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Anger: The Seven Deadly Sins (New York Public Library Lectures in Humanities) Hardcover – October 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Thurman, professor of Buddhist studies at Columbia University and author of Inner Revolution, contributes to Oxford's outstanding series on the seven deadly sins with this brief meditation on anger. Thurman identifies two extreme positions on the subject: on the one side are the people who believe that anger is a healthy, constructive force that can right wrongs and overturn social injustice. On the other side are those who would like to see anger be entirely eradicated, because playing with fire means we'll only get burned. Not surprisingly, Thurman draws upon Buddhist precepts to navigate a more nuanced "middle way" between those extremes. "Our goal surely is to conquer anger, but not destroy the fire it has misappropriated," he writes. "We will wield that fire with wisdom and turn it to creative ends." Thurman says at the outset that he, like many people, has a problem with anger, and that his temper (which he traces to a "paternal lineage of Southern rednecks") still flares despite decades of Buddhist practice. (Some of that character becomes apparent when Thurman rails against war, which he calls "politically organized anger.") At times, his generalizations about Western religions are unfair—such as when he says that the angriest character in the Hebrew Bible is God himself—but his Buddhist perspective makes a valuable counterpoint to the mostly Christian points of view we've seen so far in this series.
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From Booklist

Anger has lost status since the 1960s, when it was imperative to let it all hang out. Now Buddhist scholar-teacher Thurman sees nothing good about anger, not even--indeed, perhaps especially--when it is the motor that drives soldiers into combat. He allows, however, that anger's burning energy "cannot be avoided altogether," but can we not purge anger yet retain its fire "to burn away the suffering of others?" In his contribution to a lecture series on the seven deadly sins, this book's source, he argues that we can, and he presents a Buddhist way of so doing. Drawing extensively on the didactic quatrains of the eighth-century Buddhist saint Shantideva, he is very persuasive, especially in the three chapters on the varieties of patience to cultivate to overcome anger. Many may wish, however, that he had refrained, in his early dismissal of Western religion, from caricaturing God in the Hebrew Bible and Jesus in the Gospels as figures of wrath, which seems to project more onto them than the texts, and Christian theology, justify. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Series: New York Public Library Lectures in Humanities
  • Hardcover: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780195169751
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195169751
  • ASIN: 0195169751
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 0.8 x 5.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #662,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By ewomack TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Anger. People who get angry do nasty things. They swear, throw things, shake their fists at the sky, and kick things that don't necessarily deserve a kick. Or worse. Maybe they launch a thousand ships. Maybe they invade a country. In any case a lot of nasty things have anger as their foundation. So how do we deal with it? This book offers some suggestions.

This little book begins by delineating two grand traditions of anger. One, dominant in the West, accepts anger as an inevitable and necessary evil in the course of existence. By this view, anger becomes as unstoppable as the wind. It just plain exists. So we had best accept it. The other tradition, dominant in the East, seeks to annihilate anger altogether. Or, at least, rechannel the energy anger generates into more positive channels. The author finds these two views too polarizing and seeks a middle path by denying neither position but combining somewhat diluted versions of both into one distinct stance. This amounts to, in short, the view that we can't obliterate anger from the earth, but we don't have to let it control us, either. Given the author's background, it shouldn't astonish readers to find that he utilizes Buddhist psychology to attain his goals.

Prior to that, however, he takes a small dip into current politics. Chapter One, "The Momentous Present", defines "war" as "organized anger". Then he lets it all hang out, as they say. These 3 pages leave nothing to the imagination concerning Thurman's political views. Essentially, he thinks that the current world bristles with anger, and an analyzis of anger and how to ameliorate or rechannel its energies must occur sooner than later to avoid catastrophe.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J.A.P. on February 16, 2009
Format: Paperback
Unlike what the Western world is taught about anger, that it is part of our emotional landscape therefore out of our control, Thurman makes sense when suggesting to us that anger is actually a concept, an acceptance that our anger is within our control because it's a behavior we choose rather than an emotion we cannot avoid.
Great read, it's another branch of the mind/body connection. Would highly recommend this book for anyone, to read with your adolescents too.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By P.B. on February 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book wasn't as hard to read as I thought it to be (I don't usually read books on philosophy and psychology, though my interest in the seven sins urged me to read this book).

The author opens this book by saying he's angry at anger, but by being angry, it has already defeated him. So appearantly anger (or wrath, as most people, including myself, refer to it as) can only be defeated by ceasing to be angry. The author lays out a plan to the reader to defeat anger: The Buddhist Plan. He personifies anger as being a force that turns its victims into zombies and pits them against each other; it is the `real enemy'. According to Buddhism, he says, the best way to defeat anger is to not destroy it, but instead build a tolerance to its supposed causes, and then take the energy that would be angry energy and use it in for more positive forms.

The first couple of chapters are relatively easy to read; they examine both Western and Buddhist views of anger, and how one views it as a vital part of human nature, while the other considers it more a delusion. Then as the author moves on in explaining Buddhist methods, the text delves deeper into the psychological mechanics of anger, providing a bit more challenging read, though probably fascinating for people into psychology, religion, and self-help.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on February 25, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The jewel in the crown of the New York Public Library's uneven 7 Deadly Sins series, Robert Thurman's book on anger is both erudite (although the erudition is worn easily) and wise (a rare commodity these days). Thurman's erudition comes through in his masterful survey of western and eastern philosophical and religious reflections on anger. His wisdom is evident in his prescriptions for transmuting anger into patience and then compassion. Thurman leans heavily on the 8th century Buddhist sage Shantideva. Since most of his western readers will probably be unfamiliar with Shantideva (I certainly was), the book offers a refreshing alternative to conventional western thinking about anger.

The west has frequently distinguished between "good" and "bad" anger, with the former being what's commonly called "righteous" or "justified" anger. Righteous anger is displayed (and thereby legitimized) by the Hebraic Jehovah and by Jesus (in the Temple, for example), and non-Christian philosophers such as Aristotle have praised it. (The Roman Stoic Seneca stands almost alone in refusing to defend anger as occasionally righteous.) Given this assumption that anger at times is morally legitimate and even obligatory, the question for the west then becomes one of determining under what conditions it's morally appropriate to display anger. The tragedy, however, is that overt displays of anger have a tendency to degenerate into violence and destruction.

Thurman takes a different approach to anger. His starting point is the Buddha's claim that humans tend to suffer from "self-addiction," the obsessive delusion that we possess a self which is absolute and independent.
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