Life Skills for Hindu Teens



When the Time Came to Finally Conquer Anger§

Ranjit screamed and cursed, clutching his bloody finger and staring at the ragged hole he had just punched in his bedroom wall. “That was stupid!” §

Downstairs, Mom turned off the stove in the kitchen as eight-year-old Badriya clung to her sari. Both had experienced Ranjit’s blind rages before. It was one thing when he was a child throwing a tantrum; it could even seem cute. But his tantrums only grew in intensity and frequency, and now he was fifteen. Mom and Dad had tried and tried to teach him how to control his anger, but without success. They only knew it ran deep, and appeared to stem from his sense of frustration that so much of his life was beyond his control. He had trouble with some subjects in school, and found several of his teachers difficult. Rather than deal with the pressures rationally, he lashed out in anger. But what did he expect? He was a teenager and couldn’t have his own apartment, choose his own teachers and go to school on his own. §

Mom took off her apron. “Badriya, go outside and play.”§

She went upstairs and cautiously approached the partly open door to Ranjit’s room. She knew from experience he was probably still raging mad. §

“May I come in?”§

“Yes. I hurt my finger,” replied Ranjit, sitting on his bed with a blood-stained towel around his hand. Mom saw the broken lamp on the floor and the jagged hole in the wall. §

“How did that happen?”§

“I punched the wall, can’t you see that?” Ranjit snapped.§

It was a rare thing for Ranjit to be physically violent. Almost always, his anger had been expressed through harsh words. This escalation had Mom worried.§

“I was studying for a history test and just couldn’t follow the book anymore. I got angry and threw it at the wall. It hit the lamp and broke it, so I punched the wall. Stupid me. I broke my finger.”§

“How do you know it’s broken?”§

“Because I felt it crack, and part of the bone came through the skin, that’s how!”§

By now, Dad had arrived. Badriya, frightened, had run to him.§

“We’re going to the hospital,” he ordered after a quick look at the finger.§

The doctor tending to the wound questioned Ranjit closely about what had happened. He obviously wanted to know if some kind of domestic violence had taken place. Ranjit explained how he punched the wall in a fit of anger. The paint specks and drywall dust on his hand convinced the doctor he was telling the truth. As they left, Dad whispered to Ranjit, “That was close. I overheard one of the nurses wondering if she should call Child Protective Services. At first they suspected your injury was the result of a fight.”§

Ranjit arrived home in a subdued mood, sobered by the thought the police almost got involved. Feeling disoriented from the painkillers the doctor gave him, he went to his room and crashed on his bed. Badriya was already asleep, so Dad and Mom were able to talk privately.§

“Do you have any idea what brought this on?” Dad asked.§

“He’s been in a foul mood most of the week. Some teacher is on his case, he was in a fight with his friend Vijay, and you sent him to his room yesterday for swearing. Today he was upset when he came home from school, but I haven’t found out why. It’s been building up for a while.” §

“When I talk to him, it usually just seems to make things worse. It seems I’m part of the problem. Even when he’s calm enough to talk rationally, it doesn’t last, and there’s another blowup within a week. We put up with it when he was younger, but he has to overcome this. I’m scared that one of these days he will do something rash at school and get expelled, or even arrested.” §

“I think you should call Guruji about it,” said Mom. “Ranjit will have to be home from school for a few days until he’s off these painkillers. Maybe the seriousness of this incident will convince him to open up.”§

The family was among Guruji’s close devotees, and he was always available to help with family problems.§

“Ranjit got so angry he hit the wall and broke his finger,” Dad explained when he reached Guruji on his cell phone. “I’m worried. He’s losing control more and more these days.”§

Guruji paused before replying. “I, too, have been concerned that he has not grown out of his temper tantrums. He’s at that difficult adolescent age, but that doesn’t justify this behavior. Ask him to call me on my cell. I should talk to him directly. I’ll keep you informed.” §

Ranjit slept in the following morning. At 10am he crawled out of bed and trudged downstairs. §

“Do you want some tea, Ranjit?” Mom asked. “You look groggy.”§

“It’s the painkillers, Mom. They’re strong. I’ll just have some juice.”§

Just then he bumped his hand against the counter and grimaced.§

“Wow, I should have found some better excuse to skip a few days of school.”§

Ranjit’s quirky sense of humor came through from time to time, and Mom was happy to see it today. It revealed a keen sense of self-awareness, a trait that might one day help him conquer his anger.§

“At least I don’t have to put up with Mr. Robinson today.”§

“What does he do, Dear?” she asked, hoping to find out what had set him off.§


“Oh, he’s one of those teachers who gives us pop quizzes after not explaining things very well.”§

“I remember that type. I had some, too, and they were frustrating. Is that what was bothering you yesterday?” §

“That and a bunch of other crap.” §

Normally Mom might have said something about the language, but she knew today wasn’t the day for that. “Like what?” §

“Oh, lots of things. Mr. Robinson’s history class with homework I don’t understand. The fight with Vijay—he’s still mad at me. In Phys Ed we had to run extra laps because some kids weren’t putting any effort into it. Then I got in a huge argument with my lab partner in chemistry. Then Dad got mad at me for swearing and sent me to my room. I can’t do anything about any of it! What do people expect of me? Then to top it off, I’m stupid enough to go break a lamp, punch a stupid hole in the wall, break my stupid finger, and Dad has to take me to the hospital, which I bet cost a lot of money.” §

She laughed. “That does sound pretty awful. But don’t worry about the money, your hand was insured.” §

Then she paused. “But I don’t think the wall was.” §

He smiled at her and laughed, too, but there was a desperate feeling to the conversation. The violence of last night continued to vibrate in the home’s inner atmosphere. Ranjit had a bit to eat, then went back to bed. Later in the afternoon, Mom checked in on him and found him still in bed, sitting up, reading a book for English class.§

That evening at dinner, Dad broached the subject hesitantly, “Ranjit, I talked to Guruji. He wants you to call him—maybe even tonight if you’re up to it.” §

To his parents’ surprise, Ranjit agreed. “Sure. I can guess what it’s about. Not sure if it’ll do any good, but it’s obvious I need to do something. Not much use breaking more fingers.” §

Dad caught Mom’s hopeful expression. Once dinner was over and Ranjit had gone upstairs, phone in hand, Mom said, “I think something has changed. He was nicer today. Maybe last night was a blessing in disguise.” §

“I hope so. But it could just be the painkillers knocking the fight out of him.”§

“I want him to change,” said Badriya, adding her opinion even though she didn’t know exactly what was going on. Her brother had turned his anger on her before, and it scared her. He had never struck her, but she just didn’t trust him anymore. §

“Namaste. This is Guruji. I’m so glad you called, Ranjit. I haven’t seen you for a while. You must be a big boy now.”§

“I’m fifteen, and five foot ten. I think I was twelve when we visited last.” §

“Yes, that’s about right. So, your Dad asked me to talk with you. Do you know why?”§

“I can guess. Yesterday I got so angry, I punched the wall and broke my finger. That was so dumb.”§

“Are you willing to talk about it?”§

“Yes, Guruji, I am.” He remembered Guruji, and the respect everyone had always shown him, but this was their first one-on-one conversation. It was exciting, despite the reason for it.§

“Well, Ranjit, nobody wants you going through life like this, not me, not your parents, not even you. You have to learn to control your anger. That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?”§

“Yes,” Ranjit agreed. §

“Next time you might punch a person instead of a wall, and then you could be calling me from jail.” §

“So what can I do about it?” §

“It will be difficult, but eventually you’ll have to realize that the world is as it is, and everything happens for a purpose. You need to learn to react to anything that happens with patience, kindness and understanding, not anger and violence.”§

“Knowing my past, that sounds difficult.”§

“It is, but we will take it one step at a time. Do two things for me. First, write down all the times you got mad last week—all the little mads, like not getting a grade you wanted to get in school, and all the big mads, like what happened yesterday. Then, this week, keep track of each time you get mad or feel like getting mad. At the end of the week, email me your list—and then call me the next day. Can you do that?”§

“Yes. I’ll do my best.” “What’s the second thing?”§

“You need to take responsibility for the property damage. I want you to search the Internet and find out how to repair the hole in your wall, and then do your best to fix it. I’m sure your dad or mom will help, but it is important that you do most of the work.” §

“That makes sense,” agreed Ranjit. §

“That’s it for today. Next week we’ll take another step.”§

“Okay ... thank you,” Ranjit said and ended the call. §

“So, how was Guruji?” Mom inquired.§

“Good. He gave me two assignments for now. One is to start fixing the wall and the other is write down everything I get mad about.” §

The next morning, a Saturday, he used the family’s computer to research how to repair drywall. After learning what he needed, he talked to Dad. “Once my hand gets better, can you take me to the building supply place? I’ll need to buy some stuff. I don’t suppose you have drywall tools, do you?”§

“No, but we can buy some,” offered Dad. §

Ranjit went back to school on Monday, but dutifully started his incident list between classes. By noon he had thirty items from the last week. He wrote down being irritated by the noise two kids were making in class while the teacher was explaining something really complicated, the fight with his lab partner and the poor score they got on their project, and a bunch of silly things like being upset because his favorite T-shirt was still in the laundry. The list was longer than he had anticipated. He stared at it for quite a while, pondering why he got angry so often. §

The list for the current week was not as long. He did write down how he was annoyed with all the kids asking him about his taped hand, and that his lab partner got on his nerves again. He sent Guruji the list on Thursday, wondering what he would say about it. It was hard to wait a whole day before calling him. §

“Hello, Ranjit, I’m glad you called back. I got your list yesterday. Pretty long, I would say, and I’ve seen some long lists.”§

“Yeah, I know.”§

“So, now you have to re-read the list. I want you to look at each item on there, and ask yourself, ‘Was anger useful in this situation?’ Take a good, hard look at each one.”§

“I think I know the answer already.” §

“Yes, I’m sure you do. Anger is really a useless emotion, a reaction belonging to the instinctive or animal part of our nature. It always makes things worse and never makes them better. Was even one single thing on your list fixed or even lessened by getting angry about it?” §

“No,” admitted Ranjit, “nothing really changed, except to get worse.”§

“I want you to keep that in mind this week. But don’t worry if something comes up you find annoying. There’s certainly no point in getting angry about getting angry, now is there?” §

“I should think not.”§

“I want you to catch the moment just before the anger starts to take over, and watch what is happening in your mind. Do you think you can do that?”§

“I’ll try my best.” §

“The second assignment for this week is also about awareness. The way I see it, every part of the mind exists all of the time—happiness in one part, sadness in another, anger in yet another. If we become aware of the happy part, then we are happy. If we become aware of the sad part, we’re sad. And if we become aware of the angry part, we are angry. Nothing has changed about the mind; our awareness simply went to a different area. This is the key to self-control. With practice, you can move your awareness where you want to go. Happiness, sadness, anger, all those things—those are not you, they’re just things you become aware of for a while.”§

“I was totally aware of the pain in my finger when I broke it.”§

“Yes, that’s a good example. But you’re not your finger, are you?” §

“Nope,” agreed Ranjit, “but I’m absolutely amazed at how much it hurts, and the fact that I can’t use my hand at all because of what is a really a minor injury.” §

“So it’s a good thing you’re not your finger,” laughed Guruji.§

“Sure is,” Ranjit chuckled.§

“And it’s a good thing you’re not anger. You are not an angry person, you’re just someone who has developed a habit of letting awareness get into the angry area of the mind.”§

“I think I understand what you’re saying,” Ranjit said uncertainly.§

“Mostly, from what I see on your list, you get angry when you’re frustrated. You want something to happen differently than it is happening, and instead of being patient with the situation, or going to the part of the mind that is always patient, you get angry. That’s a choice you make.”§

“Yes, I see that, especially with my little sister. She’s just a child, and I go and yell at her. How stupid is that? Does no good at all; it just upsets her.”§

“Do you want to be the kind of person who gets angry with people and upsets them?”§

“No, I don’t.”§

“Then,” replied Guruji, “work with me to change the way you behave.”§

“Yes, Sir.” Ranjit really appreciated that Guruji talked to him as an adult, and did not talk down to him as an out-of-control teenager, even if he might deserve it. §

When Ranjit called again the following Friday, Guruji jumped right in. “I’m going to explain several specific exercises to deal with anger. The first you already heard about, understanding that the world is a perfect place where everything happens for a purpose. Say to yourself when you feel anger coming on, ‘The world is a perfect place. The world is a perfect place.’ Second, think of the blue color of the sky, and feel that color filling your whole body.”§

“I understand about saying the world is a perfect place, but how does the blue color help?”§

“Anger is red in color. If I looked at you when you were angry, I would see red flashes in your aura. Blue is the opposite color. It may sound strange, but just visualizing blue can reduce anger. I want you to try that each time you feel anger coming on.”§

“OK.” §

“And one more thing for this week ... Can you get a picture of Mr. Robinson?”§

“No problem. Then what?”§

“Every day for a month, place a flower in front of his picture, and say out loud, ‘Aum Namasivaya.’ Think about him in a kindly way. He’s Siva, too, you know.”§

“That’s going to be hard.” §

“Yes, I know. But it will be good for you. It’s called the flower penance. This works when you’ve been angry with one person over a long period of time.” §

“Anything else?” §

“Another method is to skip a meal when you get angry. That teaches the subconscious mind there are consequences to getting angry. It is a form of self-discipline. There are more methods for anger management, but we can leave them aside for now. Practice these for a month. Then if we need more we can talk about other methods. Different medicines for different ailments.”§

“And for different people,” added Ranjit.§

“Yes, that too. Good night, Ranjit.” §

Equipped with some real strategies, Ranjit felt confident as he headed back downstairs. Walking past the den, he noticed Dad was away on another overnight business trip, leaving him with more responsibility than he wanted around the house. He felt a surge of energy in his forehead, “Uh-oh,” he thought, “after I do the flower penance for Mr. Robinson, I have to do it for Dad.”§

The next day, he really did get angry, over a change in class at school. §

“All right,” he said to himself, “time for serious measures. No lunch for you!”§

Skipping lunch wasn’t that hard, until about 3pm when he got really hungry. When he finally sat down for dinner, he wolfed down the soup and potatoes. “I have to avoid doing that very often!” he mumbled to himself. §

Somehow Ranjit managed to offer a flower to Mr. Robinson’s picture every day for a month, and he started to notice a change in Mr. Robinson. Suddenly everything the teacher was doing in class made sense. Ranjit just had to work a little harder to get it. §

Of course, Mr. Robinson hadn’t changed—Ranjit had.§

He started to get most of the remedies to work, not necessarily on the first try—he had to skip several meals—but after a while it clicked. The visualization of blue light was really useful, because as soon as he felt anger coming on, he had something he could do immediately to calm himself. That kept the anger from building to a rage, which would be much more difficult to handle.§

Guruji had more remedies—like putting money in a jar every time you swear, or visualizing Lord Ganesha, but the one Ranjit adopted next was performing secret kindly acts for someone—Badriya, who had suffered on the fringes of his anger all these years. Look how much he hurt his finger from one silly moment of anger. How much more had he hurt his sister each time he yelled at her?§

He found things she had been looking for and put them in a place she couldn’t miss. He did extra cleanup after dinner so she had less to do. He filled up her bicycle tires when she wasn’t around. Little things that helped change their relationship. “Why should this little girl suffer because of me?” he thought. “I have been insensitive and selfish.” Seeing himself through his sister’s eyes changed Ranjit more than anything else, . §

One evening about six months after the broken finger incident, Badriya was sitting at the kitchen table drawing. Ranjit noticed how small and innocent she looked. Sitting down beside her, he noticed she didn’t cringe like she used to when he came near. Nor did Mom turn to watch him cautiously, as she had the last couple years, worried he might start berating her daughter over some silly thing.§

“Want to come and watch TV with me?” he asked.§

Amazingly, it was the first time he had ever asked her that. “Okay,” she said, with only the slightest twinge of hesitation.§

“You decide what program we watch, okay?” §

Ranjit noticed Mom taking it all in, smiling, with tears in her eyes. Impulsively, he went over and hugged her. “Tell Dad thanks for calling Guruji, okay?”§