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Why does this get to me?

Why does this get to me?

Part of a series of short Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner talks on Langri Tangpa’s Eight Verses of Thought Transformation.

  • Examples of a person of “bad nature”
  • Our tendency to shy away from those who are suffering, either physically or mentally
  • Asking ourselves why certain people get to us

Whenever I meet a person of bad nature
Who is overwhelmed with negative energy and intense suffering
I will hold such a rare one dear
As if I had found a precious treasure.

Give me some examples of a person of bad nature. What kind of person is that, that just drives you buggy, who is overwhelmed by negative energy, or they might have intense suffering, whatever it is. Give me some examples.

[Members from audience respond]

  • I use that verse in moments when people are angry, or someone who tweets insensitive things in the face of disasters
  • When I see someone who is acting self-centered
  • For me it’s when somebody is angry, and especially their body movements, you can feel the energy in how they’re moving through space.
  • Someone who is angry, and who shows no inkling of making connection or owning their own part.
  • Someone who is thinking only of themselves, and not looking at the person right next door who needs help, they’re oblivious.
  • Someone who is in a bad mood.
  • I thought of politicians who make decisions based on short-term things and not long-term benefits of all beings.
  • Me when I am sick
  • Me when I’m angry, too, and of course when others are angry.
  • People who see other people as objects for use.
  • I use it whenever I see someone whose demeanor is not so pleasing to me. That could be angry. It could also be shut down and depressed. And, of course, when I’m in those states I try to apply the same thing to myself. That I don’t always remember.
  • I think of somebody that’s , overcome by the afflictions in a way that they’re harming others. But I don’t know if any of us are really bad in nature.

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): I was thinking, for me, what really bugs me is people who complain incessantly. And ask you for advice, and then respond with “yes, but….” Anger I can handle, but that kind of stuff….

It’s quite interesting, because I think we all have different things we can handle, and different things that drive us kind of buggy.

Audience: It had to do with how I can handle it. It was all a matter of how to fix me. Not so much what they were doing.

VTC: Yes. It all focuses around the meaning to me, what I find pleasant, what I find unpleasant.

It’s saying here, “people with negative energy and intense suffering.”

Negative energy is one thing, we think of people who have that look. But then people who have intense suffering we also shy away from. That person may not have so much a bad nature, but we don’t like to see people who are experiencing intense suffering.

For example, many people don’t want to go to the hospital when a relative or a friend is in the hospital, because it’s scary to see people who have intense suffering. There are people who, even if they’re in the same room with somebody who suddenly falls ill (or whatever), they freeze, they don’t know what to do to help somebody with an injury.

People who are experiencing mental suffering, people experiencing physical suffering, we can tend to shy away from one or the other, depending on what we’re comfortable with. But I think for this verse it’s really important that we identify specific kinds of people, or maybe even specific persons that we know that we have a great deal of trouble with. Because it seems like every time there’s an interaction with them something happens that just gets to us.

It’s very interesting in those situations to ask ourselves, “Why does this get to me?” Because there’s some button in me, some sensitive point in me, that this person is pushing, or that this circumstance is touching on. What is it?

It could be something that is frightening to us. Seeing people who are severely injured. Would you want to work among the people who are now going through Paradise, California, looking for remnants of people who didn’t make it out of the fire? What is it that really gets to us?

That’s something that’s different for each one of us, to really ask ourselves, “What is it that frightens me about that kind of person?”

Because we could say, “Okay, they rankle me, they drive me nuts.” But they could also frighten us. And I think, so many people mentioned being around people with explosive anger. Is it that that rankles you? Or that that scares you? So to look at these different kinds of situations and see. Is it fear? Is it just dislike? That our buttons are getting pushed? What is it?

Then, when we have some kind of idea what it is within us, then it helps us figure out how we can expand our perspective and learn how to be steadier when we encounter those people and those situations.

For example, if we’re afraid of people who are ill or injured, then why? Is it because it reminds me of my own mortality, and that’s scary? If that’s scary, then some more meditation on death and on the nature of the body would probably help me out, because in that way I would become more familiar with the reality of the situation, and I wouldn’t be so freaked by it.

If it’s the force of somebody’s anger, is it the force of somebody “big,” who might physically harm us? Or is it the force of somebody who knows us well, who know how to really stick it to us emotionally? Some of us are more afraid of the anger of somebody who might harm us physically, and others of us may be more afraid of people who might harm us emotionally. The antidotes to those two things are going to be different, so we have to see, what is it, what’s my button in this situation? In the case of physical harm, what things can we do to distract the other person, or protect ourselves, or protect somebody else, if we happen to walk in on a situation where one person is harming another person.

If we’re afraid of emotional harm, then again, how can I be less sensitive about certain areas of my life, so that people can say this, they can say that, and it’s not going to wig me out.

Here it offers as the remedy, “I will hold such a rare one dear, as if I had found a precious treasure.”

Which is, of course, the opposite of what you want to do. It’s like, this person is of bad nature, they have negative energy, they scare the *bleep* out of me, they have intense suffering, I don’t like to be around them, and you’re telling me to see them as rare–and in some cases you’re going to go, “But I see them so often and every time they drive me crazy…”–and not only rare, but a precious…. Precious? That’s the opposite of the way I feel they are.

This comes down to my “Sam” story. Doesn’t it?

Audience: I hadn’t really thought of that verse in that way. I think that when I use this verse, the first line always is already starting to turn my mind, because it’s usually about somebody who’s angry. So when I say the verse, and I’m saying they have a bad nature, already I have to question that:”You really think they’re bad by nature?” And that starts to turn your mind. And then the next one, with the intense suffering, helps me to see “Oh, they have intense suffering.” For me, the first line starts to soften me already. I’d never really explored it in the way that you said it, in terms of suffering. I have to think about that one.

VTC: Yes. Because often the people that we push back against, there’s fear of them causing us some kind of suffering. What kind of suffering are they going to cause me? Maybe they call me a name. Do I have to suffer because somebody calls me a name? Or do I have some choice about that?

Audience: I find that the more that I am willing to look at and accept my own shortcomings, the less I am afraid of people pointing them out. Because that has been one of my great sources of fear and dread, and avoiding people who point out my shortcomings. But that’s because I have been unwilling to acknowledge them and work with them. But if I know them and I can say to myself, “Yes, that’s not news, I know it, and I’m working with it,” then I don’t have to dread it, and I don’t have to react.

VTC: That’s exactly it. When we are hiding something from ourselves, when the mental factor of conscientiousness is weak in us, and when the mental factors of deception and pretension are strong, then if people point out our faults or our shortcomings or our mistakes, we go berserk. But the more we’re willing to be transparent, and it’s like, okay, I have these things and somebody’s seeing them, it’s just like somebody telling me I have a nose on my face. I don’t have to get so uptight about it. And I can accept when they say it. I can acknowledge it. I can even make a joke out of it. Because I’m not so afraid of that quality in myself, and I’m willing to admit that it’s there.

This is why learning to be transparent is actually very helpful for us personally. The more transparent we are, the less defensive we get when people say things.

To be continued, and to be practiced.

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.