Transforming Adversity by Cherishing Others

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Now verse four of our text:

(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.

So, this has very much to do with how we transform negative circumstances into positive circumstances, how we deal with people who are very negative, or conditions that are very negative. And this is a theme that is repeated in the various lojong or mind training texts. For instance, Geshe Chekawa in the Seven Point Mind Training says:

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.

This is quite similar. When we see the environment and its dwellers are full with negative things, it’s the same as seeing beings instinctively cruel, overpowered by negativities and problems. Then we meditate on great kindness toward everyone; in other words, cherish them as difficult to find as discovering a treasure of gems. In other words, this is a precious opportunity to be able to change adverse conditions into positive ones by developing patience and so on. “And banishing one thing as bearing all blames,” this is the line that we had before, of putting all the blame for our difficulties onto the self-cherishing which would cause us to complain, “Oh, it’s so terrible, everything is so bad and people are terrible,” and so on.

This 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, never be able to handle any difficulties in our life. And so it's like what Shantideva says:

(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, that he would be reborn in one of the hells, so that he could help others. And 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 or some positive realm like that,” and he said this is terrible. “I want to be reborn in one of the hells, so that I can really help others.” Not just pure land where everything is nice and conducive for learning more without these strong challenges of others to help. That’s really a challenge – 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? And that’s a very good sign of self-cherishing, isn’t it? If we want things to just be nice.

I didn’t actually see the report, I wasn’t there, but one of my friends told me that it was reported, I think through the Internet, that recently, a month or so ago, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was in Japan, and he said that he would like to be reborn in North Korea. So this is a good example of this wish to be reborn in the place where it’s most difficult, so that he could possibly help the beings there. As I said, I didn’t see it myself. And how many of us would wish to be reborn in North Korea?

But in any case, no matter where we are born, in this type of world there’s going to be people who are difficult, and who are going to have lots and lots of disturbing emotions, and going to not be very easy to help or even to tolerate. And so we need to develop great patience. “Cherish them as difficult to find as a treasure gem,” as it says, as someone that I can practice patience with. So how 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).

In other words, when we’re dealing with infantile people – they want this and then you give it to them, and they don’t really want it and it’s not enough and they want something else, and so on – we have to, instead of getting angry at them, realize that it is all because of their disturbing emotions, and they’re suffering because of that, and develop a feeling of kindness toward them. That was what Chaykawa said, “Meditate with great kindness toward everyone.” And we can look at people that way as 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 phrase that we’ve seen so often: what do you expect from samsara? If people are going to kill themselves even, act completely self-destructively, what do we expect, that they’re going to be nice to us or nice to other people? They’re also going to be very destructive, and so they’re appropriate objects for compassion – because they’re causing so much suffering to themselves and to others, not just to me.

Shantideva says, very similar to our verse here:

(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, then when the two year-old child acts like a two-year-old, yelling at the child, you know, “Oh, stop acting like a two-year-old!” We’re yelling at the baby for acting like a baby. What do we expect?

Similarly, getting angry with a being, a person, who’s completely under the control of their disturbing emotions – getting angry with them because they’re under the control of their disturbing emotions. Well, this is the way that they are now, and so we need to somehow accept the reality of that, accept that it is possible for them to overcome that; and then develop the compassion, which is the wish for them to overcome that; and then patience, and try to be kind to them. That’s really the only way to deal with people who are so negative and situations that are so negative. Otherwise, it just gets us totally depressed and angry. It’s as if we’re shouting, “It’s not fair!” – as if 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 saying 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. And we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that they’re not.

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 – that’s 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. And so if we want to – it’s a difficult word, it has a lot of connotations – to “enjoy” or “experience” or “have the full measure of positive force,” so we can use it to help others, then anybody who causes harm is like a treasure of gems. Because with this person – by practicing patience, and not only just patience and tolerance, but actually trying to be kind to them – then I can build up a tremendous amount of positive force.

That’s a real challenge, of course, unbelievable challenge, when somebody that we know personally has a tremendous amount of negativities and terrible problems, very often we just want to run away. And if we have to be with them, we get very annoyed. Atisha, when he went to Tibet, brought this Indian cook with him. You probably know the story. This Indian cook never made things or did things the way that Atisha wanted, and was always a pain in the neck. And the Tibetans said to Atisha, “Why did you bring this terrible cook with you? You can send him home. We can cook for you.” And Atisha said, “No, no, he’s not just my cook; he’s my teacher of patience.”

Then later on, the story goes, Atisha was trying to learn Tibetan, and he was trying out his Tibetan, and there was a little stone in his tsampa, the thing that he was eating. And so he said – he didn’t know the word for stones so he used the word for boulder, a huge rock – and he said “There’s a boulder in my tsampa,” and all the Tibetans rolled on the ground in laughter. And then Atisha said, “Ah, now I can send my cook back to India; you’ll be my teachers of patience.”

That’s a very helpful attitude to develop, if we are, for instance, in a work place where we’re working, and one of our colleagues or the boss or somebody is really, really difficult, and always giving us a hard time – to look at this person as our teacher of patience.

So, why don’t we try to reflect in our lives, somebody who has been really challenging, either now in the present, or somebody that we’ve been acquainted with in the past, and see if we could try to look at the person as our teacher of patience, what that would actually be like.

And as it says here: “Cherish them as difficult to find as discovering a treasure of gems.” This is very similar to the first verse, seeing that limited beings are more superior than wish-granting gems. So it’s the same type of idea, that there’s a really difficult person, “Wow, this is great. This is somebody that I can really practice with.” Very difficult, but if we’re going to have to live with this person anyway, and 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 in here thinking about when have we grown the most in our lives. And I would think that most of us would discover was that it was when we were most challenged, and things were the most difficult, and we learned how to deal with it and we somehow dealt with it, that’s how we grew the most. We don’t really grow when everything is nice and “la-di-da,” wonderful.