Many people claim they feel better, like a strong relief, after letting the anger out, so they scream at the open air or punch a sand sack.

Of course I'm referring ONLY to cases where there is no other person involved, so I'm NOT talking about punching a person or yelling at someone!

I know the Buddhist view on anger is to see it for what it is and let go of it, but some people see it as suppressing the anger and keeping it in, so they claim that letting it out is a better way to get rid of it. It works for them.

So, is there anything wrong with that from a Buddhist's standpoint?

  • in my experience it seems to come out one way or another. finding a healthier way to deal with it is a good first step in my opinion, supression alone and in and of itself does not seem to work.
    – A Nonimous
    Oct 6, 2014 at 0:27

7 Answers 7


The idea is called catharsis and it basically treats anger like hot water or steam that can be released when the pressure is too much. It is true that letting anger out like that does tend to produce relief, but many psychologists are of the opinion that doing so just creates a positive reinforcement of the angry behavior and over the long term simply increase it. Here's a link to just one study on it, but you can find more just by typing anger and catharsis into google scholar:


From a Buddhist point of view, actions which are based on strong aversion are very unwholesome and are thus bad karma and so acting out on a feeling of rage is just digging yourself deeper in the hole.

It is much better to get rid of anger by reflecting on the dangers of anger, the value of patience, establishing one's self in mindfulness, and by trying to generate metta towards the object of anger. Is this easy to do? No, it's very hard, but that's because it is a training. Serious training of any kind always takes a lot of effort to produce results. Practicing in this way will bit by bit give us a totally different way of relating to the world around us.


Is there anything wrong with letting the anger out, from a Buddhist's standpoint?

Generally speaking yes, letting the anger out is wrong, but precise answer as to why it is wrong and what to do instead depends on a school:

From Theravada's standpoint, acting on akusala (pathological) thoughts and emotions is bad karma and serves to feed corresponding sankhara's. In this context, the right way to deal with anger falls into Four Right Efforts:

  1. Effort toward non-arising of pathological qualities that have not yet arisen.
  2. Effort toward abandonment of pathological qualities that have arisen.
  3. Effort toward arising of wholesome qualities that have not yet arisen.
  4. Effort toward maintenance & increase of wholesome qualities that have arisen.

The Buddha of Pali Canon emphasizes the importance of abandoning pathological dharmas (including anger) immediately, within seconds of arising, using techniques such as 1) switching attention to an opposite object, 2) contemplating dangers of letting pathological qualities increase, 3) forgetting, 4) stilling corresponding sankharas, and 5) suppressing by force. (MN 20)

From Mahayana's standpoint, emotions come from ego, from attachments. Correspondingly, the proper way to deal with emotions in Mahayana is not by suppressing the symptoms but rather by solving the underlying issue: attachment to ego. This is done through a number of techniques, from developing compassion, to philosophical analysis of emptiness, to surrendering to teacher's upaya.

From Vajrayana's standpoint, emotions are a natural play of energy. This energy is not inherently good or bad, but could be destructive if used unwisely. Correspondingly, rather than trying to fight with nature, Vajrayana looks to harness its power for virtuous purposes. This is done through a technique called transmutation.

In transmutation of emotion (e.g. anger), rather than acting it out, which would be a waste of energy, we try to directly see the emotion as a blob of raw energy. This feels similar to seeing pain as pure information, which is another Vajrayana technique. So, rather than mulling over the cause of our anger, whatever it is, we see our emotion directly as pure energy. We look this energy straight in the face and accept it, take ownership of it. As we do this, we re-unite ourselves. It is like I am an aquarium which for some reason has grown a glass wall within itself, separating itself in two halves. Then I identified with one half, and alienated from the other. By feeling the emotion directly I recover my sense of the second half, then the glass wall dissolves and I become the whole aquarium again, if this makes any sense.

To quote Chogyam Trungpa,

Transmutation takes place with the understanding of shunyata and then the sudden discovery of energy. You realize that you no longer have to abandon anything. You begin to see the underlying qualities of wisdom in your life-situation, which means that there is a kind of leap. If you are highly involved with one emotion such as anger, then by having a sudden glimpse of openness, which is shunyata, you begin to see that you do not have to suppress your energy. You do not have to keep calm and suppress the energy of anger, but you can transform your aggression into dynamic energy. It is a question of how open you are, how much you are really willing to do it. If there is less fascination and satisfaction with the explosion and release of your energy, then there is more likelihood of transmuting it. Once we become involved with the fascination and satisfaction of energy, then we are unable to transmute it. You do not have to completely change yourself, but you can use part of your energy in an awakened state.

The whole point is that we have not actually experienced our emotions, although we think we have. We have only experienced emotions in terms of me and my anger, me and my desire. This "me" is a kind of central governing structure. The emotions play the part of messengers, bureaucrats and soldiers. Instead of experiencing emotions as being separate from you, your rather unruly employees so to speak, you must actually feel the texture and real living quality of the emotions. Expressing or acting out hatred or desire on the physical level is another way of trying to escape from your emotions, just as you do when you try to repress them. If one actually feels the living quality, the texture of the emotions as they are in their naked state, then this experience also contains ultimate truth. And automatically one begins to see the simultaneously ironical and profound aspect of the emotions as they are. Then the process of transmutation, that is, transmuting the emotions into wisdom, takes place automatically. The problem is that we never experience emotions properly. We think that fighting and killing express anger, but these are another kind of escape, a way of releasing rather than actually experiencing emotion as it is. The basic nature of the emotions has not been felt properly.

If we are trying to be good or peaceful, trying to suppress or subdue our emotions, that is the basic twist of ego in operation. We are being aggressive towards our emotions, trying forcefully to achieve peace or goodness. Once we cease being aggressive towards our emotions, cease trying to change them, once we experience them properly, then transmutation may take place. The irritating quality of the emotions is transmuted once you experience them as they are. Transmutation does not mean that the energy quality of the emotions is eliminated; in fact it is transformed into wisdom, which is very much needed.

Here are some links on transmutation of emotions for you:

  1. Befriending Emotions article by John Welwood of Naropa University.
  2. Dealing with Emotions blog post by Ringu Tulku.
  3. The Myth of Freedom book by Chogyam Trungpa -- where I first learned the concept of transmutation from.
  4. Cutting through Spiritual Materialism book by Chogyam Trungpa.

Unfortunately I cannot find any justification in Buddhist texts of expressing anger as a way to deal with it. From what I read, that is not Buddhism but primal scream therapy or some other psychological technique.

Here is what one Buddhist source says:

The Buddha said, “Conquer anger by non-anger. Conquer evil by good. Conquer miserliness by liberality. Conquer a liar by truthfulness.” (Dhammapada, v. 233) Working with ourselves and others and our lives in this way is Buddhism. Buddhism is not a belief system, or a ritual, or some label to put on your T-shirt. It’s this.


The rest of that page has more information on anger and anger management.


In Thich Nhat Hanh's community in France they do workshops bringing together young palestineans and jews to introduce ideas, practical ways of understanding, handle traumatic experiences and patterns and technics and will to coexist. Part of it is also, that each one much likely comes out with his/her desparation, hate, and whatever. But this is always done only in a certain setting for some course and with the tendency to become able to let the bad emotions go and become able to overcome that traumas and patterns. But although this method is introduced as a therapeutical instrument it is not intended to agitate it out in all the general daily, the non-therapeutical, common life.
In general, for questions like this, I keep with the Buddha's remark, that everything that we do regularly shall form our mind - in destructive, but also in constructive direction (well, in fact it does not need the Buddha's wisdom to know this...)


Buddism as a doctrine of dharmic control is definetly against it. It is like throwing the piano out of the window, while being taught to play it.

Anger can be described as certain dharmas being activated in your body or mind, buddhism is teaching you to control them directly. What is usually called anger management is mostly supressing the actions that the anger would want you to take. But true approach is to control each and every dharma that constitutes this particular anger activity you are having to deal with.

Since anger is a very vast idea, so many various dharmas can be active during your particular anger. And tose dharmas could be treated in many different ways, not necesary supressed. Some of them could be just a healthy reaction of your body on the input it experiences and should be let flowing naturally.

Having said that, buddhism is teaching you to play piano, but it will not forbid you from other things. If you want to throw the piano out of the window, you may have a reason for this as well. Maybe there is a crazy elefant that should be killed roaring under your window.


Among many things, Buddhism is about breaking cycles by understanding the nature of reality and getting to the roots of a problem. Unleashing your anger in such a manner may offer some temporary serenity, but you still haven't cured the root of the problem. This is why to me, it's not a very helpful idea as you continue to perpetuate the cycle.


This is an updated conversation on the age old prescription for parents to send children or angry adults to hit a pillow with a tennis racket, or hit a tree with baseball bat. In my experience with anger education over 35 years I say without hesitation that hitting an object and any act of violence in the process of controlling an anger or a rage outcome is self-defeating.

The initial act can feel satisfying: which is deceptive and misleading. In fact the behavior is an arming device that connects the emotion to a physical act and can escalate the outcome rather than be an effective diversion.

A much more effective technique is to familiarize yourself with your anger signals -- those emotional, verbal and body-related changes that happen to you -- and learn how to honor yourself and your needs when under stressful conditions. I am the director of Anger Alternatives where we teach these skills.

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