Vows, commitments and modern life:  Not offending others while being true to yourself

Do not offend others. 

This advises us not to act in ways that offend living beings, for example criticizing them, not complying with their wishes, or reciting wrathful mantras with a harmful intention.

The first task of any bodhisattva is to exchange self with others.  According to Sutra, this means to exchange the object of our cherishing from ourself to others.  The meaning of this is previously we considered our own happiness and welfare to be the most important thing and we worked diligently to try secure it.  But after exchanging ourself with others we then consider the happiness and welfare of others to be the most important thing and we work diligently to try secure it.  Clearly, if we consider the happiness and feelings of others to be important, we won’t do things that offend them.  We currently don’t like it when others offend us.  After we have exchanged self with others, we will similarly not like it when others are offended or harmed in any way.

According to Tantra, to exchange self with others means to change the basis of imputation of our “I” from the body and mind that we normally identify with to “others.”  In other words, when we look at others’s bodies and minds, we think “me.”  When we see them, we think they are ourself.  When we look at ourself, we think “others.”  In essence, we take the mere imputation “me” and impute it on all others, and we take the mere imputation “others” and impute it on what we formerly considered to be ourself.  This is a more powerful way of exchanging self with others, and is explained in detail by Shantideva in Chapter 8 of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.  If we have exchanged self with others in this way, offending or harming others will be unthinkable.  We currently praise ourself all of the time.  We currently do everything we can to tend to every need and wish of ourself.  When we exchange ourself with others according to Tantra, we will have a similar attitude towards others.  Offending them or harming them become impossible.

It is important, however, that we not misunderstand this commitment.  If our engaging in virtue, such as our Dharma practice, somehow offends or bothers others, we should not abandon our practice thinking we need to “fulfill their wishes.”  If their wishes are wrong wishes, such as wishing for us to abandon the path, then we should not go along with such wishes.  On the surface, they may become upset about this, but if we do abandon our practice to satisfy their wrong wish then we facilitate them creating horrible karma for themselves that will ripen in the future in the form of when they wish to enter the path others will emotionally blackmail them to abandon their practice.  If we go along with these wrong wishes of theirs, we are quite literally harming all living beings.  How so?  By our self not following the path, all of the people who we otherwise would have helped will now no longer receive that help.  And in particular, we are harming the other person because now the possibility of the other person entering the path in the future will be blocked.  Nobody benefits.

With that being said, we should still try to be skillful.  When I first started practicing Dharma, my in-laws were afraid that I had run off and joined some crazed cult.  They especially worried about this when they read all of the venom on the internet related to the Dalai Lama/Dorje Shugden issue.  So they quite understandably created many obstacles to my practice, and indeed to my relationship with my now wife.  I wrote Geshe-la asking him what I should do.  He said, “You need to be skillful with what you show.  Dharma practice is primarily an internal thing.  You should not exaggerate the external.  Surely your future in-laws will not be opposed to internal qualities like kindness, patience and love.  You need to be skillful.”  In other words, one extreme would be abandoning my practice and another extreme would be to rub it in their faces.  I can continue to do my practice as I wish, but I just don’t need to talk to them about all that I am doing and I don’t need to make too public or external of a display about it.  But internally, I can do as I wish with gusto.  Then, no problems.

Likewise, sometimes those in our life may object to our engaging in virtue.  For example, people may object we are too generous with our money or our time.  People may become jealous of our cherishing of other people, etc.  In the same way, all such wrong wishes of others should be ignored.  We do not help people by allowing them to deter us from engaging in the path.

7 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  Not offending others while being true to yourself

  1. Brilliant. And expressed so clearly. I seek to apply this each and every day. I am confident that the more I apply this the more peace I will feel within.

  2. Not easy to not offend others! A few thoughts…

    People who easily express their anger: spite and aggression are the
    secondary delusions to watch. So, tone of voice, body language and way of being are key words can be less important here.

    People who repress the anger: mainly offend others ‘in my head’. The
    secondary delusion to watch here is resentment. We can notice that these
    imaginary arguments are projections of mind. We are creating the enemy. We imagine saying things we should say or should have said. We imagine fulfilling our own wishes or need to be right or to be empowered since we find it hard to be assert our needs.

    There is potential to manipulate others and spread rumours to get others to
    agree with us just how bad others are also, this justifies, to us, our
    fault finding and we seek further evidence to make a case against others.
    Our offending grows in radius, spreads like a virus to destroy reputations
    of others.

    When I teach anger management, a key focus for us is the internal rules of the
    person. Conventional codes they live by. Conceptual patterns of thinking.
    For example, someone may have learned through life that “people must be
    polite” If it appears that others do not follow that same code, then
    frustration, impatience and may arise. Another example is “no one tells me
    what to do”, so even having a vow to not offend others may be difficult as
    it could be perceived on a subtle level that it is being forced upon them.
    A tram driver who was taught to “say please and thank you” spends all day
    with people buying tickets from him, not saying please or thank you and is
    therefore infuriated by the end of the day.

  3. In Sutra, we change the object of our cherishing. In Tantra, we change the basis of imputation of our I from what we used to consider self to what we used to consider others. In other words, we impute our I onto others, then look back at our old self and think “other.”

  4. I have some experience with people expressing displeasure with my practice and shrine. It’s alot for Westerns to take in at first and I understand their concern. Raised eyebrows afford me the opportunity to expound on basic Dharma teachings planting a few seeds in the process.

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