Explanation of Eight-Verse Attitude-Training
Berlin, Germany, May 2005
Session Four: Transforming Negative Circumstances into Positive Ones; Verse Five Continued and Verse Six
Whatever I am doing, may I check the flow of my mind,
And the moment that conceptions or disturbing emotions arise,
Since they debilitate myself and others,
May I confront and avert them with forceful means.
What this is referring to is not just our ordinary conceptions or conceptual thoughts, because actually that would be almost impossible for us to get rid of at our stage. When we speak about conceptual thoughts in general, how we understand that is in thinking in terms of or through categories. And so, when we see this object, we think of it as “a table.” That’s a conceptual thought, because “table” is a category and there are many, many other objects, which can also be called “table.”
So, it’s is not really referring to that specifically, but it’s referring much more to “prejudices” or “preconceptions,” strange thoughts, like: “This person is an idiot,” and “They’re no good,” and “This person is horrible.” These type of thoughts, conceptual thoughts, these are the ones that debilitate us. “Oh! I can’t possibly deal with this, it’s too much for me” – these type of thoughts is what it’s referring to. Prejudices, preconceptions.
Question: Like putting everything into a box? This is a such and such a person, that’s a such and such a person...
Alex: Right, but I mean it’s still thinking in terms of categories, but it’s a heavier category than thinking, “This is a table.” “This is an idiot.” Well, he may be an idiot. There are many other people who are idiots, so that’s a conceptual thought, but it’s a heavier type of conceptual thought than thinking, “This is a table.” Thinking, “This is a table” is not going to debilitate us, as the verse says; whereas thinking, “This is an idiot” and then you get really angry and so on, does damage us. So one has to discriminate here. “This is a human being” – I mean that’s a conceptual thought, but it’s not going to damage our ability to help others.
Ok, so coming back to verse five:
(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.
This is dealing, of course, with when people are jealous, and then they are envious, and then they say nasty things to us. These are perfect opportunities, again, to develop patience. These verses here, in the middle of these eight, have to do very much with patience. And so we find in Shantideva, chapter six, verse fifty-three:
(53) Insults, cruel language,
And defaming words
Don’t hurt my body,
So, why, O mind, do you become so enraged?
If they want to say something stupid, let them say something stupid. Give the victory to the others. No reason to become enraged. And words don’t hurt me.
So, one way of dealing with this situation when others saying nasty things to us and so on, and one way of taking the loss on ourselves and giving the victory to others, is to think that this has come from my own negative karma, from the negative things that I’ve done in the past. So I can accept this and give the victories to others, not blame them. And so we have many examples of that in Dharmarakshita’s Wheel of Sharp Weapons. So I’ve chosen three verses that seem relevant to this. Fourteen:
(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” means to cut them off. In other words, if people are saying nasty things to us and abusing us and so on, this comes from, in the past, us saying nasty things about others and causing friendships and close relations to part. And so, if that’s the case, then in order to overcome that, to break that karmic circle – this wheel of sharp weapons coming back to us – we need to really watch what we say and cut off any thoughtless remarks – saying stupid things and nasty things to others.
Or verse eighteen:
(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.
So when we’re accused of things that we haven’t done, or blamed of things – say we have mistakes that we don’t actually have – this is a result of having ourselves done that to others, let’s say with our spirituals teachers, saying they don’t have good qualities and belittling them, and accusing others falsely of things which are not the case. And so it’s important to counter that, to – as it says here – give them full credit for the positive things that they have, praise them, and so on, even if we might not particularly like the person – I mean that’s not referring to our guru.
And in verse twenty-three:
(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.
So when people are finding fault with everything that we do, then this is the karmic result of our not caring about what we do and the effect that it has on others. As it says here, “that our deeds didn’t matter at all,” so there’s always going to blame us, find fault with what we’re doing. So, in the future we have to stop this type of offensive behavior of just acting in a vacuum, as if nobody else was around and it didn’t affect anyone.
So this is a very helpful way to deal with this type of situation of how do we “accept the loss on ourselves and give the victory to others,” is to see what are the karmic causes for this happening when others, as it says here, scold us and insult us and treat us unfairly and so on, and stop that in our behavior.
This Wheel of Sharp Weapons is a very nice text. It’s a bit long, it’s a hundred and nineteen verses, but it goes through – in a very, very full way – all the different karmic things that might be happening to us and their karmic causes. It’s on my website, if you want to read it.
Another way of understanding “accept the loss on myself and offer the victory to others” is that we give ourselves to others. We lose, in a sense, ourselves serving ourselves; we give the victory to others in the sense that we serve them. Shantideva describes this in chapter three from verse ten up to sixteen:
(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.
So we don’t feel that it’s a loss, although we’re accepting the loss on ourselves and we give the victory to others by giving them our pleasures and positive force and our body, and so on.
Shantideva goes on:
(11) Giving away everything (brings) 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.
(12) Having given this body to all those with limited bodies
To do with as they like,
It’s up to them to do what they want:
Let them kill it, revile it, always beat it, or whatever.
(13) Let them toy with my body,
Make it into a source of ridicule or a joke.
Having giving away this body of mine,
For what should I hold it dear?
(14) Let them do whatever to (my) body,
So long as it doesn’t cause them harm;
But may it never turn out to be meaningless
For anyone to be focused for any time on me.
Wonderful line, “may it never turn out to be meaningless for anyone to be focused for any time on me.”
(15) If anyone, who might be focused on me,
Develops an angry or unkind thought,
May that always turn into a cause
For fulfilling all of his or her aims.
So when people have these unkind thoughts and get angry with us and insult us and so on, accept the loss on ourselves and wish for them, “May this be a cause for fulfilling all of your aims.”
Participant: It’s impossible. A [negative] karmic act cannot turn into a positive good…
Alex: A negative karmic act – what they’re talking about is that when somebody does something negative toward us, we have a karmic relation with this person, which came from the past – and as we were saying from The Wheel of Sharp Weapons – we’ve undoubtedly said something negative to them before. And so, since that karmic relation is there, then what we want to do is to change the flavor of that karmic relation, and instead of getting back to them and saying something nasty back to them and then it goes on and on over many, many lifetimes, then, “May this interaction with me turn into a cause,” as it said, “for fulfilling all of his or her aims.” In other words, by wishing them well, rather then wishing them something terrible, then you change the whole structure of that relationship.
It says in the next verse:
(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.
It’s like what I was explaining with this friend of mine, who used the money that I gave him in order to build something for me, he used it for himself. Rather than getting angry with him, “May you enjoy this; I’m not going to get angry at you.” By turning it into a gift in my mind, then, “May I be able to give you even more and bring you to a state of enlightenment.”
So that’s why it says, “May it never turn out to be meaningless for anyone to be focused for any time on me,” anybody who has any relation, as it says. Chenrezig has even blessed his name so that if people just hear his name they become uplifted. So anybody who sees me, anybody who reads anything that I’ve written, anybody who hears my name, may it inspire them, may it not be meaningless that they encounter me – a very wonderful prayer. May I have some positive influence on everybody whom I meet, even if they meet me with a negative intent.
Togmey-zangpo in Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices also echoes these thoughts. Verse twelve:
(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.
So this is exactly what I was describing with 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 these negative forces,
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 someone
Whom we have raised, cherishing him like our own child,
Were to regard us as his enemy, to have special loving kindness for him,
Like a mother toward her child stricken with an illness.
So, if our child is sick and says all sorts of crazy things and he’s really cranky and so on, then of course we would have even more love for the child, because we understand that the child is sick and acting like this because he’s sick, or overtired, or whatever. And so similarly, when others whom we’ve raised like a child – in other words we’ve been kind to like that – even if they’re very, very nasty to us, that it’s very helpful to think of them like our sick child, that now they’re sick, suffering from this disturbing emotion, and therefore to have more concern and more taking care of them, rather than getting angry. We don’t get angry with our child for getting sick.
Question: I also find that it’s important to show one’s limits so that the other person knows, “Up to here it’s OK, but not further.”
Alex: Well, yes, that’s true. If we want to help somebody to develop discipline, ethical discipline – a good behavior as it were – 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 – just let the kids run wild and be natural and free, and so on. And many of these children grew up feeling that their parents didn’t love them, because the parents didn’t show enough concern to teach them what was proper and what wasn’t proper. And they had a lot of difficulties later on in life, because obviously when you go out into the world, people aren’t so tolerant in terms of our behavior. So it is important to set certain limits, but that is for helping the other person.
I mean, obviously, there is also some self-interest there – not to destroy my desk with all my work on it – well, that also is because our work is important to us as well – or not to ruin the sound equipment in the house. So I mean there is obviously a combination of what are the limits in terms of what’s helpful for the other person and what’s helpful for us. So setting limits is always a delicate task; but the main thing is our motivation. Are we setting the limits to benefit the other person or are we setting the limits to benefit ourself? And I think often it’s a combination of the two. But at least let’s try not to have it totally just to benefit myself. And then, as I was explaining the other day, we need to be flexible with those limits.
I remember Serkong Rinpoche always used to say, when I would say, “I’m totally exhausted, I can’t translate anymore or pay attention to it anymore,” he’d always say, “Well, no matter how tired you are, you can always do five minutes more.” And he would always push me another five minutes. This was very, very helpful. Because it is true that you can always do five minutes more. Because then you build up strong character and determination, strength. And of course not do the last five minutes completely not paying attention and falling asleep. You have to do it fully, whatever you’re doing. So he would yell at me, make sure I was alert, with his favorite name for me, “Idiot,” if I ever said anything incorrectly, or didn’t understand. “Gugpa, idiot!” So in a sense shamed me into paying attention again. Very, very kind.
So, this last verse of Togmey-zangpo, where he’s talking about someone that we’ve raised, cherished like our own child “were to regard us like as his enemy,” and “to have special loving kindness like a mother toward her child stricken with an illness.”
We have something similar in verse six in our eight verses:
(6) Even if someone whom I have helped
And from whom I harbor great expectations
Were to harm me completely unfairly,
May I view him or her as a hallowed teacher.
So, not only regarding them as a mother toward the child, “Oh, my child is sick” and so on and acting like that, but see them as our teacher, teacher of patience. So, people that are particularly challenging are people that we have been very kind to, that we have helped a great deal and so on. When they turn around and act unkindly toward us, or are inconsiderate of us and do something very inconsiderate, like often not only teenage children will do, but our friends sometimes will do as well – I’m sure we can think of many examples – or hurt me completely unfairly, then how do we deal with that? Are we very, very disappointed and so on? We had great expectations, which obviously is not going to be helpful at all. Shantideva gives a very good way of dealing with that. He says in chapter eight, verse twenty-two:
(22) If limited beings, with varied dispositions,
Couldn’t be pleased by even the Triumphant,
What need to mention by the poor likes of me?
Therefore, let me give up my preoccupation
with worldly people.
In other words, worrying that everybody like me. “Buddha couldn’t please everybody. Buddha was so kind to everybody and people still – like his cousin – were trying to hurt him. What do I expect? That I’m going to be able to please everybody and everybody is going to be nice to me?” That’s very, very helpful. “If not everybody liked the Buddha, what do I expect?” And Shantideva in chapter six, fifty-four:
(54) Others’ dislike for me –
That won’t devour me,
Either in this life or in any other lifetime;
So why do I find it undesirable?
So, something not to be so concerned about.
And six, sixty-five:
(65) And toward those who injure my spiritual teachers,
My relatives and so on, and my friends as well,
My rage will be averted, by having seen that
This arises from conditions, as in the manner before.
So if we’re very kind to somebody and in return they treat us poorly, even if it’s not always treating us poorly, but especially sometimes treating us poorly and so on, we see well, “This arises from conditions” – from my previous karma, from this person’s karma, from so many things affecting it – and that helps us to develop patience. And so, chapter six, verse a hundred and eleven:
(111) Therefore, since patience arises dependently
From his vicious intention,
This one himself is fit to be honored like the hallowed Dharma,
Because he’s a cause of my patience.
That’s taking the person as my teacher of patience. Patience arises dependently on his being nasty. Togmey-zangpo in Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices says some similar things in terms of seeing others as our spiritual teacher of patience. Verse fifteen:
(15) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if someone exposes our faults or says foul words (about us)
In the midst of a gathering of many wandering beings,
To bow to him respectfully,
Recognizing him as our spiritual teacher.
This actually is very, very helpful. I’m reminded of Serkong Rinpoche, when I would be translating in front of people – relatively a lot of people, not so many – if I didn’t understand something, or I made a mistake, or anything, he wouldn’t go on until I understood. It didn’t matter how embarrassed I felt or anything and how inconvenienced it made everybody there. I had to understand, and he wouldn’t let me go on. And he always sensed when I didn’t understand, and he’d say, “Translate back to me what you understood from what I said.” And then obviously I was all confused, and then he would go over it again and again and again. And this was very, very helpful.
I remember once I was translating for His Holiness the Dalai Lama in front of about ten thousand people, and I translated something and His Holiness says into his microphone, “Hahaha, he just made a mistake.” And you feel like a tiny little ant and you just want to crawl under the carpet, and you have to just continue, without getting flustered or upset. And this is the great guru that teaches you – by exposing your faults in front of so many people – not to have this whole self-consciousness and ego trip and “poor me” and so on, but to keep your composure and go on. So this is the greatest teacher that gives you that circumstance to really test yourself.
Verse seventeen, from Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices:
(17) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if someone, our equal or inferior,
Were to try to demean us out of the power of his arrogance,
To receive him on the crown of our heads respectfully, like a guru.
So someone who obviously has less qualities than ourselves, but is very, very arrogant, and is criticizing us and putting us down, again, not be even more arrogant toward this person. But to accept them like our guru of patience, because they’re just being like a little child.
So these are the situations in which we can grow, in which we can practice. Therefore such people are like a treasure chest that we found, or they’re like our child, our sick child, or they’re like our guru. These are the ways of looking at others in these situations.
Question: [inaudible] As a little child?
Alex: They’re acting like a little child. When a kid says, “Oh, you’re stupid, I know better,” well of course they don’t know better, but what are you going to do? “Oh, you little worm, you don’t know anything.” That doesn’t help at all. And especially what’s helpful is when somebody who is your inferior – I don’t mean a judgmental inferior, but somebody who is younger, who doesn’t have as much experience or knowledge or things like that – when they point out things to you, to thank them for pointing it out. Even though they might not have as much experience and know as much as you, sometimes they have very good suggestions. And even if they do it arrogantly, still, “Thank you.”
And actually the way to deal with that is – I can think of examples that I’ve had in my own life – you don’t want to increase their arrogance and ego in terms of doing that, so what I’ve tried to do is, you thank them and then you explain it much more deeply than they would understand it. “Yes,” you say, “This is a very good point,” and then you explain it in much more detail to them, that they didn’t even understand the implications of what they were saying, and in a very gentle way you help them over their arrogance.
But to get back to the point in the beginning of this verse, which is:
[Even if] someone whom I have helped
And from whom I harbor great expectations
Were to harm me completely unfairly,
This brings up the point of, is it appropriate to have great expectations for those whom we have helped? Even if that expectation is a “thank you,” let alone that they’re going to pay us back. And if we look at the Seven-Point Attitude-Training by Chaykawa, the Seven-Point Lojong, he has at the end eighteen close-bonding practices, and the eighth of them is: “Rid myself of hopes for fruits.” In other words, we need to rid ourselves, get rid of, any hope that we’re going to get some results from helping this person, or a “thank you,” or anything like that. And in fact, the twenty-second of the twenty-two points for training in this Seven-Point Attitude-Training is: “Don’t wish for any thanks.” So we help others, we teach others, simply in order to help them, not in order to be thanked or anything like that.
And it’s very interesting, I remember once with Serkong Rinpoche, we were in Italy, and people often made offerings to him of money and so on. The custom is to always put it in an envelope. And some people would make big shows out of presenting an offering, and in the West we’re so gross – well it’s not just in the West, I mean in India as well – you have, “This patron donated this much and that one donated that one.” The Tibetans even read it out like that at the pujas. Somebody gets up and reads out a whole list of who offered what for the puja, and that really is not the spirit here of you offered so that you’re going to be honored.
And I remember this one time that we were in Italy, and this man came in and saw Serkong Rinpoche and spoke with him and so on, and as he left, he very discreetly put an envelope with quite a large offering just on the table on the side, without making any show or anything like that, anonymously giving the offering. And Serkong Rinpoche pointed out that this is the best way to make the offering. Don’t make a big show. You’re not doing it for thanks; you’re not doing it for an acknowledgment or anything like that. Getting a “thank you” isn’t going to give you more merit, more positive force. You get the positive force from making the offering, not from getting the “thank you.” In fact, if you expect a “thank you,” then the motivation is not terribly pure.
Now, this doesn’t mean that when somebody else does something kind toward us, that we don’t thank them. That is something which is very helpful – I mean again it depends on the culture. For Indians, for example, what I learned is that Indians find it very insulting to be thanked for things that naturally they’re going to do to help us. This is what my Indian friends explained to me. If you thank them, it implies that you didn’t think that they would open the door for you, or serve you a nice meal, or something like that. So it is an insult, “Oh, thank you. I thought that you’d never do anything like that for me.” Because they explain it in terms of this whole Indian concept of duty, “I’m doing my duty to serve you.” But for Westerners, that’s not the case. And so I think it is not just polite, but nice to show one’s appreciation with the “thank you.”
From the side of the person who’s helped, or taught, or whatever, they should on the one hand be “like a tiger with grass,” as they say, not be so excited about it, but on the other hand be appreciative. If somebody pays us a compliment, say “Thank you. I’m happy it could be of some help.”
Participant: [inaudible] In the West, people do make anonymous donations.
Alex: “In the West people do make anonymous donations” – that’s very true. The point not being to make the donations, so that we become famous as the big donor, and we have something named after us; a building named after us is not the point.
Participant: [inaudible] ….charity is thought best without making a show. I saw someone in Morocco giving money to a beggar in a hidden fashion and when I asked, he said that thanks will come from Allah, you don’t expect it from the other person.
Alex: So, Karsten gave the example that in Christianity and Islam as well, we have this idea that charity is best without making a show. In Morocco he saw someone who gave money to a beggar, and he did that not holding the money our so that everybody could see, but in a hidden fashion, and he said that the thanks will come from Allah, we don’t expect it form the other person. So this is a similar idea, that our merit or positive force doesn’t get stronger by means of the other person saying “thank you” to us. But if you do say “thank you,” mean it, not this like in Mexico, “Marvilloso!” this old, over-exaggerated, “This was the most wonderful thing in the world, it was incredibly helpful,” which doesn’t mean anything. So there are two extremes. Some cultures don’t say anything, you have no idea that anything you did was helpful; and the others just make such a big show of it that you can’t believe it. It doesn’t mean anything either.
So, it might be helpful to think – just to finish this session today – a little bit about, do we expect thanks for our help that we give to others?
And again I’m always reminded of my own experience with my teacher, Serkong Rinpoche, that in the nine years that I served him, he only thanked me twice for the help that I gave him, and I was helping him very, very much all the time. And that I think for me, personally, was helpful. I think for other people it might have been a little bit too heavy, but for me personally that was helpful. Because again, what was I expecting? A pat on the head? To be the good boy, and so on, and wag my tail? Or was I really motivated? – which I was, I must say, I mean this is what motivated me to become a translator – was that I valued so highly the teachings of Serkong Rinpoche and His Holiness the Dalai Lama that it seemed almost criminal that they didn’t have good translators.
When I went first to India there was nothing translated. And so, to be able to make their teachings available to others, because it was so precious, that’s why I served them. Not in order to get a pat on the head. But for people who need encouragement, a “thank you” is helpful. But my point is, we think in terms of, “What do I expect when I’m helping others? Do I expect something in return?” Very interesting, some people say when you help your children or help students and so on, that it shouldn’t be with the hope that they’re going to help you back, but at least with the hope that they’re going to help their children – but even that is an expectation.
Participant: But it’s nice to be thanked.
Alex: That’s right, that’s why I’m saying from our side it’s important to thank others. But for us to expect a “thank you” and then, when we’re not thanked, we get very disappointed or we hang around until they thank us, sort of uncomfortably.
Alex: Karsten says sometimes when people say “thank you” to us, we might feel uncomfortable with that and dismissing it very light, that also makes the other person feel uncomfortable – yes, it’s very true. When somebody says, “Thank you,” say, “You’re welcome.” This is what we say in English at least, “You’re welcome, I’m happy that it was useful to you.” It’s like when somebody gives us something, one of the bodhisattva vows is to accept it, not to refuse it, because we’re allowing the other person to build up some positive force by giving something, by doing something for us, even if it’s not something that we want. We give others the opportunity to practice and develop generosity.
It’s like when a little kid, a three-year-old, draws you a picture, and you just think, “It’s a piece of junk and I’ll throw it in the garbage,” nevertheless you accept it. I mean this is really quite significant for helping to develop the character of the child, to allow them to give and to show appreciation. And then if they’re continuing to give us something, as Serkong Rinpoche did with me, he said, “Don’t bring me these stupid katas [ceremonial scarves], I don’t need more katas, and this junk that you bring to me. If you want to bring me something, bring me something that I like.” And then he told, “I liked bananas,…”… bring him something that he liked. People give so much junk to these lamas. How many katas and how many boxes of incense do they need?
An example, somebody gives you something really junky, you accept it. You don’t have to display it in your house; you don’t have to do anything. You can throw it away, give it away to somebody else, whatever. Tibetan lamas, often they’re given things, sweets and cakes and things which they absolutely dislike, most of them, and they just give it to the next person who comes in.
But once I saw with Serkong Rinpoche, we were traveling in the West, and there was this family there that we were staying with then, and the mother was so into pleasing him and so on, and she made a cake, a chocolate cake or something like that, which I know that Rinpoche didn’t like. He didn’t like sweets or anything, but he ate a little piece to show his appreciation. He told his assistant to get the recipe for the cake, “Because it was so good.” It made the mother feel so happy that she was able to do something that pleased him. We got the cake, as the attendants.
OK, so just for one or two minutes, let’s examine ourselves: when we help others, or do things for others, do we expect a “thank you?” What do we expect?
So, let’s end with a dedication. We think whatever positive force has come from all of this, may it act as a cause for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all.
Good. Thank you.
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