Written by Pema Khandro, in 2007
“Suddenly my image of the innocence, wisdom
and beauty of that Master was sullied
by his potty-mouth.”
I have heard Ayurvedists denounce certain others as false, incompetent Ayurvedists. I have heard Yoga teachers denounce other teachers as false, crazy, and inadequate. I have heard Martial Artists denouncing certain others as heretic fakes. I have heard Buddhists denouncing other Buddhist schools and teachers as false, crazy, inadequate, imposters. We used to call it fundamentalism or bigotry, but these days we talk about ‘haters.’
Over the years, I have noticed there is a tendency in every field for some people to denounce others. I have also noticed this in people’s family lives and in every profession. Certain others are called fake, inadequate, mean, crazy or pronounced as being the perpetrator of all kinds of unattractive, wrong or unholy activities. It is unfortunate that some people actually spend time, precious hours, days, lives – making the case against other practitioners and teachers who practice in ways that are different than their own way. They declare themselves the “real” thing and the others who are different than they in some way, are called the “fake,” “crazy,” “false,” “inadequate” ones. We should be careful together to not fall into this way of thinking ourselves. Hateful speech with Sanskrit or Tibetan added to it, with doctrine adorning it or fancy philosophy ornamenting – is still hate.
I was inspired to write about this because, the other day, I was talking about Bruce Lee with someone, about what a pioneer he was. My whole family loved Bruce Lee and studied his philosophy when I was young. We talked about how, in Lee’s time, some Chinese masters criticized him for teaching Westerners and introducing unorthodox teachings. Today, we can trace back the recent craze for mixed martial arts back to his original ideas – of “doing whatever is needed,” to find victory and protect oneself and others, even when it stepped outside of rules and forms. But the fundamentalists around him felt he was violating their tradition because of his new style and that the highest secrets should be kept with the Chinese only, that the tradition should be practiced in the way the establishment understood it. They loathed and criticized his style and even persecuted him.
There was a similar reaction to the to Dzogchen teachings in Tibet. The emphasis was also similar in principle – using unlimited forms to find awareness, rather than rely only on more elaborate ritual methods of the time. For example, one MahaSiddha meditated on emptiness and form through the practice of making shoes. Imagine reading an advertisement on a course on how to reach enlightenment through shoe making… “The Manolo Blahnik path to Enlightenment.” Its outrageous. Perhaps that can give you a feel of what a shock to the establishment such methods were. Even now, there are always methods that may continue to fall outside of some narrow-minded (and historically blind) definitions of what Vajrayana Buddhism is. This because many people end up learning a narrow range of teachings and assume that this is how all Tibetan Buddhism is. They regard any variations from what they learned as wrong. This is provincialism. A course in Tibetan Buddhist history and diversity would cure it. Education is the cure for fundamentalism.
Since the beginnings of Buddhism, there have been those who sought to suppress ideas that were different than the dominant religious establishment of the time. And different schools of Buddhism were politically dominant at different times. There was also an appreciation for the educational power of debate in training in Buddhist philosophy. So Buddhism is no stranger to debate. All Buddhists do not agree on important issues. That is how Buddhism began in the first place as an alternative perspective to major themes of the time, samsara, karma, desire, social structure…. At such points of social change, sparks fly. When different Buddhist philosophies intersect, fruitful questions are naturally generated. However, not everyone is mature enough to participate in productive philosophical debates. When differences arise, it is easy for habitual mental afflictions of arrogance, anger and cruelty to take hold. Personal attacks substitute for respectful dialogue. Tearing others down replaces genuine practice.
Thus even those heroes regarded as the great Buddhist teachers of Tibetan tradition were assailed by narrow-minded pictures of how Yogis should behave. Padmasambhava had death threats against his life. Machig Labdron was seen as a traitor to her monastic vows. Saraha was seen as a heretic. Longchenpa had to leave town due to antagonists. People thought Jomo Menmo was crazy.
‘To the wings of this eagle
The wind and the rocks have been cruel.
The sly and scheming ones
Have harassed me, always without ceasing’
– The Sixth Dalai Lama
Many splendid modern teachers undergo the same social persecution at the hands of elitist Buddhists or Yogis who feel they own the “real” thing. In the age of the internet such voices are disproportionately audible.
It seems to be a fact of samsara, cyclic ignorance. Some people love to hate and feel justified in doing so. Bigoted mind is easy to get into and we find plenty of support for it.
It is also inspiring to look back in history and think of the radical beauty of the Buddhist teachers who gave their brilliant teachings anyway despite the pressures and obstacles of such a stuffy, bigoted environment. It is a model for people of all fields who have vision and wisdom to keep their focus on sharing that vision. It is inspiring to think of the devoted students who did not fall for such trash-talk.
“Why be a hater when you can be a lover?”
I remember when I was first learning about Ayurveda, I was shocked when I first encountered the “Masters” of Ayurveda who denounced other prominent Ayurvedists. It was like finding out that there was no tooth-fairy. Suddenly my image of the innocence, wisdom and beauty of those Masters was sullied by their hateful potty-mouth.
Gradually, I came to also see how common it was for so called “great” Yogis to slander people. I met Buddhists who just couldn’t wait to prop themselves up, name-drop and sneer down at others. Over time, I met haters in every profession, field and religion.
There is particular glee in ridiculing and humiliating women. The bullies like to pick on weaker, lesser known figures. The gossiping haters like to repeat their fables authoritatively as if they are the guardians of ‘real’ truths. The righteous experts like to marinate in dogma, imaging they are better than others.
Or another favorite target is anyone who is too successful. For example, I have heard many say Deepak Chopra or insert any name as not practicing “real” Ayurveda. The denouncers all have their reasons for their denouncing. “He teaches meditation as a higher method than herbalism (how dare he!).” “He sold out.” “He is too western-oriented, he is really teaching western physics.” Someone said they knew him and he was very mean to a person. Another person worked for him and he was actually a “total snob.” “Everyone thinks he is so great, and he is so successful, but who he ‘really’ is turns out to be ….” and so on. Whatever reason they say, whatever evidence they present, however good the logic is, the hate in the voice can’t be hidden. I have heard many Buddhist and Yoga practitioners, “masters” and teachers, Asian practitioners and American practitioners echo such sentiments about their chosen targets. In Buddhism, we call this the realm of the Jealous Gods – where one fixates on tearing others down. The Jealous Gods are always unhappy because they are obsessed with gaining power by finding faults in others.
“…Jealous Gods tearing each other down,
constantly looking over their crowded shoulders,
denouncing, degrading, defaming, disparaging…
There are better ways to spend our time;
like working compassionately for the awakening of ourselves
and all others.”
Oh the sound of hate, disguised in righteousness! It reminds me of junior high school. Such talk is tremendously boring and small-minded. Why be a hater when you can be a lover? We don’t have to subscribe to everyone’s philosophy or style of practicing their trade, but we can at least appreciate their contribution, that they offer something valuable, to the specific people who benefit from it. Or we can simply spend our precious hours focused on our own path and tradition and use our life to celebrate and share that. To me, Chopra seems like an amazing and very wise, sincere fellow and I can enjoy that. I benefit from his work in this world. Others may not enjoy him. There is room for that. There is plenty of room if we are civil and respectful. Deepak Chopra and all leaders in every field of endeavor seem to have their place. Just because someone isn’t ‘my thing,’ doesn’t mean they might not be beneficial to others.
Ultimately speaking, perhaps even the haters will find their place and evolve into their own voice, producing something original instead of tearing down those who dare to create.
Even how haters “really” are is undeterminable and I feel content to peacefully leave them amongst each other to do their hating amongst themselves. Perhaps we can learn unexpected things by letting go of them to focus more vigorously on our own values. Our encounter with them is an invitation to be small-minded. When we refuse to be, we are strengthened. When we keep redirecting our focus onto loving-kindness as a way of life, our whole world is strengthened.
They are not even sentenced to be haters forever in my mind. They could change. Who knows who they are being right now; maybe they have already changed their tune. May all beings awaken and find happiness.
There are lots of reasons why we might not like someone and feel justified in publicly denouncing who they are, exposing who they “really” are. We seem to love to do this with prominent figures and people who do things differently than we think they should. Or we relish the juicy gossip of famous figures’ fall from grace. It seems to be some kind of a relief to think cynically because then we are off the hook. If others are really not that good, then maybe we don’t have to be either.
“Who the Haters really are – is us.
If we fail to find where this habit is in our own minds,
then we are likely to fall victim to it.”
The problem in that denouncing-others-habit- is that how anyone “really” is cannot be defined. How someone “really” is, is not necessarily a static, fixed reality. How we “really” are is not defined by some action in our past. It is not fully captured in other people’s pictures of how we should be. How someone “really” is may be missed because of our own subjective biases, conditioning, and pre-conceptions. How someone “really” is may be distorted by our bad manners, or discreet situational factors. How we “really” are is contextual, relational and constantly changing.
Some people we just don’t get. Does that mean that something is wrong with them? Is the marker for how someone “really” is, whether they fit into our pictures, our personal likes and dislikes, our assumptions about how they should be? What makes someone the holy and ultimate authority of who is for real in their field?
There is a traditional saying that a spiritual teacher is only recognized by their own students, perhaps that’s true about everyone – we are meant for the people who can see and appreciate us in particular. We may make absolutely no sense to anyone else.
Its easy to see the haters as bad and regard ourselves as good. But we all have work to do in uprooting the roots of aggression in our own minds. Who the Haters “really” are – is us. We all have sexist, elitist, xenophobic, racist programming that is unconscious and needs to be uprooted. If we fail to find where the habits of aggression are in our own minds, then we are likely to fall into hatefulness ourselves – or to unwittingly perpetuate it by being its passive audience.
The only way hate continues to exist is if we do not recognize it for the confusion it is and we do not own up to our complicity. It is in our own culture, our own tradition, our own school and in our own minds. If we are going to uproot this habit, we must start at home, with our own minds and our own lives. We can start with whatever we are connected to.
When we lap up juicy gossip about others, we perpetuate hate speech and therefore harm others. When we read gossip magazines about stars and internet articles dishing the dirt on famous figures, we supported hate and harm others. We can start uprooting aggression in our own lives by standing up for human dignity, speaking up for others and refusing to provide a rapt and passive audience which will only bolster hate speech.
People often perpetuate hate speech by silently tolerating it. Haters get a disproportionate voice when no one contests them. We can respond without aggression. We respond with dignity and an attitude of educating others. We can speak out and say this is wrong. Then we can remove ourselves from toxic conversations. We can refuse to feed the hate, but also not consent to it either.
In Buddhism, when the hate disease shows up, it is usually with some good intentions. We think of ourselves as protecting our tradition or protecting others from the bad guys. With concern, we may warn others about that protector practice that they shouldn’t be doing or some practice that is not supposed to be in that order or some teacher who is from some lineage no one ever heard about. We can even use all kinds of fancy spiritual lingo, intense intellectual arguments to make our case. We can quote the Buddha. We can quote our teacher. We can quote people who know who those others “really” are and what “really” happened. We can apply our standards to their context and therefore refute their legitimacy (though only in reference to ourselves).
Even in our own sangha, our spiritual community, we can silently critique other’s interpretations of the teachings, and lament their ridiculous version of the practice. We roll our eyes at their continual inadequacies. We sing over their “wrong” version of the mantra. We rush in to correct their weird version of the Sadhana. We resent the new guy for being too smart or too close to the teacher. We can use lots of spiritual evidence about why it’s ok to dump on, denigrate and depreciate others. But its still hate. Hate. Hate. Hate.
Recognize it when you see it – Jealous Gods tearing each other down, constantly looking over their crowded shoulders, denouncing, degrading, defaming, disparaging, abusing, dismissing, deriding, competing, comparing, justifying and slandering. There are better ways to spend our time – like compassionately working for the awakening of ourselves and all others. Lets help others instead of hating them.
Disparaging others is always distasteful, even when disguised in Buddhist, Yogic, Ayurvedic, Christian, Kung Fu, Vedic, or any other kind of “traditional” terms. When thinking of who others “really” are and how they “really” are – no fixed opinion is a much more honest and satisfying way to be.
Perhaps when we don’t connect with a teacher or other person, it is because we personally lack a connection with them, not because of some fixed reality of how they are. Perhaps we lack certain awareness that allows us to see how great they are. Perhaps our perspective is narrower than we realize. Perhaps we have a big fleck of karma in our eye.
Whatever we experience, we must be aware that our subjective view may not actually reflect anything objective about that person or thing. Because of impermanence – even as clear as our perceptions are – because of impermanence – people may change and so we must always leave room in our opinions of others. People have many aspects, like kaleidoscopes. And people actually change – constantly even. They change a lot. People grow. Karma dissolves. Emptiness happens.
Buddhism suggests that people and things are all relational. Because of interdependence, whatever we are experiencing, we are influencing the experience so much that we change the thing entirely. Its worth considering that maybe what we don’t like about another person is how they are around us. We may be partly responsible for this. Maybe we are bringing out the worst in them. Maybe our unconscious and implicit bias fosters a tense atmosphere that they sense and feel awkward around. To practice Buddhism is to, from the beginning, recognize that we are constantly interpreting reality. These interpretations are largely unconscious. To take our own preferences and aversions as ‘objective,’ is a mark of ignorance and immaturity.
Tripping out about how others “really” are seems to be just another handy expression of samsara – wherein we are attempting to solidify our world, make it more definable, permanent, controllable and solid, and in so doing, avoid facing that life is bigger than our tidy little rationale. Even when we try to disguise our hatefulness in spiritual language, intellectual arguments, testimonials and evidence, it is still just plain ol’ hate and bigotry. Another form of clinging to form.
Of course, we think in terms of how others “really” are because we think of self in that way – fixed, essential, definite. In Buddhism, it is especially ironic to put others or ourselves in boxes to who we “really” are. Doing that is to pursue delusion. How others or we “really” are is open-ended (empty-form) Buddha-nature. It doesn’t lend itself easily to definitions. It isn’t exposed in the past. It is exposed in the present moment. As the saying goes – proclaiming knowledge is the end to all possibilities of discovery.
Perception is more clear when we avoid formulating fixed preconceptions and instead communicate directly with others. We miss what we, others and things really are, when we decide we already know what they are.
An irony in Buddhist fundamentalism, in particular, is that the “real” Buddhism is the one that doesn’t proclaim a “real” reality in the first place. Isn’t that what we love about it? Open, refreshing, fantastic space; where all our struggles to separate definiteness from ambiguity, self from other, form from emptiness, now melt away. The more we make friends with reference-less-ness mind in meditation, the less we try to find solace in comparing others or self to some conceptual ideal.
“I remember Gangteng Rinpoche said
to me, ‘Enlightened beings take infinite forms
according to the infinitely various needs of beings.’
I have remembered that when the opportunity
to evaluate another’s awakening has arisen.”
The other day, a student and myself were chatting and she mentioned that so-and-so from our past had now become a spiritual teacher and was espousing himself as enlightened. She remarked that it was interesting to read that – and it truly was an interesting twist to the story. In my opinion, he had seemed like one of the more neurotic people I had ever met. His ignorance and narcissism seemed to be beyond the acceptable norm of what most people deal with, and the worst thing was, he seemed to be entirely blind of that fact at the time. My opinion upon hearing about his new role as a so called ‘self-proclaimed master’ was no opinion. I could have joined the many folks, having known someone in the past, who now assumes they know who they “really” are. I could have said, “Yeah right!” and cynically derided him, and talked about how he “really” was, I certainly had eyewitness accounts that would be sufficient ammunition. I could have assumed him a fake. I could have called him names and gossiped about the awful ways he behaved in the past, while chuckling sarcastically. I could have had some gleeful moments of exposing him for this concept of who he ‘really’ was. But I won’t do that.
I let the whole thing remain open-ended, because that is the most honest response. The bottom line is, I do not know him now. Besides, awakening does actually happen. We needn’t be so cynical to think it does not. I do not claim to know who he “really” is. Maybe he did have an awakening since I knew him. Even if his wisdom is not particularly illuminating or impressive to me personally, he is probably able to help someone at some level of the path. If there are principles he is teaching that I find lacking – that can be discussed in terms of the principles themselves if someone finds it necessary – but beyond that – it doesn’t interest me. He is here for whom he is here for. And if he is trying to help people; well, good for him and good luck. Who knows who that guy “really” is. I am personally not interested and have no opinion. My full-time job as a lover leaves me too spent to moonlight as a hater.
“…One should not gossip concerning the
unusual behavior of teachers, Dharma brothers
and sisters, or for that matter, about the
behavior of any sentient being whatsoever.”
– Yeshe Tsogyal, Mother of Knowledge
As a Buddhist teacher, I have an opportunity to influence my community – to create a culture where fundamentalism is recognized as fundamentalism rather than tolerated or internalized. I have the hope to create a culture where diversity is respected and practitioners humbly acknowledge the limits of their own subjective opinions. My prayer is that my community would avoid denouncing others in their field, others in other religions, other religions, and others who are not doing what we think they should.
All Vajrayana Buddhists are from the lineage which included spiritual outlaws, outcasts, illiterates, a sesame seed pounder, prostitutes, the fish-gut eater, the arrow maker, spoiled princess, bartender, beer-maker, shoe-maker, over-eater, moron, monk, lover, politician, merchant, spoiled princess, hunter, vegetarian, angry Buddhist, ex-murderer, elitist intellectual and house-wife. Who are we to criticize others?
On that note, how could anyone feel justified in disparaging anyone else ever? We are all so insubstantial by nature. We are all flawed, beautifully flawed but good anyway.
“Do not have opinions on other people’s actions.
When we see defects in others, people in general but
particularly those who have entered the Dharma…
we should understand that it is the impurity
of our perception which is at fault. When we look
in a mirror, we see a dirty face because our own face is dirty.
In the same way, the defects of others are nothing but our
impure way of seeing them. By thinking in this way, we should
try and rid ourselves of this perception of the faults of
others and cultivate the attitude whereby the whole of
existence, all appearances are experienced as pure.”
– Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Enlightened Courage
In Vajrayana Buddhism, we have what are called the fourteen vows in which we pledge never to disparage other students of Vajrayana, especially students who we are connected to by the same teacher. This is quite an inclusive pledge. Because Vajrayana lineages are so intertwined and interconnected, we all end up being related. We have all taken teachings with great teachers who teach to massive crowds of students at once, such as His Holiness Dalai Lama, Karmapa or Dudjom Rinpoche, for example, so we cannot disparage anyone else who has done so either… which is everyone else! Plus great Lamas such as Dudjom Rinpoche were the teacher of many of the Lamas who teach today, so all of their students are connected to the other Lama’s students as dharma cousins. If we look into it, we are all related somehow and it is very difficult to find someone we are not connected to. Just to make the case more explicit, that this is really referring to everyone, the vows require that we not disparage anyone with any faith. Why take such a vow? This isn’t about morality for the sake of external behavior. It is about taming our minds. Following ethical precepts and vows disciplines our minds. When we are kind and gentle to others, we will also find that kindness towards our own minds. We will live in a gracious and spacious state.
Our concern can be with our own personal practice and guarding our own mind from confusion, instead of defaming others. Let us use our intensity to capture and liberate our own shortcomings. When we hear gossip about other people’s idiocy or misfortune, we can reflect on how we are just like that too. We can confess our faults. We are all guilty. We are all innocent. And yet – we can all go free. Ah la la. When we hear how others “really” are we can reflect on the emptiness of self and be awake on the spot.
Using the knowledge from our training to fixate on others’ alleged flaws is the spiteful realm of the jealous gods. It is the root of war and spiritual materialism. It is a distraction from our practice, from our own flaws. We may feel justified in sending our aggression in specific directions – but that sticky habit oozes all our mindstream and before we know we soaked in the poisons of aversion, negativity jealousy and envy. As much as we try to confine our malice to a specific target, it spreads and gets all over our lives, all over our loves, distorting everything it touches. We have no room to be haters – so let us be lovers. Let us cultivate empathy, love and compassion for all beings. Let us be brave enough to be gentle in our speech. Better we use our knowledge and our training to be incredibly kind. Better we have some class and show off our Buddha-nature goodness.
We can keep our dialogues focused on critiquing ideas and principles with an open mind, rather than launching slanderous campaigns against people. We can focus on discussing methods, the intricacies, and precision of the view. There is plenty to dialogue about if we focus our critique on the principles at hand in our own lives, in our own path, in our own tradition. We can spend our time practicing more diligently, loving more fiercely and overlooking more generously rather than pretending we are policing our world.
We can avoid concretizing who others are in our minds, and therefore avoid concretizing our self and avoid concretizing reality altogether, this is the only way we will ever know who we ourselves “really” are.
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