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Coping with Personal Threats

By Acharya Nyima Tsering

In life while dealing with people of different mentalities and varying temperaments, we often tend to hold others in contempt because of some words of criticism they let loose on us either consciously or sometimes casually.

Our egotistical nature often takes these trivial matters quite seriously, making a "mountain out of a mole hill". Thus, we end up feeling angry and sometimes we bear the resentment for years after the actual incident. This is an unhappy experience for ourselves. We can endeavor to counteract this negative response to criticism in the following ways:

1. First of all one must learn to accept the fact that no one is perfect. Therefore, to face criticism is an inevitable reality of life, where one has to deal with the various attitudes and personalities of different people. Cheerfully accepting these "problems" as a natural part of life will allow you to respond to the situation more appropriately.

2. Another way of responding to criticism is to realize what you do and do not know about yourself. You are the only person who has detailed knowledge about yourself. Don't be so concerned about what others say, since it is very rare to find a completely refined person whose speech has not been influenced by any of the afflictive emotions.

3. Whether someone criticizes you either out of good intention or with deceitful thoughts, it is important not to take everything that is being said personally and sometimes it is good to view what is being said as only the opinion of that particular person.

4. Some people will say anything without closely examining what they are saying. It is their nature and personality to speak about something or someone in a certain way. It is not the activity of a wise person to consider these words seriously by infering their meanings which were not intended. The most Venerable Patrul Rinpoche (1808) taught,

"All talk is like an echo" said the Buddhas.
But these days it's more like the re-echo of an echo
What the echoes say and what they mean are not the same,
So don't take any notice of these insidious echo like words.1

5. Being tense and depressed is a result of how you reacts to situations. No one can make you feel hurt unless you are susceptible to it. You often make yourself miserable and tense by frequently recalling those painful incidents and situations to your mind as if they were your best friends. You need to stop feeling so intimate with those situations.

6. If you are happy when someone praises you, more than likely, you are unhappy when someone insults you. If you have effectively tamed your mind you will be unaffected by either praise or criticism. As Sakya Pandita (1181-1251) said,

"Feeling neither overjoyed by praise
Nor unhappy when despised,
Rather, remaining normal as oneself
Such is the qualification of a noble being."2

Shanti Deva also taught,

"If there is someone who despises me
What pleasure can I have in being praised?
And if there is another who praises me
What displeasure can I have in being despised?3

7. It does not matter what happens to you but rather how you react to it. If you allow very small criticisms to create large difficulties, life will become very hard for you. If you react to all situations, large or small, with forbearance and strength of mind, then even the most difficult situations will be as soft as `wool' quite simple to deal with. Remember it is your insistence upon perpetuating a situation, due to afflictive emotions, that causes unhappiness. You can begin to perpetuate happiness through being mindful of the wise way to react to difficulties or criticism. Shanti Deva said,

There is nothing whatsoever
That is not made easier through acquaintance.
So through becoming acquainted with small harms
I should learn to patiently accept greater harms.4

8 . Words of criticism do not actually hurt us. Words can not hurt the body. It seems that words can hurt the mind but the mind does not have any form or color. How can the mind be injured? In fact, what is being injured is an illusory identity of one's being, which is the fantasized "I" that has been built up through the habitual negative dispositions of the mind. As Shanti deva says:

"Since disrespect, harsh speech
And unpleasant words
Do not cause any harm to my body,
Why, mind, do you become so angry?
Since my mind is not physical
In no way can anyone destroy it."5

9. In many cases we are responsible for our own pain and hurt. Our minds are so conditioned by negative patterns that pain and hurt become like an addiction. Even small external problems can seem to be totally overwhelming. For example, someone's casual remark about us, without any intention to hurt us can cause us to perpetuate the disagreeable feelings, by repeatedly thinking over the incident in many different ways. This results in a deep sense of hurt and, in some cases even a nervous breakdown. Then we may hold a grudge which would generate bad feelings for a long time. Originally the criticism might have been quite minor, for example only a few disagreeable words, but we relive it millions of time in our minds. Going through events over and over again in your mind only hurts you. The other person has gone off to live his or her life, months and years may pass, but if you continue to dwell on that moment, situation and person, all which no longer exist, the result will be needless pain.

10.Sometimes, it is most effective to find the antidotes yourself based on your own exploration of how delusions arise in your mind, through examining exactly what you find so disgusting and unappealing in a particular person. You will see how that idea is exaggerated and unrealistic.It is best to identify the deluded thoughts, as soon as they arise and rid the mind of them immediately by considering them from various practices. For example, examine them in the context of Karma, inter-dependence or conventional and ultimate realities.

Ngulchu Gyalsas Thogmed Zangpo (1245-1369) said:

"Habitual afflictions are hard to reverse with an antidote.
So it is the practice of Bodhisattvas to destroy afflictions
Such as attachment and others, as soon as they appear
By bearing the antidotal Sword of mindfulness and introspection."6

However, if you do not stamp it out immediately, these deluded ideas will fuel your grasping for a concrete existence of self and others. As a result, one's own negative emotions and imaginations will be projected onto others and you will see the other person as compeletely disgusting.

11. We must learn to accept the fact that all our unhappy experiences are the result and fruition of our past deeds and that the other person who actually hurt you is merely a condition for the ripening of the seeds we have long sowed. Our suffering diminishes when we learn to accept it with reason rather than resisting it. It is a law of nature that resistance causes misery. Therefore, if we should feel angry then it should be with ourselves for having done such a deed in the past for which we are suffering now. Shanti Deva said in the guide to the Bodhisattva's way of life.

"Previously I must have caused similar harm
To other sentient being.
Therefore it is right for this harm to be returned
To me who is the cause of injury to others."7

12. Our body and mind are both very much prone to hurt. Even a minor cause seems to trigger a world of misery. This is all because of a strong selfish attitude which causes excessive sensitivity. This sensitivity coupled with a strong sense of ego is solely responsible for hatred, animosity and jealousy. As Shanti Deva once said,

"If in blind attachment I cling
To this suffering abscess of a human form
Which cannot be bear to be touched,
With whom should I be angry when it hurts?8

As a result of this kind of self cherishing attitude, everything appears as one's own enemy and our minds becomes pre-occupied with unnecessary worries and tensions. if we fail to train our minds in a positive direction, then even if Buddha appears in person he will fail to liberate us from suffering.

13. when you have been strongly criticized, slowly and surely negative feelings become so intense and grow out of proportion to the extend that you cannot think of anything positive. it seems like a devil enters your mind and loosing the ability to reason clearly we are unable to think of the future consequences of actions you might commit or the concerned persons kindness in the past. It seems that these repulsive feelings would help you to overcome the enemy, but in reality they will create more difficulties in the future by habituating the mind to negative patterns.

14. If anyone abuses or criticizes you, by observing your own mind cautiously, you will become aware that all your thoughts are in the process of changing momentarily, since none of them remain forever. Whatever thoughts appear in the screen of your consciousness whether they are of pain or pleasure, if you don't identify them, grasp them or push them away but try to remain neutral towards different thoughts, they will come and go like wrinkles in water. As the great Tibetan yogi `Milarelpa' (1040-1123)9 said, "Everything comes from the sky, dissolves in the sky." He compares thoughts to clouds: "All phenomena are the manifestation of the mind, All phenomena will dissolve into the mind."

15. In daily life you'll encounter many people each with varying mental dispositions, and each with his or her own way of understanding things, you can be sure that not all will agree with you. Someone might even criticize you since there are so many different colors and shapes of the face, different tones of voice, and likewise, different modes of thought and understanding. Therefore, there are sure to be misunderstandings even among close friends due to lack of comprehension of each others views. Thus, friction and conflict can arise and some friendships do not last long. Je Gung Thang Rinpoche (1762-1823) said,

"Even today's dearest friend can
Misconstrue a good or bad word to
Become tomorrows bitterest enemy.
Since then I cease to have attachment and aversion."11

If you decide each morning not to be affected by unpleasantness and to tolerate trivial differences and combine this resolve with a compassionate and beneficial mind instilled with a sense of humanity, then any insults or criticism will not cause unhappiness. Eventually you will become a very patient tolerant and calm person.

16. Patience is always important for spiritual growth, personal affairs and interactions in our daily life. Generally, most people attribute their anger toward external causes thinking, "If this person would not have said such and such things" or "if that and this situation were different, I wouldn't react in such a way". This outlook results in the need to change external conditions in order to calm one's own anger. If one considers how many beings there are and how all of them have different attitudes and ideas which they hold as the outcome of their own experiences, then one can easily observe that it is impossible to make other adjust to your timetable and ideals to prevent you from becoming angry. Instead of attempting to overcome and try changing all other beings, it is much more practical to defend oneself by wearing an armour of patience and tolerance. The most Ven. Patrul Rinpoche once said, "When a country is filled with unruly beings and Superior people's mouth and mind were influenced by evil spirits and thoughts, at such a time, I am forced to wear the armour of patience," as explained in a guide to the Buddhisattva's way of life".10 Shanti Deva explaines, "If the ground is covered with sharp thorns and stones, it is more practical to protect your feet by wearing shoes than to try to remove all the thorns and stones". This can be taken to mean that,

"When unruly beings are as (unlimited) as space:
It is difficult to overcome all of them.
If I subdue my thoughts of anger alone,
This will be equivalent to vanquishing all external enemies."12

17.The foremost antidotes for any kind of problem and difficulty is to know how to become your own teacher and respect your own experience and understanding of what life is. as most Venerable Patrul Rinopoche (1808) said,

"Explore your mental continuum by yourself
Tame your mind by yourself
Place yourself on the path by yourself
Both the means to achieve worldly purpose and
Dharma practices are included here"13

In this way how you will eradicate pain and attain total freedom for yourself. When you study and imitate someone else's understanding or experience of life, you are studying their views, you are knowing yourself through another persons idea, however in this way you will never fully learn about yourself. You can only know yourself through your own observation and understanding. You can respect other's views, Dr. S. N. Radhakrishna said,

"Respect the opinion of others even if you disagree with them.
Light is good in whatever lamp it may burn,
Even as a rose is beautiful in whatever garden it may bloom"14

But never be a carbon copy, it is better to keep a distance from them and experience things for yourself. Then it will be apparent that you can learn from everything and everyone. Everyone has their own views, various theories and perspectives about what truth really is. It is difficult to say who is right and who is wrong, since each person's view is based upon his or her limited knowledge and experience. As Atisha (982-1054) said,

"The duration of this life is very short
There are many aspects of knowledge to acquire,
But one does not know how long one is going to live.
Therefore, like a duck separating milk from the lake,
It is most effective to take those which suit your wish."15
In the end, you become the final judge and master of your own destiny.

1. rZa Paltrul Rinpoche (1808) advice: The Heart treasure of the enlightened ones. P. 176 L. 5 Shambhala publications - 1992.

2. Sakya Pandita (1181-1251) precious treasure of elegant sayings. P. 62 L. 17 Kalimpong Mirror Printing Press.

3. Shanti Deva 8th Century: A Guide to the Budhisattva's way of Life. P. 104 L. 22 Tibetan Library publication.

4. Shanti Deva 8th Century: A Guide to the Buddhisattva's way of Life. P. 62 L. 13 Tibetan Library publication.

5. Shanti Deva 8th Centuray: A Guide to the Buddhisattva's way of Life. P. 69 L. 53 Tibetan Library publication.

6. Ngulchu Gyalsas Thogmed Sangpo (1245-1369). The comentary on the thirty seven practice of Bodhisattva. P. 96 L. 4 Tibetan Library publication.

7. Shanti Deva 8th Centuray: A Guide to the Buddhisattva's way of Life. P. 68 L. 09 Tibetan Library publication.

8. Shati Deva 8th Centuray: A Guide to the Buddhisattva's way of Life. P. 69 L. 53 Tibetan Library publication.

9. Mila Relpa (1040-1123)

10. rJe Gung Tang (1762-1823): Instruction to Meditate on Imperminence. P.26 L. 7. Dharamsala Printing Press.

11. rZa Paltrul Rinpoche: The collected works of dpal-sprul o-rgyan 'Jigs-med chos-kyi dbang-po. Reproduce from Dudjom Rinpoche's Xylograph collection by Sonam T. Kazi Vol. I Gangtok. P. 377 L. 3.

12. Shanti Deva 8th Centuray: A Guide to the Buddhisattva's way of Life. P. 41 L. 06 Tibetan Library publication.

13. rZa Paltrul Rinpoche (1808).

14. Dr. S. N. Radha Krishna.

15. Atisha (982-1054): Liberation in the palm of your hand. P. 300 L. 5. Dharamsala Printing press