“You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger”—Buddha (maybe…)
Have you heard this quote before? It is usually attributed to the Buddha, although in actual fact it is a false translation.
The quote was first found in 1996’s “Treasury Of Spiritual Wisdom” by Andy Zubko’s, in which he lists the following as a Buddha quote:
“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger….Let a man overcome anger by love.”
Although this is not actually a Buddha quote, it does contain a lot of truth: The idea that we will not be punished for being angry, but rather punished by anger, the feeling, itself. It speaks to mindfulness, karma, and the Buddhist idea of ignorance.
So, what does it mean?
The Meaning Of “You Will Not Be Punished For Your Anger. You Will Be Punished BY Your Anger”
Usually in 21st Century society, we are used to the idea that anger is punished by an external source. If you are angry in school, for instance, you might be punished by the teacher. If you are angry at work, you might be punished by the boss. And if you are angry with your spouse, you might be punished by them.
However, before you are punished by those people for acting in angry ways, you will first be punished by yourself.
The idea is that anger itself is a form of punishment. And this is absolutely true. Feeling anger is its own form of penalty. After all, who wants to feel angry? We’d all much rather feel happy, right?
Anger is its own punishment.
You can be punished by any painful emotion. Sadness, jealousy, guilt, shame…they are all their own penalty and they are all painful.
But if anger is a punishment then what are we being punished for? Because if we do not do anything bad, what have we done wrong? Why should anger be a punishment? For what?
Anger is Ignorance
In Buddhism, anger is one of the three poisons, along with greed and ignorance. .
Buddhism states that the harm we do will cause harm to ourselves. This is essentially the idea of good and bad karma.
We know from science that acting in anger or in other negative emotions will cause us harm. If you act angrily towards other people, they will probably respond likewise, so that our anger ends up being reflected on ourselves.
We also know that anger directly affects mental and physical health, causing problems like anxiety, depression, and blood pressure.
And so it is literally true that we are punished by our anger, because our anger affects our happiness and our health. But there is also more to it than this: anger itself is a direct punishment: a punishment for ignorance.
Anger is a punishment for lack of understanding.
When we are angry, it is the direct result of ignorance.
Let’s say that we are angry because we’ve made plans to meet someone and they’ve let us down. Sure, we have the right to be angry, because they’ve inconvenienced us. But the real cause of our anger is lack of understanding. We are not considering that perhaps they’ve had a hard day, or something’s come up, or perhaps they even got cold feet (for instance, if they’re nervous turning up for a date). We simply see the fact that they have inconvenienced us, and so we feel angry.
If we saw the full picture and considered their feelings and their circumstances, we would be far less inclined to feel angry.
Anger is a painful feeling created by ignorance.
If you take a compassionate and enlightened perspective on things, you will not feel angry and will not be punished by negative emotions.
The antidote to anger is to seek compassionate understanding and to see things from another person’s point of view. When we do this, we are more likely to feel sympathetic rather than angry, and so we will not be punished for our anger.
And that’s the meaning of the quote “You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger.”
If you have a hot head, you might like to read my guide to using meditation for anger control.
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