Does Being Angry Break Any Buddhist Precept?

As featured in the June 2018 issue of ‘For You Information’

Anger at another’s true mistake
which already harms you
creates another true mistake,
which further harms you.

Stonepeace | Books

Does having anger break any of the Buddhist precepts? It does not, technically, when referring to the Five Precepts (of abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and taking of intoxicants) in the letter. However, it does, when referring to the precepts in the general spirit of not giving in to any of the Three Poisons of greed, hatred (anger) and delusion. Beyond the basic precepts, according to the Brahmā Net Sūtra (梵网经), as part of the more advanced Bodhisattva Precepts, anger should be refrained from, as we can see below –

‘Ninth [Heavy Bodhisattva] Precept [Against Having] Angry Minds [And] Not Accepting Repentance: If, [as] Buddhas’ [Bodhisattva] disciples, [they should not] personally [be] angry, instruct others [to be] angry, [be with] anger’s causes, anger’s conditions, anger’s methods [and] anger’s actions. And Bodhisattvas should give rise [to] all sentient beings’ matters of good roots without contention, [to] constantly give rise [to the] heart [of] loving-kindness [and] compassion, [and the] heart [of] filial piety [as all sentient beings have been reborn as our loving parents before in our many interconnected past lives]. Yet, instead, [to] still, among all sentient beings, and even among non-sentient beings [i.e. things], with evil speech scolding [and] insulting, additionally [with] hands beating, and with knives [and] staves, [the angry] mind still [does] not rest. [When] facing persons [who are] seeking repentance, [with] good words remorsefully apologising, yet [still] angry [and] not understanding [by grudge-bearing, this] is [a] Bodhisattva’s parājika [i.e. grave morally defeating] misgiving.’


In short, to even entertain, incite or support anger towards anyone is already to breach, or even break the precept in both the letter and the spirit, as this is disharmonious to the Bodhisattva spirit of nurturing all that is good, as based on generosity, compassion and wisdom, which are opposites of the Three Poisons (i.e. the roots of all evil). Just as we would not abuse our present loving parents when they do us some wrong, we should not abuse any of our past lives’ parents now, for they always deserve more kindness than cruelty, for having enabled us to attain this precious human life, be it directly or indirectly, to advance our spiritual lives. Even if a parent is now seriously wayward, all the more should he or she be guided – patiently and gratefully.

Even if not cursing another verbally, but to do so privately, to punch a pillow (which is a non-sentient being), or fantasise harm being inflicted without any actual physical action is to go against the precept. For the anger is still anger, and any harm, even of one’s own peace of mind is still harm. The spirit of all precepts collectively is to protect and even to help all beings; never to harm anyone, including oneself. Recognising the physical and spiritual self-sabotage through harbouring anger, which conditions loss of peace of mind, health, sleep, appetite and mindfulness for other Dharma practices, it is kind and wise to oneself, to never nurse anger, even for a single moment. Not only should we never be hateful, we should be ever forgiving, without forgetting the lessons learnt though.

In the spirit of the Bodhisattva precept above, once there is anger, not only is oneself not helped, the other party cannot be helped either. As this creates and sustains a lose-lose situation for both on the path to Buddhahood, anger should always be refrained from. Destructive anger can instead be transformed into constructive enthusiastic energy for discovering skilful solutions to address the issues, upon which a win-win situation can be created. (Yes, we can be mindfully firm without literally being mad too.) On our journey to Buddhahood, may we all be mindful not to strain any otherwise neutral or even positive karmic affinities with unchecked outbursts of anger, for the damage can prove challenging to repair, even with much sincere apologies and remedial actions!

Walk away from being angered,
not by walking away from those
you are angry with repeatedly;
but by walking away from anger.

Stonepeace | Books

Related Articles:

Six Precepts
Can Buddhists Seek Revenge? (‘Out Of The Furnace’ Of Hate)
There Are No Unforgiving Bodhisattvas
How One Who Slighted None Attained Buddhahood
Akkosa Sutta

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