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

(6.92) For the sake of fame and reputation,
People give away their wealth and even sacrifice their lives;
But what good can a few dry words do when we die?
To whom can they bring any pleasure?

(6.93) When people lose their reputation,
They become despondent, like a child
Who cries when the sandcastle he has built
Is washed away by the tide.

Who cares if we have a good reputation or not? We do.  We’re very concerned, aren’t we, about what others think of us. It matters, a good reputation matters to us.  Why?  We need to check what our reasons are to see if they are good reasons.  There are two extremes when it comes to what others think of us:  We are attached to what they think of us.  We think our happiness depends on others liking us and thinking/feeling good about us.  Then, we become obsessed with what they think, etc.  There is so much suffering with this.  The other extreme is not caring at all what others think.  Whatever they think is their problem.  This also leads to many problems, because then we may act in all sorts of unpleasant ways, say things others aren’t ready to hear, cause others to lose faith in us, etc.  The middle way is care what others think for valid Dharma reasons, but not be attached to what anybody thinks.  There are many valid reasons for wanting others to think good of us, so we need to be careful to manage our reputation.  We want others to be pleasantly disposed towards us so that they respect what we have to say and seek out our advice.  We want people to rely upon us to escape from samsara, and they won’t do so if think poorly of us.  But ultimately, our own personal happiness, should not depend in any way on what others think of us.  We know how to transform whatever others appear to be thinking about us into the path.  The best way to ensure that others think well of us is for ourselves to always think well of others.

There are valid reasons for being ‘interested’ in having a good reputation, namely our ability to help people.  So we should make an effort to be on good terms with everybody and try to be understood as a good person. 

It is worth considering ultimately what are others thinking about us?  The answer is ‘nothing.’  There is no other person there thinking anything.  It is just our dream arising from our karma.  There is a mere appearance of others thinking something about us, but ultimately there is no one there thinking anything.  Conventionally speaking, though, yes, there is an appearance of what others think and this does have an effect on our conventional existence.  So what are others conventionally thinking about us?  What they are karmically determined to do.  What they think of us is a karmic echo of how we have thought about others in the past.  If we are surrounded by people who think poorly of us it is because in the past we have thought poorly of everyone else.  If we want to change what they think about us, we need to change our karma.  We can think only good things about others, and gradually others will think only good things about us.  We can imagine that when others see us they think Buddha, in this way we can provide real benefit to them. 

We should be concerned simply with improving ourself by practicing Dharma purely, and thereby helping others to improve themselves by practicing Dharma.  Then we will become a holy being who is naturally respected. We know such people have some power, but we will be using that power in such beneficial ways.  We will be helping ourselves. We can improve the quality of our spiritual life, we can improve the quality of others’ lives, spiritual lives, and we can help to further our tradition, this pure tradition that flourishes throughout the world.

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