Regarding Others as Teachers of Patience

In verse six of our eight, we have a similar sentiment to what Togme Zangpo says in the previous verse , where he’s talking about someone that we’ve raised and cherished like our own child were to regard us like as his enemy, and to have special loving kindness like a mother toward her child stricken with an illness.

(6) Even if someone whom I have helped and from whom I harbor great expectations were to harm me completely unfairly, may I view him or her as a hallowed teacher.

So, not only regarding them as a mother toward the child, “Oh, my child is sick” and so on and acting like that, but see them as our teacher, teacher of patience. So, people that are particularly challenging are people that we have been very kind to, that we have helped a great deal and so on. When they turn around and act unkindly toward us, or are inconsiderate of us and do something very inconsiderate, like often not only teenage children will do, but our friends sometimes will do as well – I’m sure we can think of many examples – or hurt me completely unfairly, then how do we deal with that? Are we very, very disappointed and so on? We had great expectations, which obviously is not going to be helpful at all. Shantideva gives a very good way of dealing with that:

(VIII.22) If limited beings, with varied dispositions, couldn't be pleased by even the Triumphant, what need to mention by the poor likes of me? Therefore, let me give up my preoccupation with worldly people.

In other words, worrying that everybody like me. “Buddha couldn’t please everybody. Buddha was so kind to everybody and people still – like his cousin – were trying to hurt him. What do I expect? That I’m going to be able to please everybody and everybody is going to be nice to me?” That’s very, very helpful. “If not everybody liked the Buddha, what do I expect?” Shantideva further says:

(VI.54) Others' dislike for me – that won't devour me, either in this life or in any other lifetime; so why do I find it undesirable?

So, something not to be so concerned about.

(VI.65) And toward those who injure my spiritual teachers, my relatives and so on, and my friends as well, my rage will be averted, by having seen that this arises from conditions, as in the manner before.

So if we’re very kind to somebody and in return they treat us poorly, even if it’s not always treating us poorly, but especially sometimes treating us poorly and so on, we see well, “This arises from conditions” – from my previous karma, from this person’s karma, from so many things affecting it – and that helps us to develop patience. And so:

(VI.111) Therefore, since patience arises dependently from his vicious intention, this one himself is fit to be honored like the hallowed Dharma, because he's a cause of my patience.

That’s taking the person as my teacher of patience. Patience arises dependently on his being nasty. Togme Zangpo in 37 Bodhisattva Practices says some similar things in terms of seeing others as our spiritual teacher of patience.

(15) A bodhisattva’s practice is, even if someone exposes our faults or says foul words (about us) in the midst of a gathering of many wandering beings, to bow to him respectfully, recognizing him as our spiritual teacher.

This actually is very, very helpful. I’m reminded of Serkong Rinpoche, when I would be translating in front of people – relatively a lot of people, not so many – if I didn’t understand something, or I made a mistake, or anything, he wouldn’t go on until I understood. It didn’t matter how embarrassed I felt or anything and how inconvenienced it made everybody there. I had to understand, and he wouldn’t let me go on. And he always sensed when I didn’t understand, and he’d say, “Translate back to me what you understood from what I said.” And then obviously I was all confused, and then he would go over it again and again and again. And this was very, very helpful.

I remember once I was translating for His Holiness the Dalai Lama in front of about 10,000 people, and I translated something and His Holiness says into his microphone, “Hahaha, he just made a mistake.” And you feel like a tiny little ant and you just want to crawl under the carpet, and you have to just continue, without getting flustered or upset. And this is the great guru that teaches you – by exposing your faults in front of so many people – not to have this whole self-consciousness and ego trip and “poor me” and so on, but to keep your composure and go on. So this is the greatest teacher that gives you that circumstance to really test yourself.

Also from 37 Bodhisattva Practices:

(17) A bodhisattva’s practice is, even if someone, our equal or inferior, were to try to demean us out of the power of his arrogance, to receive him on the crown of our heads respectfully, like a guru.

So someone who obviously has less qualities than ourselves, but is very, very arrogant, and is criticizing us and putting us down, again, not be even more arrogant toward this person. But to accept them like our guru of patience, because they’re just being like a little child.

So these are the situations in which we can grow, in which we can practice. Therefore such people are like a treasure chest that we found, or they’re like our child, our sick child, or they’re like our guru. These are the ways of looking at others in these situations. They’re acting like a little child. When a kid says, “Oh, you’re stupid, I know better,” well of course they don’t know better, but what are you going to do? “Oh, you little worm, you don’t know anything.” That doesn’t help at all. And especially what’s helpful is when somebody who is your inferior – I don’t mean a judgmental inferior, but somebody who is younger, who doesn’t have as much experience or knowledge or things like that – when they point out things to you, to thank them for pointing it out. Even though they might not have as much experience and know as much as you, sometimes they have very good suggestions. And even if they do it arrogantly, still, “Thank you.”

And actually the way to deal with that is – I can think of examples that I’ve had in my own life – you don’t want to increase their arrogance and ego in terms of doing that, so what I’ve tried to do is, you thank them and then you explain it much more deeply than they would understand it. “Yes,” you say, “This is a very good point,” and then you explain it in much more detail to them, that they didn’t even understand the implications of what they were saying, and in a very gentle way you help them over their arrogance.

But to get back to the point in the beginning of this verse, which is:

Even if someone whom I have helped and from whom I harbor great expectations were to harm me completely unfairly,

This brings up the point of, is it appropriate to have great expectations for those whom we have helped? Even if that expectation is a “thank you,” let alone that they’re going to pay us back. And if we look at the Seven Point Mind Training by Chekawa, the Seven-Point Lojong, he has at the end eighteen close-bonding practices, and the eighth of them is: “Rid myself of hopes for fruits.” In other words, we need to rid ourselves, get rid of, any hope that we’re going to get some results from helping this person, or a “thank you,” or anything like that. And in fact, the twenty-second of the twenty-two points for training in this Seven-Point Attitude-Training is: “Don’t wish for any thanks.” So we help others, we teach others, simply in order to help them, not in order to be thanked or anything like that.

And it’s very interesting, I remember once with Serkong Rinpoche, we were in Italy, and people often made offerings to him of money and so on. The custom is to always put it in an envelope. And some people would make big shows out of presenting an offering, and in the West we’re so gross – well it’s not just in the West, I mean in India as well – you have, “This patron donated this much and that one donated that one.” The Tibetans even read it out like that at the pujas. Somebody gets up and reads out a whole list of who offered what for the puja, and that really is not the spirit here of you offered so that you’re going to be honored.

I remember this one time that we were in Italy, and this man came in and saw Serkong Rinpoche and spoke with him and so on, and as he left, he very discreetly put an envelope with quite a large offering just on the table on the side, without making any show or anything like that, anonymously giving the offering. And Serkong Rinpoche pointed out that this is the best way to make the offering. Don’t make a big show. You’re not doing it for thanks; you’re not doing it for an acknowledgment or anything like that. Getting a “thank you” isn’t going to give you more merit, more positive force. You get the positive force from making the offering, not from getting the “thank you.” In fact, if you expect a “thank you,” then the motivation is not terribly pure.

Now, this doesn’t mean that when somebody else does something kind toward us, that we don’t thank them. That is something which is very helpful – I mean again it depends on the culture. For Indians, for example, what I learned is that Indians find it very insulting to be thanked for things that naturally they’re going to do to help us. This is what my Indian friends explained to me. If you thank them, it implies that you didn’t think that they would open the door for you, or serve you a nice meal, or something like that. So it is an insult, “Oh, thank you. I thought that you’d never do anything like that for me.” Because they explain it in terms of this whole Indian concept of duty, “I’m doing my duty to serve you.” But for Westerners, that’s not the case. And so I think it is not just polite, but nice to show one’s appreciation with the “thank you.”

From the side of the person who’s helped, or taught, or whatever, they should on the one hand be “like a tiger with grass,” as they say, not be so excited about it, but on the other hand be appreciative. If somebody pays us a compliment, say “Thank you. I’m happy it could be of some help.”

Participant: In the West, people do make anonymous donations.

Alex: That’s very true. The point being to make the donations not so that we become famous as the big donor, and we have something named after us; a building named after us is not the point.

Participant: Charity is thought best without making a show. I saw someone in Morocco giving money to a beggar in a hidden fashion and when I asked, he said that thanks will come from Allah, you don’t expect it from the other person.

Alex: This is a similar idea, that our merit or positive force doesn’t get stronger by means of the other person saying “thank you” to us. But if you do say “thank you,” mean it, not like in Mexico, “Marvilloso!” where people tend to over-exaggerate, “This was the most wonderful thing in the world, it was incredibly helpful,” which doesn’t mean anything. So there are two extremes. Some cultures don’t say anything, you have no idea that anything you did was helpful; and the others just make such a big show of it that you can’t believe it. It doesn’t mean anything either.

It might be helpful to think a little bit about, do we expect thanks for our help that we give to others?

And again I’m always reminded of my own experience with my teacher, Serkong Rinpoche, that in the nine years that I served him, he only thanked me twice for the help that I gave him, and I was helping him very, very much all the time. And that I think for me, personally, was helpful. I think for other people it might have been a little bit too heavy, but for me personally that was helpful. Because again, what was I expecting? A pat on the head? To be the good boy, and so on, and wag my tail? Or was I really motivated? – which I was, I must say, I mean this is what motivated me to become a translator – was that I valued so highly the teachings of Serkong Rinpoche and His Holiness the Dalai Lama that it seemed almost criminal that they didn’t have good translators.

When I went first to India there was nothing translated. And so, to be able to make their teachings available to others, because it was so precious, that’s why I served them. Not in order to get a pat on the head. But for people who need encouragement, a “thank you” is helpful. But my point is, we think in terms of, “What do I expect when I’m helping others? Do I expect something in return?” Very interesting, some people say when you help your children or help students and so on, that it shouldn’t be with the hope that they’re going to help you back, but at least with the hope that they’re going to help their children – but even that is an expectation.

Participant: But it’s nice to be thanked.

Alex: That’s right, that’s why I’m saying from our side it’s important to thank others. But for us to expect a “thank you” and then, when we’re not thanked, we get very disappointed or we hang around until they thank us, sort of uncomfortably.

Participant: When people say “thank you” to us, we might feel uncomfortable with that and dismissing it very light, that also makes the other person feel uncomfortable.

Alex: Yes, it’s very true. When somebody says, “Thank you,” say, “You’re welcome.” This is what we say in English at least, “You’re welcome, I’m happy that it was useful to you.” It’s like when somebody gives us something, one of the bodhisattva vows is to accept it, not to refuse it, because we’re allowing the other person to build up some positive force by giving something, by doing something for us, even if it’s not something that we want. We give others the opportunity to practice and develop generosity.

It’s like when a little kid, a three-year-old, draws you a picture, and you just think, “It’s a piece of junk and I’ll throw it in the garbage,” nevertheless you accept it. I mean this is really quite significant for helping to develop the character of the child, to allow them to give and to show appreciation. And then if they’re continuing to give us something, as Serkong Rinpoche did with me, he said, “Don’t bring me these stupid katas ceremonial scarves, I don’t need more katas, and this junk that you bring to me. If you want to bring me something, bring me something that I like.” And then he told, “I liked bananas,…”… bring him something that he liked. People give so much junk to these lamas. How many katas and how many boxes of incense do they need?

An example, somebody gives you something really junky, you accept it. You don’t have to display it in your house; you don’t have to do anything. You can throw it away, give it away to somebody else, whatever. Tibetan lamas, often they’re given things, sweets and cakes and things which they absolutely dislike, most of them, and they just give it to the next person who comes in.

But once I saw with Serkong Rinpoche, we were traveling in the West, and there was this family there that we were staying with then, and the mother was so into pleasing him and so on, and she made a cake, a chocolate cake or something like that, which I know that Rinpoche didn’t like. He didn’t like sweets or anything, but he ate a little piece to show his appreciation. He told his assistant to get the recipe for the cake, “Because it was so good.” It made the mother feel so happy that she was able to do something that pleased him. We got the cake, as the attendants.

OK, so just for one or two minutes, let’s examine ourselves: when we help others, or do things for others, do we expect a “thank you?” What do we expect?