THEOSOPHY, Vol. 87, Issue 2, January/February 1999
(Pages 57-61; Size: 10K)


[Article number (1) in this Department]

What is the difference between the suppression of anger and sublimation of anger?

Anger is an emotional response of displeasure, ranging from indignation to antagonism, generally within the context of our relations with others as the source or target. It is often triggered by perception and judgments, and it can be considered a distortion of clarity and a barrier to insight. In ancient Hindu philosophy, anger is called the passion of fools (Vishnu Purâna, book 1, chap. 1). Early Christianity lists anger as one of the seven cardinal sins, defined as serious moral offenses that give rise to others. Common advice today is to avoid it or adapt. Several theosophy students give the following answers to the question of suppression and sublimation of anger, providing different facets of inquiry:


In considering a few of the meanings of suppression, we find synonyms such as crush, subdue, overpower, put an end by force, restrain, and conceal. Sublimation, on the other hand, suggests the antithesis: a refining or purifying process, elimination of base or impure elements, purification, refinement, and quintessence.

Since the evolution of the inner man is the process of building a more sensitive instrument through which nature may be contacted, anger can be a most disruptive force. Anger causes a loss of power and destroys the form of the inner man that must then be rebuilt. Consequently, it causes a setback in the evolution of the reincarnating ego.

Anger is related to the desire mind, one of the septenary principles of all beings. Desire draws the focus of the lower mind away from higher aspirations. If not controlled, anger can be destructive both to the originator as well as to all of life, through the astral light. The astral light surrounds us, radiates back that which it receives, and intensifies the essence. If, on the other hand, one chooses to sublimate one's anger by transmuting the same energy into an altruistic thought, the force is reversed to the benefit of all.


Suppressed anger is like a mighty river held back by a dam. If the flow builds up long enough, it eventually bursts forth with ten-fold the original power. Recognizing this danger, some (including many psychiatrists) have proclaimed that anger, instead of being suppressed, should be expressed -- whatever you think, whatever you feel, don't keep it hidden, let it out, act it out. Is this helpful? Far from it. The karmic consequences of an uninhibited display of anger -- because of the pain inflicted not only on others but on oneself -- are enormous. The Buddha says that anger is like a burning ember you pick up in your hand. When you throw it at another, you may hit them, you may miss them, but in either case, you will surely scorch your hand.

A far better alternative is sublimation. To sublimate means to elevate, to purify, or literally to make sublime. Sublimating anger means taking its raw and surging energy and converting it into something good, something holy, or something unsurpassable.

As the Buddha said, "Hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love" (Dhammapada, chap. 1). In the same way, anger does not cease by anger (either suppressing or expressing it): anger ceases by transforming it into compassion. This is the transformation all the saints and sages have attained in their own hearts. How? By resolutely following the path of spiritual discipline that leads to awareness of the self of all.


Controlling our anger so we don't do or say something we will regret later can be an effective strategy, but the suppression of anger can eventually cause great psychological and even physical harm. By burying our anger, banishing it from consciousness, not acknowledging how we feel and why we feel the way we do, we create an unhealthy and even destructive environment within ourselves. If part of the purpose of life is self-knowledge, then the suppression of anger is antithetical to this purpose. Suppression goes against the evolutionary impulse of life itself.

HPB wrote that the path toward adeptship is the process of gaining control of the principles, powers and forces within us and becoming the master of them rather than being ruled by them (Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge, pp. 67-69). Sublimation is the process of locating the real cause of our anger, understanding where it comes from and then transforming that energy into a positive and constructive force in our lives and in turn in the world.

The words of Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita (chap. 2) may be a good object of meditation for the replacement of anger with a higher feeling born out of the Gita teaching.

As a man throweth away old garments and putteth on new, even so the dweller in the body, having quitted its old mortal frames, entereth into others which are new. The weapon divideth it not, the fire burneth it not, the water corrupteth it not, the wind drieth it not away: it is eternal, universal, permanent, unmovable; it is invisible, inconceivable, and unalterable; therefore knowing it to be thus, thou shouldst not grieve.

Our tendency is to consider anger exclusively in its negative aspect. Perhaps this comes from identifying with anger only on a personal, microcosmic level. All qualities possess a dual nature, however, and therefore anger should not be an exception. But does anger have a higher, macrocosmic counterpart?

Anger, in all its forms, is characterized by the energy of heat or fire. According to the Secret Doctrine (vol. I, p. 81), fire and heat are among the symbols, which on our plane, are the progeny, or the correlation, of electricity: "Sacred generator of a no less sacred progeny; of fire -- the creator, the preserver and the destroyer; ... Electricity, the ONE Life at the upper rung of Being, and Astral Fluid, the Athanor of the Alchemists, at its lowest; GOD and DEVIL, GOOD and EVIL." In this context, anger in its dual aspect can be viewed as the catalyst that has the potential to ignite the spark of life in the cycle of creation, preservation, and destruction-regeneration.

How then does one harness the energy of anger to be able to use and direct it both intelligently and compassionately? Consider the course of anger: suppression inhibits growth and restrains or arrests the usual course of development or action. Sublimation, on the other hand, converts something inferior into something of higher, more refined worth. Sublimation causes the passing from the solid state to the vapor state by heating and again condensing to a solid form.

The sublimation of anger, then, is necessary to consciously and intelligently direct the process of the cycle of creation, preservation, and destruction-regeneration. This triple form, or trinity, has its correspondence to the Hindu Trimûrti: Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; and Shiva the destroyer. All three personifications of the Trimûrti are simply the three qualificative gunas, or attributes of the universe of differentiated spirit-matter -- self-formative, self-preserving, and self-destroying, for the purposes of regeneration and perfectibility (Theosophical Glossary, Trimûrti, p. 340).

Harnessing this energy in its positive cosmic aspect makes anger a catalyst and an aspect of the impulse that drives evolution forward.

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