Transforming Adversity by Cherishing Others

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Cherishing Difficult People

(4) Whenever I see beings instinctively cruel, overpowered by negativities and serious problems, may I cherish them as difficult to find as discovering a treasure of gems.

This verse deals with how to transform negative circumstances into positive ones, how to deal with negative people or conditions. This is a theme repeated in the various lojong or mind training texts. For instance, Geshe Chekawa in Seven Point Mind Training said:

When the environment and its dwellers are full of negative forces, transform adverse conditions into a path to enlightenment, by banishing one thing as (bearing) all blame and meditating with great kindness toward everyone.

“When the environment and its dwellers are full of negative forces” is similar to our line here, Whenever I see beings instinctively cruel, overpowered by negativities and problems. In such adverse circumstances, Geshe Chekawa recommended, “Meditate on great kindness toward everyone.” In other words, cherish them as difficult to find as discovering a treasure of gems. This is a precious opportunity to change adverse conditions into positive ones by developing patience and so on. The line “banishing one thing as bearing all blame” refers to what we discussed before, putting all the blame for our difficulties on our self-cherishing attitude, which causes us to complain, “Oh, it’s so terrible, everything is so bad, people are terrible,” and so on.

Complaining, based on self-cherishing, is what makes a difficult situation even worse, whereas difficult situations are things that give us the opportunity to practice. Without challenges, we’re never going to grow. If everybody always treated us like a baby and was nice to us, we would never learn anything. We would never be able to handle any difficulties in our life. It's like what Shantideva said:

(VI.21) Furthermore, there are advantages to suffering: with agony, arrogance disappears; compassion grows for those in recurring samsara; negative conduct is shunned; and joy is taken in being constructive.

Geshe Chekawa was always praying that when he died, he would be reborn in one of the hells, so that he could help others there. When he was close to death, he was very sad. His disciples asked him why. He said, “Because I saw signs that actually I’m going to be reborn in some pure land, some positive realm like that.” He thought that this was terrible. “I want to be reborn in one of the hells, so that I can really help others.”

If we are truly committed to being of benefit to others, we don’t want to be reborn in just a pure land where everything is nice and conducive for learning, or a place without strong challenges from others. Thus, it’s really a test. What do we want? Do we want to go and try to help those who are in the most difficult situations, or do we want things just to be really nice and easy? Wanting things just to be nice is a very good sign of self-cherishing, isn’t it?  

I wasn’t there, nor have I personally seen the report, but a friend told me that on the Internet it was reported that when His Holiness the Dalai Lama was recently in Japan, he said that he would like to be reborn in North Korea. This is a good example of this wish to be reborn in the most difficult of places so as to be of possible help to the beings there. How many of us would wish to be reborn in North Korea?

Plenty of Opportunities to Practice

In any case, no matter where we are born, in this type of world there’s going to be people who are difficult. There will be people who have lots of disturbing emotions, and who aren’t going to be very easy to help or even tolerate. We need to develop great patience. “Cherish them as difficult to find as a treasure gem,” as Langri Tangpa sais. Think that the other person is someone that I can practice patience with. How exactly do we do this? Shantideva says very nicely:

(V.56) Never disheartened by the inconsistent whims of infantile people, and, (realizing) that they arise in their minds because of their developing disturbing emotions, having a feeling of kindness (toward them).

When we’re dealing with infantile people, for example, they want something and then when we give it to them, they don’t really want it, or it’s not enough, or they want something else. Instead of getting angry with them, we realize that it is all because of their disturbing emotions. We need to develop a feeling of kindness toward them and recognize that they’re suffering because of these disturbing emotions. That was what Geshe Chekawa said, “Meditate with great kindness toward everyone.” We can look at people in the way Shantideva says:

(VI.37) When people kill even their beloved selves from coming under the power of disturbing emotions, how can it be that they wouldn't cause injury to the bodies of others.

(VI.38) When I can't even develop compassion, once in a while, for those like that, who, with disturbing emotions arisen, would proceed to such things as killing themselves, at least I won't get enraged (with them).

This boils down to that old familiar phrase: “What do we expect from samsara?” If people are going to be completely self-destructive and even kill themselves, how can we expect that they’re going to be nice to us or nice to other people? They’re undoubtedly going to be destructive. Because of that, they’re appropriate objects for compassion because they’re causing so much suffering to themselves and to others, not just to us.

In a very similar manner to our verse, Shantideva states:

(VI.107) Therefore, I shall be delighted with an enemy who's popped up like a treasure in my house, without having had to be acquired with fatigue, since he becomes my aide for bodhisattva behavior.

It’s like if we have a two-year-old child, and when the two-year-old child acts like a two-year-old, we yell at him or her to stop acting like a two-year-old. We’re yelling at the baby for acting like a baby. But what do we expect?

Similarly, instead of getting angry with any being who’s under the complete control of their disturbing emotions, we need to somehow accept the reality that this is the way that they are now, and to realize that, nevertheless, it is possible for them to overcome their disturbing emotions. Then, we can develop compassion – the wish for them to be free from suffering and its causes – and with patience, try to be kind to them. That’s really the only way to deal with negative people and situations. Otherwise, it just gets us totally depressed and angry.

It’s as if we’re shouting, “It’s not fair!” It’s as if we think that it should be fair that everybody is nice and kind and like that. They’re not. Although, of course, sometimes people are kind. It’s not to say that everybody is totally negative; but everybody is, to a greater or a lesser extent, in different times, under the influence of their disturbing emotions. We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that they’re not.

Anger Destroys Positive Force

Togme Zangpo in 37 Bodhisattva Practices also says something quite similar:

(27) A bodhisattva’s practice is to meditate on patience, without anger or resentment for anyone, because, for a bodhisattva wishing to enjoy positive force, all who cause harm are equal to treasures of gems.

What destroys or devastates our positive force is anger. Shantideva said that quite clearly, that it devastates it in the sense that the positive force gets weaker and will take much, much longer to actually ripen. To “enjoy,” “experience” or “have the full measure of positive force,” ultimately means that we can use the positive force to help others. Anybody who causes us harm is like a treasure of gems. We not only practice patience and tolerance with them, but by also trying to be kind to them, we can build up a tremendous amount of positive force.

Embracing Challenges

It’s an unbelievable challenge, of course, when somebody that we know has a tremendous amount of negativities and terrible problems. Very often we just want to run away. If we have to be around them, we get very annoyed.

When Atisha went to Tibet, he brought an Indian cook with him. It’s a familiar story. This Indian cook never made things or did things the way that Atisha wanted, and was always a pain in the neck. The Tibetans asked Atisha, “Why did you bring this terrible cook with you? You can send him home. We can cook for you.” Atisha answered, “No, no, he’s not just my cook; he’s my teacher of patience.”

Then later on, as the story goes, Atisha was trying to learn Tibetan and one day he was trying out his Tibetan. There was a little stone in his tsampa, the roasted barley he was eating. He didn’t know the word for stone, so he used the word for boulder, a huge rock. “There’s a boulder in my tsampa,” All the Tibetans rolled on the ground in laughter. Atisha responded by telling them, “Ah, now I can send my cook back to India; you’ll be my teachers of patience.”

Application in Daily Life and Meditation Practice

Regarding others as our teachers of patience is a very helpful attitude to develop, especially if we are in the workplace. For instance, when our boss or one of our colleagues is really difficult and always gives us a hard time, we can look at this person as our teacher of patience.

Let’s try to reflect on somebody in our lives who has been really challenging. This can be either now in the present, or somebody that we’ve been acquainted with in the past. Try to regard the person as our teacher of patience. What that would actually be like?

As our verse 4 says: Cherish them as difficult to find as discovering a treasure of gems. This line is very similar to the first verse in Langri Tangpa’s text, in which he advises us to see limited beings as more superior than wish-granting gems. It’s the same type of idea. When we are with a really difficult person, we should think, “This is great. This is somebody that I can really practice with.” It’s very difficult, but if we’re going to have to live with this person or work with this person in the same office, what alternative do we have, except to be miserable?

Let’s reflect for a little while. Also, we can include thinking about when we have grown the most in our lives. Most of us may discover that when we were most challenged – when things were the most difficult – and, somehow, we dealt with the situation, that was the time we grew the most. We don’t really grow when everything is nice and wonderful.