Accepting Loss and Offering Victory to Others
(5) When others, out of envy, treat me unfairly with scolding, insults, and more, may I accept the loss upon myself and offer the victory to others.
Here’s that famous line that Geshe Chekawa was so moved by: May I accept the loss upon myself and offer the victory to others. This practice can be understood on many different levels. For instance, if we’re in an argument or, as it says here, when others, out of envy, treat me unfairly with scolding, insults and more, rather than getting upset, we just say, “Thank you for pointing this out to me.” If somebody really criticizes us, just offer them the victory. In other words, not reacting negatively to criticism puts an end to any further discussion or arguments. This kind of reaction is especially beneficial when the other person is very emotionally disturbed, as there’s really no point in arguing with them.
Does this mean then that we just let everybody slap us around? This kind of acquiescence is not what is meant in this verse. Instead, it reflects the importance of evaluating whether our reaction is going to have a positive effect on a situation or if it’s only going to make things worse.
For example, some time ago I gave a friend a sizeable amount of money to do something for me, but he just kept the money and spent it on himself. I know that he’s never going to be able to pay me back the money. What is the best way to deal with this kind of situation? Is it to be constantly angry with the person or make ourselves sick with anger? Or, is it just to say, “Have it; it’s yours.” It’s like when somebody steals some things from our house. We’re probably never going to get our things back, so it’s best to simply wish for the other person to enjoy them.
The teachings on karma are very helpful to consider in the above example: the more suffering we cause another person, by reporting my friend to the police, for example, the heavier the consequences are for ourselves. Further, if we are very upset by someone’s actions, it just makes the karmic consequences much worse for that other person since they have caused us more suffering by their action. In the case of my friend, whom I actually liked very much, I thought, “Okay, enjoy the money; it’s gone, and it doesn’t make that huge a difference in my life.” By taking this approach, at least I could try to make the karmic consequences less for both him and me.
This example illustrates one way of applying the practice, accept the loss upon myself and offer the victory to others. This approach is especially applicable when we are in an argument with somebody. For example, they say something really ridiculous and we know that they’re not going to listen to us. Basically, there’s no point in arguing. Let them win and they will go away.
There are many levels to understanding this practice of offering the victory to others. In another simple example, it could be letting someone have the larger piece of cake and taking the loss on ourselves by having the smaller piece.
Or it can be in situations like the verse itself addresses, when people are jealous and envious of us. Shantideva advises:
(VI.53) Insults, cruel language, and defaming words don’t hurt my body, so, why, oh mind, do you become so enraged?
If other people want to say something stupid, let them say something stupid. Give the victory to them by practicing patience and remaining silent. There is no reason to become enraged. Words can’t really hurt us.
The Full Circle of Past Negative Karmic Actions
Another way of dealing with others saying nasty things to us is to think that this has come from our own negative karma, from the negative things that we’ve done in the past. When we consider the situation like this, we can more easily give the victory to others and not blame them. We have many examples of this practice in Dharmarakshita’s “Wheel of Sharp Weapons”:
(14) When we hear only language that is foul and abusive, this is the wheel of sharp weapons returning full circle upon us from wrongs we have done. Till now we have said many things without thinking; we have slandered and caused many friendships to end. Hereafter let’s censure all thoughtless remarks.
“Censure” here means to cut off. In other words, if people are saying nasty things to us, abusing us and so on, this is a result of our past actions, from saying nasty things about others and causing close relations to fall apart. If this is the case, then in order to break the karmic circle – this wheel of sharp weapons coming back to us – we really need to watch what we say and cut off any thoughtless remarks.
This approach doesn’t negate the fact that there are causes on the side of the other person for why they are acting negatively the way they are. Understanding that helps us to be patient with them. But this approach of seeing the karmic causes on our side for encountering such people gives us something active we can do in terms of modifying our behavior so that we can avoid future recurrences of similar situations.
(18) When unjustly we are blamed for the misdeeds of others, and are falsely accused of flaws that we lack, and are always the object of verbal abuse, this is the wheel of sharp weapons returning full circle upon us from wrongs we have done. Till now we’ve despised and belittled our gurus; hereafter let’s never accuse others falsely but give them full credit for virtues they have.
This verse refers to when we’re accused of things we haven’t done or blamed for mistakes we haven’t made. When this happens, it’s a result of having done the same to others, our spiritual teachers, for example. We might have criticized, belittled or falsely accused them in the past. It’s important to counter this behavior, as it says in the verse, and give others full credit for their positive qualities, praise them, and so on, even if we might not particularly like the other person.
(23) When others find fault with whatever we’re doing and people seem eager to blame only us, this is the wheel of sharp weapons returning full circle upon us from wrongs we have done. Till now we’ve been shameless, not caring about others, we have thought that our deeds didn’t matter at all. Hereafter let’s stop our offensive behavior.
Here is a similar teaching about karma. When people are finding fault with everything that we do, this is the karmic result of our not caring about our actions and their effect on others. As it says here, we have been acting as if “our deeds didn’t matter at all.” Therefore, others are always going to blame us and find fault with what we’re doing. In the future, we have to stop this type of offensive behavior of acting as if we exist in a vacuum, as if our conduct doesn’t affect anyone.
Understanding the karmic causes for what happens to us helps us to accept the loss upon myself and offer the victory to others. When we recognize the karmic causes and understand why others scold and insult us or treat us unfairly, we can stop doing the same to others.
The Wheel of Sharp Weapons is a wonderful text. Although, it’s a bit long, consisting of 119 verses, it comprehensively goes through all the different karmic situations that might befall us and their karmic causes. The text is on the website, for those interested in reading it.
[See: Wheel of Sharp Weapons]
Accepting the Loss and Giving the Victory to Others through Serving Them
Another way of understanding accept the loss upon myself and offer the victory to others is that we should give ourselves to others in the sense of serving them. We give the victory to others in that we stop serving only our own needs and serve them instead.
Shantideva describes this very well:
(III.10) To fulfill the aims of all limited beings, I give, without sense of a loss, my body and likewise my pleasures, and all my positive forces of the three times.
In this way, even though we’re accepting the loss on ourselves, we don’t dwell in our minds on our loss, “Poor me.” In giving the victory to others, we practice generosity by giving them our bodies to do physical work for them, the objects that we enjoy, our positive force, and so on. In being able to give by serving others, we go closer to enlightenment.
(III.11) Giving everything away (brings) release with nirvana, and my mind is (aimed) for realizing nirvana. As giving away all comes together (with death), it’s best to give (now) to limited beings.
(III.14) Let them do whatever to (my) body, so long as it doesn’t cause them harm; but, may anything focused on me never turn out to be meaningless.
That is such a wonderful wish. “May whatever contact anyone has with me, even a negative or casual one, become a circumstance for them to learn from my example of putting the Dharma into practice and so go further toward enlightenment.” That’s why, whenever we see or meet anyone, we try always to pray, “May I attain enlightenment for your sake, so that I may be best able to help you overcome all your sufferings.” In that way, we forge positive karmic connections with them.
(III.15) If anyone, having focused on me, develops an angry or negative mind, may that always turn into a cause for fulfilling all of his or her aims.
These verses outline how when people have unkind thoughts toward us, get angry, insult us and so on, we accept the loss and wish, “May this be a cause for fulfilling all of your aims.” Furthermore, when somebody does something negative toward us, this means we already have a karmic relation with this person from the past, and as it says in The Wheel of Sharp Weapons, we’ve undoubtedly said something negative to them before.
Since that karmic relation already exists, what we want to do is to change the flavor of that relation. If we get even and say something nasty back to them, then this negative cycle goes on and on over many more lifetimes. Instead, we have an opportunity to change the nature of this relationship. “May this interaction with me turn into a cause,” as it says in the verse, “for fulfilling all of his or her aims.” In other words, by wishing the other person well, rather than wishing them something terrible, we change the whole structure of that relationship.
(III.16) And may everyone who speaks badly of me, or does something else that’s of harm, or likewise hurls ridicule at me, become someone with the fortune for a purified state.
This verse is similar to the example of my friend keeping the money that I gave him to arrange something for me. Rather than getting angry with him, I thought, “May you enjoy this; I’m not going to get angry at you.” By turning the situation into a gift in my mind, it led to the wish, “May I be able to give you even more and bring you to a state of enlightenment.”
Shantideva gives another example of “May anything focused on me never turn out to be meaningless.”
(VIII.118) That's why, out of great compassion, the Guardian Avalokiteshvara has elevated even (the power of) his own name to dispel the fears of wandering beings, (such as shyness) in front of an audience.
Avalokiteshvara has even blessed his name so that if people just hear his name, they become uplifted. Therefore, “Anybody who sees me, reads anything that I’ve written, or hears my name, may it inspire them; may it not be meaningless that they encounter me” – this is a very wonderful prayer. May we have some positive influence on everybody whom we meet, even if they meet us with a negative intent.
Togme Zangpo in 37 Bodhisattva Practices also echoes these thoughts:
(12) A bodhisattva’s practice is, even if someone under the power of great desire steals or causes others to steal all our wealth, to dedicate to him our bodies, resources, and constructive actions of the three times.
This is exactly the point I was making about my friend who took my money.
(13) A bodhisattva’s practice is, even if while we haven’t the slightest fault ourselves, someone were to chop off our heads, to accept on ourselves his negative consequences, through the power of compassion.
(14) A bodhisattva’s practice is, even if someone were to publicize throughout the thousand, million, billion worlds all kinds of unpleasant things about us, to speak in return about his good qualities, with an attitude of love.
(16) A bodhisattva’s practice is, even if a person whom we’ve taken care of, cherishing him like our own child, were to regard us as his enemy, to have special affection for him, like a mother toward her child stricken with an illness.
Caring for Others As If a Sick Child
For example, if our child is sick, saying all sorts of crazy things and is really cranky, of course we would understand and have even more love for our child. We recognize that our child is sick and acting like this because he or she is ill, overtired, or whatever. When others whom we’ve raised like a child or to whom we’ve been similarly very loving and kind, even if they’re very nasty to us, it’s helpful to think of them like our sick child. We can think that now they’re sick, suffering from their disturbing emotions. Thinking in this way, we can actually have more concern and take care of them even more, rather than getting angry. We don’t get angry with our child for getting sick. This example is yet another way of giving the victory to others.
I also find that it’s important to show one’s limits so that the other person knows, “Up to here it’s okay, but not further.”
Yes, that’s true. If we want to help somebody to develop ethical discipline and good behavior, then it is important to set limits. There was a generation of children in the United States who were raised by hippie parents who were totally permissive and didn’t set any boundaries. They let their kids run wild, be natural and free, and so on. Many of these children grew up feeling that their parents didn’t love them, because the parents didn’t show enough concern, nor did they teach them what was proper or improper. They had difficulties later in life, because obviously when we go out into the world, people aren’t so tolerant of our behavior. Clearly, it is important to set certain limits in order to help people understand boundaries.
Obviously, there is also some self-interest here. For instance, we set a limit not to play near our desk with all our work on it is also because our work is important to us. There’s a distinction between the limits of what’s helpful for the other person and what’s helpful for us. That’s why setting limits is always a delicate task; the main thing is to examine our motivation. Are we setting the limits to benefit the other person or to benefit ourselves? Often, it’s a combination of the two. That’s only natural, but we at least need to try not to have our main motivation be only to benefit ourselves. Basically, we need to be flexible when setting limits.
When I was translating for Serkong Rinpoche or receiving a lesson from him and told him, “I’m totally exhausted, I can’t translate or pay attention anymore,” he would always say, “No matter how tired you are, you can always do five minutes more.” He would always push me another five minutes. This was very helpful because it is true that we can always do five minutes more. In that way, we build up strong character, determination and strength.
Of course, we shouldn’t do the extra five minutes in a sloppy way. Whatever we’re doing, we have to do it fully. If I ever said anything incorrectly or didn’t understand something, Rinpoche would yell at me to make sure I was alert, with his favorite name for me, “Idiot” or “Gugpa, idiot!” In a sense, he shamed me into paying attention. For me, this was a very kind approach. For others, however, such a strong, direct approach might not be so helpful.