We’ve all had the experience of someone simply looking at us and hating us. We, too, have experienced immediate repulsion upon meeting someone “new.” The reason for this repulsion could be as obscure as a kalpas-long karmic connection (or dis-connection), or it could be a reason rooted in ignorance. Mind you, here, that the denotation for the term ‘ignorant,’ does not mean “stupid,” but rather and simply, ‘uninformed.’ Most of us are not all-knowing – even if we don’t realize it.
One of my favorite verses of the Dhammapada (17:227) says:
“O Atula! Indeed, this is an ancient practice, not one only of today: they blame those who remain silent, they blame those who speak much, they blame those who speak in moderation. There is none in the world who is not blamed.” –The Dhammapada: Chapter 17, Anger
So, we really don’t have to do anything to offend someone. Just being there, and alive, is enough for some folks. An example of this is when someone is offended by everything we say, then offended when we give up and stop talking to them (because then, we’re “stuck-up”). These are the instances when we “can’t win for losing.”
Currently, I’m deeply considering how to deal with someone who has repeatedly inconvenienced me. I honestly don’t think she intentionally means me harm, but rather that she’s simply self-absorbed, inconsiderate, and lacking in compassion. A few months ago, she asked me to do her a favor which required my getting up at 6:30 AM and going somewhere to meet her. I agreed. The next morning, upon arriving at our agreed-upon designation, she wasn’t there. The next time I saw her, I said, “Where were you? I waited for some time!” She said, “Something came up.” End of explanation. Recently, she did the same thing, again. Her excuse: “It was only a little favor. What’s the big deal?” Again, there was no apology for the repeated rudeness and inconvenience. Admittedly, and for reasons I haven’t space to discuss, I, alone, put myself in the position to have her do this to me again.
This woman is not ignorant regarding what it feels like to be mistreated, as evidenced by her constant complaints about how others have “screwed [her] over.” Nonetheless, she’s completely incapable of acknowledging that when she “screws someone over,” they might feel the same way she feels. In fact, part of her excuse for acting the way she does is, “Well, everyone treats other people badly.” Additionally, she has no concept of the laws of karma, even though one of her favorite expressions is, “What goes around comes around.” Of course, this applies to everyone but her.
This last time, I told her, “I won’t give you the opportunity to do this to me again.” I don’t believe that being a “good person,” or a “good Christian,” or a “Good Buddhist,” or simply “good,” requires being a doormat or an idiot. I won’t refuse to help her if she falls down and needs help getting back to her feet, but I’m not going to go out of my way to do her any personal favors anymore, particularly if it means doing any kind of traveling when she won’t even bother to show up.
When I was a little girl, my mother taught me the following prayer to say each night, as I knelt by my bed before going to sleep:
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon this little child,
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to thee.
As an elementary school-aged child, I didn’t understand this prayer. Once I reached adulthood, I reconsidered it and wondered at how anyone could think of Jesus as “meek and mild.” He was bold, engaged, outspoken, dynamic, and though not fearless (as evidenced by his “Father, if you can take this cup away from me” prayer), obviously impervious to that fear. Surely this big, strapping carpenter’s son was not some sniveling, 100-pound weakling-at-the-beach. But this is the image that domineering, manipulative people like to call to mind when you won’t let them walk all over you; and it’s also why many folks tend to eschew “turning the other cheek” in this “dog-eat-dog” world.
As I work to develop compassion, I’ve found that it’s crucial to understand the role of ignorance in the human equation. About a year ago, I was appalled to discover my own ignorance regarding a relationship with a family member some 30 years ago. This understanding has tempered how I view others who try to harm me, especially because the biggest difference between us might be that between the two of us, I, alone, am aware of the disease of ignorance. Perception is everything. My awareness does not make me better than that person – only more fortunate. Often, people don’t realize that the way they treat, or have treated, others has something to do with why their own lives aren’t quite what they’d wish. And I am ever mindful, as so many Buddhas have stated, that “it is a fortunate thing to be born a human.” Just as the Christian Bible reminds us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), so many Buddhas have advised us to do the same.
In his book, Meditation on Perception (2014), Bhante Gunaratana says:
“Under the control of ignorance, our cognitive faculties filter the world in such a way that things that are really impermanent, deficient, empty of self, and repulsive appear to us as their exact opposites: as permanent, as enjoyable, as our true self, and as desirable….Thus we not only conceive things in a distorted manner, but we even perceive the world around us, and most intimately, our own being, as testimony to these flawed notions of permanence, enjoyment, selfhood, and sensual beauty.”
Admittedly, I have problems sending metta (lovingkindeness) to some folks. So, all I can do in the present is keep reminding myself that I cannot judge someone for not yet realizing what it took me a good hard 40 years to realize, myself. And this realization requires me first, to have compassion on myself so that I can then extend that same compassion to others. A prime motivation for this is so that I don’t continue a (bad) karmic connection with someone, or create a “new” one (if there’s anything “new” under the sun).
The Dhammapada, Chapter 17:227 from Buddha.net
Gunaratana, B. (2014). Meditation on perception: Ten healing practices to cultivate mindfulness. Wisdom Publications: Boston, MA.