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Antidotes to the habit of complaining

Cover of Taming the Mind.

Taming the Mind presents advice on taming bad habits and cultivating good ones. Here is an excerpt on nurturing antidotes to our tendency to complain.

Cover of Taming the Mind.

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Featured in Spirituality and Practice

Some of us frequently find ourselves indulging in our “favorite” pastime: complaining. It’s not exactly our favorite activity, because it makes us more miserable, but it’s certainly one that we engage in often. We don’t always see what we’re doing as complaining; in fact, we often think we’re simply telling the truth about the world. But when we look carefully, we are forced to acknowledge that our woebegone statements are usually complaints. What constitutes complaining? One dictionary defines it as “an expression of pain, dissatisfaction, or resentment.” I would add that it’s a statement of dislike, blame, or judgment that we whine about repeatedly …

For Buddhist practitioners, several meditations act as healthy antidotes to the habit of complaining. Meditating on impermanence is a good start. Seeing that everything is transient enables us to set our priorities wisely and determine what is important in life. It becomes clear that the petty things about which we complain are not important in the long run, and we let them go.

Meditating on compassion is also helpful. When our mind is imbued with compassion, we don’t view others as enemies or as obstacles to our happiness. Instead, we see that they do harmful actions because they wish to be happy but don’t know the correct method for attaining happiness. They are, in fact, just like us: imperfect, limited sentient beings who want happiness and not suffering. Thus, we can accept them as they are and seek to benefit them in the future. We see that our own happiness, in comparison to the problematic situations others experience, is not so important. Therefore, we are able to view others with understanding and kindness, and any inclination to complain about, blame, or judge them evaporates.

Meditating on the nature of cyclic existence is another antidote. Seeing that we and others are under the influence of ignorance, anger, and clinging attachment, we abandon idealistic visions that things should be a certain way. As a friend says to me when I mindlessly complain, “This is cyclic existence. What do you expect?” I suppose at that moment, I expected perfection, that is, that everything should happen the way I want it to. Examining the nature of cyclic existence frees us from such unrealistic thinking and from the complaining it foments.

In his Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva counsels, “If something can be changed, work to change it. If it cannot, why worry, be upset or complain?” Let’s remember this wise advice when the urge arises to complain.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.