive Therapy techniques. Note
also my earlier reference to Seneca, a Roman philosopher-educator about the time of
Christ, who also had quite sophisticated ideas about managing anger.
Hundreds of years before Christ and even before the great Grecian culture, Buddha
came to understand that in order to feel content one had to give up what he called
the mind of “desirous attachment.” This “mind” is made up of thoughts that tell us
that our happiness depends on acquiring certain objects and goals (such as
relationships with specific people, possessions, status, and/or enjoyable
experiences). Desirous attachment is a dependency that is based on a misguided
(“deluded”) belief that happiness is produced by gaining a degree of wealth, success,
attention, affection, etc. Buddhism teaches us to give up our wishes for those objects
and experiences; we also need to give up our thoughts of anger and frustration when
we don’t or can’t get the things we want.
Buddha believed that all lives involved hardships, suffering, and unhappiness. As he
pointed out, even the most fortunate among us have to endure aging, sickness, loss
of love, and, eventually, death. Buddha’s years of observing the human condition,
studying, and meditating led him to believe that in order to transcend these
sufferings we have to attain a state of perfect inner peace, known as “liberation” or
“nirvana.” Perfect inner peace means we have to give up many wants and desires—
not all desires, but our desires to find personal happiness from external conditions.
Buddha knew how hard this would be to do since we humans tend to believe that
external conditions cause happiness; today we in Western cultures still believe that
wealth, possessions, attractive partners, fulfilling our whims, etc., will make us
happy. Buddha, however, taught us differently and his message delivered by
Buddhist teachers and monks remains relevant today. Buddhists are expected to
overcome a variety of “deluded” minds, not just anger, but also desirous and sexual
attachments, pride, self-centeredness and so on. A follower is also expected to learn
over many years to meditate with more and more perfect concentration. This religion
is very psychologically demanding but it is tolerant of backsliding. It is a religion that
is relatively easy to understand, if you learn from a good teacher, but it is very
difficult to follow moment by moment the religious instructions about mentally
replacing anger and greed with patience. The devoted Buddhist meditates long hours
and practices over and over to act, think, and feel the way his/her religion
Buddhists believe that for a person to feel content and happy he or she may need to
give up many, perhaps thousands, of frustrated wants and desires—not all desires
(wanting to be a better person and wanting to help others are good desires). Yet,
other desires lead to unhappiness, such as the drive to acquire more, to have power,
to be different, and to have others and the world be different. The accepting of
reality—the way things are—was seen as a way, even for the very poor, to find
happiness and peace—called “nirvana.” Accepting that the universe is unfolding as it
should is not an easy assignment. Buddha and his many followers realized these
changes in the goals we set and in attitudes we have would be hard to accept.
Buddhists are practical, blunt realists who directly deal with internal mental and
emotional events. Buddhist teachers expect much from their students. Buddha
taught in Northern India for 50 years, became well known, and many stories were
told about his extraordinary wisdom and powers. 
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