Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames

Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames

by Thich Nhat Hanh


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781573229371
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/28/2002
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 45,419
Product dimensions: 5.34(w) x 8.16(h) x 0.65(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese monk, a rare combination of mystic, scholar, and activist and one of the most beloved Buddhist teachers in the West. Poet, Zen master, and chairman of the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation during the Vietnam War, he was nominated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Read an Excerpt

Anger, Chapter One



We all need to know how to handle and take care of our anger. To do this, we must pay more attention to the biochemical aspect of anger, because anger has its roots in our body as well as our mind. When we analyze our anger, we can see its physiological elements. We have to look deeply at how we eat, how we drink, how we consume, and how we handle our body in our daily life.

Anger Is Not Strictly a
Psychological Reality

In the teaching of the Buddha, we learn that our body and mind are not separate. Our body is our mind, and, at the same time, our mind is also our body. Anger is not only a mental reality because the physical and the mental are linked to each other, and we cannot separate them. In Buddhism we call the body/mind formation namarupa. Namarupa is the psyche-soma, the mind-body as one entity. The same reality sometimes appears as mind, and sometimes appears as body.

Looking deeply into the nature of an elementary particle, scientists have discovered that sometimes it manifests as a wave, and sometimes as a particle. A wave is quite different from a particle. A wave can be only a wave. It cannot be a particle. A particle can be only a particle, it cannot be a wave. But the wave and the particle are the same thing. So instead of calling it a wave or a particle, they call it a "wavicle," combining the words wave and particle. This is the name scientists have given the elementary particle.

The same thing is true with mind and body. Our dualistic view tells us that mind cannot be body, and body cannot be mind. But looking deeply, we see that body is mind, mind is body. If we can overcome the duality that sees the mind and body as entirely separate, we come very close to the truth.

Many people are beginning to realize that what happens to the body also happens to the mind, and vice versa. Modern medicine is aware that the sickness of the body may be a result of sickness in the mind. And sickness in our minds may be connected to sickness in our bodies. Body and mind are not two separate entities-they are one. We have to take very good care of our body if we want to master our anger. The way we eat, the way we consume, is very important.

We Are What We Eat

Our anger, our frustration, our despair, have much to do with our body and the food we eat. We must work out a strategy of eating, of consuming to protect ourselves from anger and violence. Eating is an aspect of civilization. The way we grow our food, the kind of food we eat, and the way we eat it has much to do with civilization because the choices we make can bring about peace and relieve suffering.

The food that we eat can play a very important role in our anger. Our food may contain anger. When we eat the flesh of an animal with mad cow disease, anger is there in the meat. But we must also look at the other kinds of food that we eat. When we eat an egg or a chicken, we know that the egg or chicken can also contain a lot of anger. We are eating anger, and therefore we express anger.

Nowadays, chickens are raised in large-scale modern farms where they cannot walk, run, or seek food in the soil. They are fed solely by humans. They are kept in small cages and cannot move at all. Day and night they have to stand. Imagine that you have no right to walk or to run. Imagine that you have to stay day and night in just one place. You would become mad. So the chickens become mad.

In order for the chickens to produce more eggs, the farmers create artificial days and nights. They use indoor lighting to create a shorter day and a shorter night so that the chickens believe that twenty-four hours have passed, and then they produce more eggs. There is a lot of anger, a lot of frustration, and much suffering in the chickens. They express their anger and frustration by attacking the chickens next to them. They use their beaks to peck and wound each other. They cause each other to bleed, to suffer, and to die. That is why farmers now cut the beaks off all the chickens, to prevent them from attacking each other out of frustration.

So when you eat the flesh or egg of such a chicken, you are eating anger and frustration. So be aware. Be careful what you eat. If you eat anger, you will become and express anger. If you eat despair, you will express despair. If you eat frustration, you will express frustration.

We have to eat happy eggs from happy chickens. We have to drink milk that does not come from angry cows. We should drink organic milk that comes from cows that are raised naturally. We have to make an effort to support farmers to raise these animals in a more humane way. We also have to buy vegetables that are grown organically. It is more expensive, but, to compensate, we can eat less. We can learn to eat less.

Consuming Anger Through Other Senses

Not only do we nourish our anger with edible food, but also through what we consume with our eyes, ears, and consciousness. The consumption of cultural items is also linked to anger. Therefore, developing a strategy for consuming is very important.

What we read in magazines, what we view on television, can also be toxic. It may also contain anger and frustration. A film is like a piece of beefsteak. It can contain anger. If you consume it, you are eating anger, you are eating frustration. Newspaper articles, and even conversations, can contain a lot of anger.

You may feel lonely sometimes and want to talk to someone. In one hour of conversation, the other person's words may poison you with a lot of toxins. You may ingest a lot of anger, which you will express later on. That is why mindful consumption is very important. When you listen to the news, when you read a newspaper article, when you discuss something with others, are you ingesting the same kind of toxins that you ingest when you eat unmindfully?

Eating Well, Eating Less

There are those who take refuge in eating to forget their sorrow and their depression. Overeating can create difficulties for the digestive system, contributing to the arising of anger. It can also produce too much energy. If you do not know how to handle this energy, it can become the energy of anger, of sex, and of violence.

When we eat well, we can eat less. We need only half the amount of food that we eat every day. To eat well, we should chew our food about fifty times before we swallow. When we eat very slowly, and make the food in our mouth into a kind of liquid, we will absorb much more nutrition through our intestines. If we eat well, and chew our food carefully, we get more nutrition than if we eat a lot but don't digest it well.

Eating is a deep practice. When I eat, I enjoy every morsel of my food. I am aware of the food, aware that I am eating. We can practice mindfulness of eating-we know what we are chewing. We chew our food very carefully and with a lot of joy. From time to time, we stop chewing and get in touch with the friends, family, or sangha-community of practitioners-around us. We appreciate that it is wonderful to be sitting here chewing like this, not worrying about anything. When we eat mindfully, we are not eating or chewing our anger, our anxiety, or our projects. We are chewing the food, prepared lovingly by others. It is very pleasant.

When the food in your mouth becomes almost liquefied, you experience its flavor more intensely and the food tastes very, very good. You may want to try chewing like this today. Be aware of each movement of your mouth. You will discover that the food tastes so delicious. It may only be bread. Without any butter or jelly at all. But it's wonderful. Perhaps you will also have some milk. I never drink milk. I chew milk. When I put a piece of bread into my mouth, I chew for a while in mindfulness, and then I take a spoonful of milk. I put it in my mouth, and I continue to chew with awareness. You don't know how delicious it can be just chewing some milk and some bread.

When the food has become liquid, mixed with your saliva, it is half digested already. So when it arrives in your stomach and intestines, the digestion becomes extremely easy. Much of the nutrients in the bread and milk will be absorbed into our body. You get a lot of joy and freedom during the time you chew. When you eat like this, you will naturally eat less.

When you serve yourself, be aware of your eyes. Don't trust them. It is your eyes that push you to take too much food. You don't need so much. If you know how to eat mindfully and joyfully, you become aware that you need only half the amount that your eyes tell you to take. Please try. Just chewing something very simple like zucchini, carrots, bread, and milk may turn out to be the best meal of your life. It's wonderful.

Many of us in Plum Village, our practice center in France, have experienced this kind of eating, chewing very mindfully, very slowly. Try eating like this. It can help you to feel much better in your body and, therefore, in your spirit, in your consciousness.

Our eyes are bigger than our stomach. We have to empower our eyes with the energy of mindfulness so that we know exactly what amount of food we really need. The Chinese term for the alms bowl used by a monk or nun means "the instrument for appropriate measure." We use this kind of bowl to protect us from being deceived by our eyes. If the food comes to the top of the bowl, we know that it is largely sufficient. We take only that amount of food. If you can eat like that, you can afford to buy less. When you buy less food, you can afford to buy organically grown food. This is something that we can do, alone or in our families. It will be a tremendous support for farmers who want to make a living growing organic food.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training

All of us need a diet based on our willingness to love and to serve. A diet based on our intelligence. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are the way out of suffering, for the world and for each of us as individuals (see full text in Appendix A). Looking deeply at the way we consume is the practice of the Fifth Mindfulness Training.

This mindfulness training concerns the practice of mindful consumption, of following a diet that can liberate us and liberate our society. Because we are aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, we make the commitment:

. . . to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest food or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. . . ."

If you want to take care of your anger, your frustration, and your despair, you might consider living according to this mindfulness training. If you drink alcohol mindfully, you can see that it creates suffering. The intake of alcohol causes disease to the body and the mind, and deaths on the road. The making of alcohol also involves creating suffering. The use of the grains in its production is linked to the lack of food in the world. Mindfulness of eating and drinking can bring us this liberating insight.

Discuss a strategy of mindful consumption with the people you love, with members of your family, even if they are still young. Children can understand this, so they should participate in such discussions. Together you can make decisions about what to eat, what to drink, what television programs to watch, what to read, and what kind of conversations to have. This strategy is for your own protection.

We cannot speak about anger, and how to handle our anger, without paying attention to all the things that we consume, because anger is not separate from these things. Talk to your community about a strategy of mindful consuming. In Plum Village, we try our best to protect ourselves. We try not to consume things that nurture our anger, frustration, and fear. To consume more mindfully, we need to regularly discuss what we eat, how we eat, how to buy less, and how to have higher-quality food, both edible and the food we consume through our senses.

—From Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh, (c) September 2001, Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Putnam, used by permission.

Table of Contents


Consuming Anger

Putting Out the Fire of Anger

The Language of True Love


Compassionate Communication

Your Heart Sutra

No Enemies

David and Angelina: the Habit Energy of Anger

Embracing Anger With Mindfulness

Mindful Breathing

Restoring the Pure Land

Appendix A: Peace Treaty
Appendix B: The Five Mindfulness Trainings
Appendix C: Guided Meditations for Looking Deeply and Releasing Anger
Appendix D: Deep Relaxation

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Hanh doesn't limit his task to discussing anger between families and friends; he also deals with anger between citizens and governments. That expansive vision is not surprising (Hanh, after all, is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee) but it is refreshing, lifting this book out of the self-absorbed, self-help pile."—Publishers Weekly

"Reminding us that small spiritual matters are really large spiritual matters, the author offers wisdom and serenity to comfort readers as they work through anger to a place of 'being peace.'"—Library Journal

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Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book, if you are open to changing your angry ways, is a gift you give yourself. When I read this book it was hitting every nerve. I was schocked, ecstatic as well as emotional. I knew right away this was the book for me and I was right. Breathe, think and live peacefully. Yeah!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
First of all, this is not so much a Buddhist book as a Psychology book. Yes, it incorporates the Buddhist meditations (which are really EASY to do if you can breathe and pay attention to your breath then you can do it!), and it teaches some basic Buddhist concepts like compassion. But it's really not all that 'Buddhist' In any case, practicing Buddhist meditation does not interfere in any way with your being a Christian or Catholic or Jew. The Dalai Lama has said that he encourages people to stay with their own faith, not convert to Buddhism. Just use Buddhist techniques which work, like watching your breath. This book is a very easy to read, anyone can understand Hanh's simple instructions on how to deal with anger. The old school way of dealing with anger was to express it by punching a pillow or something. Buddha said 2500 ago that this is not the right way to deal with anger, and now modern Psychology has caught up to him and agrees that this is not the best way to deal with anger. Rather, it is best you learn to pay attention to your anger, but not express it. Use the breathing meditation, communicate lovingly with those your anger causes suffering, and work with your loved ones on learning to not express your anger. Mostly, meditate by watching your breath and almost like magic, the anger will begin to subside. Evidence suggests that this can and does work, as anger is a habit that you can break, and one way of breaking it is to just refuse to act on it. Hanh says, it is like a seed that you have to learn not to water. The more you refuse to 'water' it, but rather just observe it and pay attention to it with 'mindfulness', the more it will dissipate. I have had anger issues for years, and although I have only just read the book, so it has not yet had time to 'work', I already feel that I am making progress with just a few meditations, just in making the effort to not express my anger every time it pops up. I am very hopeful that this is working.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mindfulness practice is a path in which every step is a step of compassionate engagement with every aspect of your experience, whether walking, talking with a friend or working with the suffering and anguish that exists in our minds. Anger is one of the most destructive of the emotions, yet it carries a great deal of life energy that can transform into passion and compassion when surrounded with mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us how to smile at every encounter with reality. For anyone who feels bound by their anger, guilt, hurt or pain or the past in general, I also recommend "When God Stopped Keeping Score." I thought that the book was just about forgiveness, I soon learned, it was about so much more than that. I was about how you should deal with friends, family and yourself and more importantly, how to keep these relationships strong when things go wrong. Having read it, I feel like a better person. Maybe because this book spoke to me and not down to me. I have read a lot of books that was written like I didn't know anything. What the author of "When God Stopped Keeping Score" does is talk to you like a friend. I needed that. You will understand why when you read it. It is available here on
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the great teachers on mindfulness, and particularly on the compassionate aspect of mindfulness, which has such a powerful healing effect when directed towards painful emotions, including anger. Well worth exploring the many writings and CDs from this master.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sometime ago I read 'Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames' (227 pp) by Thich Nhat Hanh. The author being buddist, treated me to a book that I read in a matter of hours. One of the major points that I extracted from the book was that all of those within a family unit are all part of 'one'. If we hurt part of the 'one', all of the 'one' has been hurt. And before the author got to the chapter on writing a 'heart' letter, I had written my wife an apologetic letter for problems we have incurred over the past year and a half. This book was exactly what I needed at that point in time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is a wonderful book. It helped me to understand anger and showed me the way to forgive my brother. I had been angry with my brother and was on fire for about two weeks. This book needs to be read mindfully. To be effectively understand, try to concentrate on breathing often while reading it. Reading first 20-30 pages and trying as it says can make you forgive the one you love and love him/her as before or evern more. I really appreciate author for wirting such a wonderful book.
neontapir on LibraryThing 18 days ago
An excellent Buddhist perspective on anger, accessible to Westerners and Christians.
biunicorn on LibraryThing 18 days ago
AngerBuddhist Wisdom For Cooling the Flamesby Thich Nhat HanhI have read this author's work before, and as I connected to his words of peace and understanding I felt a calmness and happiness deep down to my bones. Don't let the 227 pages fool ya, this ambassador of love and light is anything but long and boring. The format is simple and broken down into easy to digest concepts that gave my whirling mind something to focus on and ponder. Thich talks about anger as a destructive emotion that can be very deep seeded and a major destroyer of peace and joy in our lives and the lives of others. Breath and the art of breathing plays a large part in the quieting of the mind and releasing of the anger energies within the body. As a healer and intuitive I am very familiar with what anger energy looks like and it's negative effects. I would recommend this book to anyone who has issues with anger on any level and is seeking ways of not letting it control their lives. This precious book has found it's way to my spiritual toolbox.Love & Light,Riki Frahmann
C_E_E_ 3 months ago
If you are truly open to finding ways of dealing with your anger then this book will be an invaluable asset on your path. It offers insights into the inner workings of your mind and will guide you through techniques to mindfully become aware of your anger and to use it to become better. This book is a well written guide to transforming your anger into something positive but it is also much more. It offers advice on many other facets of spousal and familiar relationships.
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Kathleen568 More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed many books by Thich Nhat Hanh, and this is no exception. His insight into every-day situations is amazing, and he gives you the tools to deal with these situations calmly, quietly. This not only helps you get through your stressful day better, but your calm attitude defuses those around you. It's truly a domino effect!!!
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