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Edward Espe Brown

Excerpts from Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings: Recipes and Reflections

Stories of Ed's life and practice at Tassajara and with his teacher, Shunryu Suzuki

Anger Appears Unannounced


Before I became a cook or a Zen student I rarely thought of myself as an uptight person. I was sincere, conscientious, and laid-back. More than others. When anger appeared unannounced, that wasn't me. That was something. I couldn't help, and I wasn't going to have anything to do with it.

Everybody else knew how angry I could be. One of life's great ironies is that everybody else already knows the very thing you are trying to hide from them, and all you succeed in doing is hiding it from yourself

Even though I wasn't going to have anything to do with anger, I began being angry more and more often. I was angry to have to wake up, angry to have to get up and wash up, angry to have to dress. Moment after moment was distasteful, disgusting, objectionable: fatigue, painful knees, tedious labor, people (too slow, too greedy, too talkative, too sullen), things (out of place, demanding attention).

In a Zen parable this is the person who wakes up with a piece of shit on his nose. Throughout the day everyone he meets "stinks" and everything he does "stinks." Many years may pass before he realizes the shit is on his own nose, and he must "wash his face."

I hadn't yet noticed the shit on my nose, but people walked up to me as though they were looking around the corner of a building ... just to check and see what mood I was in before they got close. I guess they could smell it.


I threw fits and sometimes I threw things: spoons, spatulas, other kitchen utensils. Things can easily be exaggerated, and there are stories that I threw knives, but, no, it was only handy lightweight objects, including my glasses. They would get so steamed up and greasy, and became impossible to see through. A few fits like that, and I stopped wearing glasses: Skip it, if they don't know how to stay clean. I just left them behind the stove where they had dropped after hitting the wall.

Not that my fits ever made a difference. Expressing anger is often like unleashing a ferocious, penned-up bull: a lot of damage and precious little communication. If I attacked the way people worked - "Can't you pay more attention to what you are doing?" - nobody seemed to notice what I said. All they noticed was the anger - "Gee, you're really mad, aren't you?" Anger was getting in the way. It wasn't helping.

At last I found myself wondering, "How am I ever going to find out what to do with anger, if I never have anything to do with it? If I want to find out what to do with anger, I better begin studying how it works." Once I started observing, I noticed pretty quickly that the object of my anger was not the cause of anger: The shit had been on my nose. As far as I could tell anger was simply a reaction to the fact that the world did not behave the way I wanted it to, the way I thought it should. Apparently the universe is not set up according to my agenda.

Experiencing anger is so painful that we would rather suppress it or direct it at someone else as a way of keeping our distance from it. Often we look for a quick fix: "How do I get rid of my anger without ever having to relate to it?" Yet deciding to get acquainted with anger is pivotal. That begins a lengthy process akin to becoming intimate with a person and finding out how to live with him or her.

Becoming companions with your anger is a way to transform it. When you can tolerate having your anger around, it is not so intolerable. Anger loses its grip on you.

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