Betrayal of trust

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

  • Looking at the causes of a situation where our trust has been betrayed
  • Karma and expectations
  • Trying to see our role in the fracture of relationships

We have a short talk before meals every day, and we’ve been going through the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation. We’re on verse 6 today. We graduated from jealousy to betrayal of trust.

Verse 6 reads:

When someone I have benefited,
And in whom I have placed great trust,
Hurts me very badly,
I will practice seeing that person as my supreme teacher.

I’ll probably speak on this verse for a few days. At least two.

“When someone I have benefited, and in whom I have placed great trust, hurts us very badly.” We always feel like this is the greatest betrayal. We trusted somebody, we thought they had our back, that they were encouraging us, and rooting for us, and helping us, and then something happens, often completely out of the blue, and they turn on us, or they’re criticizing, or they don’t want to speak to us again, or whatever it is. Or sometimes it’s a situation that develops over time, and then relationships fracture. But we often feel that our trust has been betrayed. That we put energy into cultivating a relationship with somebody, we cared a great deal about them, we thought they cared a great deal about us, we thought we were on the same page, and then whammo, it all kind of shatters.

I think we’ve all had that experience. And I suspect when we’ve had that experience, we feel like we’re the only one who’s ever had it. That somehow the betrayal of trust hurts more than other kinds of things. Some stranger criticizing you, that’s not going to hurt as much. But when we’re close to somebody and then them turning their back on us. So we often say, “Nobody else ever hurt this bad, this is terrible. Why me? It’s unfair. What did I do wrong? I didn’t do anything wrong. They’re ungrateful.” It sets off this whole bunch of mass confusion, and anger, and disappointment, and fear, and everything else in our mind.

When I look, well what are the causes of this kind of situation?

Well first of all, there’s definitely a karmic cause. Something maybe from a previous life, or earlier this life, where we betrayed somebody else’s trust. Now, I know nobody here has ever done that. Like we talked about yesterday, nobody here has ever been jealous of anybody else. Nobody here gets angry. But maybe we betrayed somebody else’s trust in the past. It’s a nice thing to consider. I know we’re much more aware of other people betraying our trust. And we have a whole computer file for every time somebody betrayed our trust. And actually, we don’t even need a computer file, we remember it and we recite it to ourselves every day how much people have been mean to us. But we have never done that to anybody else. Right? It might be good to consider maybe not this life, maybe past lives. Blame it on your past lives. That you did this kind of thing. And to really look, because we may look at situations in the past, which to other people, they experienced as a betrayal of their trust, but we didn’t think of it as our betraying their trust. We see it as our setting boundaries, or getting rid of the toxic relationship, or listening to our own heart. Or who knows what we call it. But we usually justify it in some kind of way. But to really see that there’s a karmic element in this.

Then as far as things that happen in this life that are conducive to betrayal of trust. One thing that I’ve seen in my experience is when I have expectations of other people that either I am not conscious of, or even I’m conscious of, I don’t ask the other person if they agree to fulfill those expectations, I just assume that my expectations are suitable for the relationship. If we’re good friends, then my expectations that they always encourage me and never criticize me, and always have my back. And when we disagree on something, we always come together. This whole set of expectations. And I never bother to check with the other person if my expectations are true. That every time I have an event, they’ll come to my event. Every time I write them a letter, they’ll respond. Who knows what kind of expectations there are.

Even in student-teacher relationships. You have expectations of your students. Students have expectations of their teachers. In the lamrim we start to read and see what those expectations are, but we don’t see in our own mind if we’re keeping to those expectations, or if we’re adding on a few extra ones. Like my teacher’s always going to praise me. [laughter] We add on a few extras to our expectations.

This I’ve seen from my own experience can be a setup for experiencing a lot of pain when things don’t work out the way my mind has said to itself they should work out. You know all the “shoulds” we have about how other people should behave and what they should do. It’s always “other people should.” Me, I don’t need “shoulds” because what I do is always okay. Looking at that.

What I’m getting at is trying to see our role in the fracture. So instead of blaming it on the other person, instead of saying, “Oh this came out of the blue, there were no causes for this whatsoever.” Thinking about previous life karma. Thinking about our expectations. Thinking about maybe times when we haven’t been so kind to the other person. In other words, our role in it. And that can be, I think, very helpful in lessening the pain, because we see we have some responsibility.

The pain comes, I think, when we blame somebody else and we feel like a victim. But as soon as I feel like, “I have to admit, of course, that I had some role in this,” then I don’t feel like they betrayed my trust, it’s more like, “Oops, I made a mess and I’m experiencing the result of the mess I made. And there’s something I can do about the mess I made. I’m not a victim in this situation.”

I think whenever I feel like a victim, that’s when I feel a lot of pain. But when I can see my role in it…. I’m not taking responsibility for the whole thing, because the whole thing is not my responsibility. But whatever is, as long as I am responsible for that, then I see a way I can change, and I stop putting myself in the role of a victim. And then stop feeling helpless and everything like that.

That’s one thing to consider.

We’ll talk about it some more tomorrow, but think about that a little bit and apply it to situations in which somebody you’ve cared about and benefited has hurt you very badly.

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.