Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: It doesn’t matter what others think or say

Much of our anger in life comes from people thinking or saying bad things about us.  Shantideva now explores how we can avoid such anger.

(6.52) Since my mind is not a bodily form,
There is no one who can destroy it;
But, because I am strongly attached to my body,
I feel hurt when it is suffering.

(6.53) Contempt, harsh words,
And unpleasant speech
Do not harm the body;
So why, mind, do you become so angry?

Why do we feel the need to retaliate when harsh, slanderous words are spoken?  When people attack us, we become very defensive and filled with pride thinking, talking to us in such a way is definitely not something we will allow.  “No one speaks to us in such ways!”  Generally speaking, we do not tolerate such unpleasant speech.  We take what is spoken to us directly or indirectly so personally. We become so defensive when we hear such words.  Instinctively, quite instinctively, we retaliate. We become angry and we retaliate.  There are many reasons for our retaliation. The main reason, though, is pride and our attachment to our reputation.  I believe one of the most important jobs we have, one of our greatest responsibilities, is to remove all worldly Dharmas and thereby be able to show others the example of being a pure Kadampa.  Such examples are needed in this world, especially now.

(6.54) “Such slanderous words may cause others to dislike you.”
Their dislike will not cause me any harm
In this or future lives;
So why should I not want it?

Such slanderous words may cause others to dislike us.  We may feel as a result of harsh words people will dislike us, and we want people to like us, don’t we? We want people to think well of us. We don’t want people to feel that we are in any way how others seem to think about us, do we? We don’t want that. We don’t want people to dislike us, we want them to love us.  But what difference does it make whether people like us or not?

Should, for example, we want people to like us or even love us? Is it important? Is it important that people do not dislike us? Is it important that people do not have bad feeling towards us? If we want to maintain the purity of our tradition, help Kadam Dharma flourish, then it is important that people not dislike us. It is, isn’t it? Should we then be concerned, and stop people uttering such words? What do we do? Do we act, or not? If we do act, why? With what motivation?

These are not easy questions, and it is very easy for our attachment and selfish motivations to hijack our wisdom to try rationalize why we should care.  In the end, the test is very simple:  do we feel our happiness depends upon what other people think of us?  If yes, then that is attachment.  If no, then it opens up all sorts of valid reasons why we should want people to think good things of us, such as our ability to help them depends upon them having faith in us.

But how do we control what others think of us so that they think good things?  Of course if somebody misunderstands us, we can attempt to clarify if the other person is open to hearing our explanation.  But ultimately, what others think of us is nothing more than a karmic echo of how we have thought about others.  If we want to change what others think about us, we need to change what we think about others.  This will change our karma, and thus change – over time – what others think of us.  From the point of view of emptiness, there is in fact nobody there thinking anything about us.  It is just the karmic appearance of that happening.  So why be bothered when people think ill of us?

I think a lot of our present difficulties with worrying about what others think of us comes from PTSD of our Middle School years.  For me at least, that was hell – but a hell that revolved around obsessive concern over what people thought of us.  If, for whatever reason, we found ourselves on the outside of the group, we were ostracized and it emotionally hurt – badly.  Fortunately, people largely grow out of Middle School, but the trauma remains within us, and so we carry this concern with us well into our adulthood.  Some people never grow out of it.  But we don’t need to judge ourselves for this, we need compassion for ourselves.  We need to look back on those years and request Dorje Shugden, “please bless me to transform all of that hurt into powerful causes of my enlightenment.”  Healing this past hurt will go a long ways to letting go of our obsessive concern with what others think about us now.

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