The Berzin Archives

The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

Switch to the Text Version of this page. Jump to main navigation.

Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 4: Deepening the Understanding of the Path > Working with Mental Factors in Daily Life > Session Three: Exercises Focusing These factors on Others and on Ourselves

Working with Mental Factors in Daily Life

Alexander Berzin
Riga, Latvia, August 2011

Session Three: Exercises Focusing These factors on Others and on Ourselves

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:47 hours)

Background

We are continuing our discussion here of how to adjust our mental factors within the context of developing balanced sensitivity.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaks of different aspects of Buddhism, and he differentiates Buddhist science from Buddhist religion and Buddhist philosophy. Buddhist science and Buddhist philosophy are things that can be of general use to anybody. And Buddhist religion – referring to the devotional type of practices, refuge, these sorts of things – that is in the realm of Buddhist religion, which is for a Buddhist audience. His Holiness feels that Buddhism has a great deal to offer to the general public, to the world, without it necessarily being within a Buddhist religious context.

I think that this material about balanced sensitivity fits into that category of Buddhist science. It is an analysis of how the mind works, what are the different factors that are involved in our interaction with others, with ourselves, in terms of dealing with general problems that everybody faces. And although the material derives from Buddhist sources, it doesn’t necessarily require any understanding of Buddhism in order to put it into practice and benefit from it. What’s very important, however, when studying and learning this type of Buddhist science material is not to reduce all of Buddhism to that so that Buddhism is just another form of psychology. Buddhism of course has teachings on psychology, but it’s much, much more, especially when we speak in terms of past and future lives and liberation and enlightenment and all of that. That obviously is going way beyond the sphere of what we normally associate with psychology, and those aspects are very integral parts of Buddhism. So as long as we recognize Buddhist science for what it is, as Buddhist science, then there’s no confusion, and it’s not being unfair or disloyal to Buddhism as a whole system or Buddhist religion.

And also, as I explained, this system that I developed – you’re not going to find it in traditional Buddhist sources. You’re going to find each of the little pieces in the Buddhist sources, but the way that it’s put together, the way that it is applied, and so on, is a Western development. And that is perfectly fine if we look in a much larger, historical context, because as Buddhism has developed over history, it has gone into different fields. The main one that I’m thinking of as an example is logic and debate. You didn’t have that originally at the time of the Buddha, but because that was a big theme that was occurring in India many centuries after the Buddha, then Buddhism of course could use logic and debate in order to help people to gain the various spiritual goals that are discussed in Buddhism.

Just to make things a little bit clearer in terms of what we have been studying here, what I’ve been presenting, so that you don’t have confusion about it.

The Importance of Having Balanced Sensitivity When Interacting with Others

Now, we have discussed the ten mental factors that occur in each moment of cognition. Everybody agrees that the first five of them occur in each moment of cognition, and in some presentations all ten of them are present in each moment. So I’m following that latter explanation. And we have seen that each of these mental factors covers a whole spectrum. Like, for instance, paying attention – almost no attention (or very, very little attention) to paying 100% attention. Which means that we can change the level, either increasing or decreasing any of these factors, as we see fit or to what would be helpful in a situation. And to get a balance of all these factors in our interactions with others and in dealing with ourselves can be very helpful.

And remember our sensitivity field of study has to do with paying attention and responding to situations and to the effect of our behavior – situations of others and ourselves, and the effect of our behavior on others and ourselves. That means that in an interaction with somebody, first, before we enter into that interaction, it’s very important to check out the situation of the other person: Are they busy? Are they tired? Are they in a good mood, or are they in a bad mood? These are very important in order to be able to have a successful… not a very nice word here, but you know what I mean – that the interaction with the other person goes well. And the same thing in terms of our own situation: I’m going to meet somebody, and do I feel very stressed? Am I still upset about what happened earlier in the day? Am I really tired?

All these things we need to pay attention to, to note, and if it’s possible to change the mood that we’re in, then do that. Because very often what happens in an interaction is that we bring over the mood and whatever it was that was affecting us during the day, and we project it onto the other person. Let’s say we’re upset about something, and then you get upset with this person, which is totally unfair, isn’t it? And if we come home in a bad mood, and we are not really able to change that, then it’s very important to be honest and say to whoever it is that we meet at home, “Listen, I’m in a bad mood. I had a tough day today, and I need a little rest before we interact or have dinner or whatever.” Be perfectly honest. Then it’s much easier. You’re sensitive to the other person and to yourself.

And as we are interacting with somebody, we need to really pay attention to what is the effect of what I’m saying and how I’m acting on the other person and to see: Are they getting uptight? What’s the expression on their face? Are they starting to be a little bit angry? This type of thing is very important in order to have good communication. And then adjust. And similarly to try to pay attention to the effect on myself of how I’m acting with this person, how they’re acting, how that’s affecting me. Is it getting me really uptight? Am I starting to get defensive? These sorts of things it’s very important to pay attention to. And if we’re starting to get defensive, and that’s totally inappropriate, stop.

These sensitivity issues can be very essential in terms of communication and what we can do to make it better. One of the ways, what we’re studying here, learning here, is working with the mental factors.

Exercises with Photographs of Other People

So, as I said, we are going to work now with photos – I put some photos up here from magazines – and then with ourselves to practice how we can change and adjust our mental factors. Also, as I explained, the two wings that all these exercises fly on are the quiet mind and the caring attitude. Now, there are special exercises of course for helping us to develop that quiet mind and the caring attitude, so it’s a little bit unfair, I suppose, to just assume that with no practice you can just do it. But it really is important to be able to get a little bit of this before trying to do this type of adjustment of our mental factors.

So we look at these photos and try to focus on just one at a time. Maybe it might be a little bit better to move them a little bit further apart. If you can’t see so well, come closer.

Now, the first thing, which is probably the most difficult, is to look at these, focus on one at a time, with a quiet mind. That means without making any comments – without comments, without judgments, just open. Quiet means open. And of course you can look at more than just one, but it’s best to focus on just one at a time. And when mental comments come up, if they do, then try to just let go. And one of the easiest methods for that is to imagine that it is leaving you as you breathe out. And what is helpful with that is to have your hand in a fist and then to just open it up, and in that type of movement let go and breathe out.

And then we add on to that what we call the caring attitude. “You’re a human being, and you have feelings, just as I do. The way I treat you, the way I speak to you, is going to affect your feelings, just as the way that you speak to me and treat me is going to affect my feelings. Therefore I take you and your feelings seriously. I care about you and your feelings.” You can see there’s a certain level of respect that’s part of this caring attitude. “So I’m not going to make up stories about you. I’m not going to comment about you. I’m not going to prejudge you. And I care about you. I care about your feelings.” So that’s the basic state of mind that we approach others with, ideally – open and caring, nonjudgmental.

And now we try to consciously generate a motivated urge to look at the person because we feel concern. So there’s an urge now to relate to the person. We’re going to meet them. We need to talk to them. When you walk into the room, it’s not that you’re going to ignore this person; now you have to deal with this person. So the urge, like a magnet, will draw you into: “Now I’m going to deal with this person,” whether you want to or not. That’s why I say you can generate that urge even if you don’t want to interact with this person. Let’s say you are working in a store and they come to buy something from you. You need to have that motivated urge that: “Now I’m going to deal with this person.”

And then distinguish various aspects of how the person looks and what he or she is doing. So the expression on their face, for example. You don’t have to give it a name. You don’t have to say it. But this is what we distinguish in looking at the person, as opposed to distinguishing what they’re wearing. And in distinguishing it, we pay attention to it as something meaningful – not just something interesting, but something meaningful for helping us to know how to approach the person.

And try to feel that it is pleasant to come in contact with this person, who is another human being you can have some meaningful interaction with. As it says in the Buddhist teachings, we need to regard each person that we meet like a precious gem. “Here is somebody that could become my best friend, that could help me in all sorts of ways. And I could help them. You never know.”

Then we generate the interest to try to understand what he or she is feeling by reaffirming our concern to relate to the person. And note that the more interested we become, then naturally our mindfulness and concentration increase. In other words, our attention keeps hold of this person and stays there the more interested we become.

Then, with discrimination, try to decide what mood the person is in and whether this is a good time to talk. And then consciously set the intention to approach or delay the meeting accordingly, to adjust the meeting accordingly. What are we going to talk about? If it’s something deep and meaningful, now might not be the time.

Obviously how we would relate and speak to the little boy [would be quite different from how we would relate and speak to an adult.]

These are the types of things we need to discriminate. And then we can adjust our way of relating. We intend to relate on the level that is appropriate to this person.

If we had to explain something to each of these people, we would probably have to explain it in a different way to each of these, wouldn’t we, or at least to some of them? And to be able to do that of course depends on being able to distinguish who they are, what their characteristics are, what kind of mood they’re in. Actually caring about communicating with them, and discriminating what would be appropriate and what wouldn’t be appropriate, and then intending to speak in that way, explain in that way.

So just focusing on one person:

  • No comments, no judgments, no stories.
  • “I care about you. I care about your feelings.”Motivated urge to relate to you.
  • Distinguishing.
  • Attention.
  • Contacting awareness.
  • Feeling.
  • Interest.
  • Mindfulness, concentration.
  • Discrimination.
  • Intention.

By the way, this thing of the pleasant contacting awareness and happiness – when you adjust that, one of the things that you have to notice is in yourself: What’s going on with my brow? Is it sort of wrinkled up, looking to the other person as if I’m angry or tense or nervous? Are my shoulders up? What’s my body language like? And to relax: “This is pleasant. This is okay.” For example, if somebody comes to see you and you’re sitting with your arms crossed and sort of a wrinkled look on your eyebrows, it looks very judgmental and that you are closed and the other person can’t approach you. If your arms are down and your brow is relaxed, it’s much more welcoming. So the body language really communicates quite a lot. Obviously in different situations different types of body language are appropriate. When you’re getting together to play a rough sport, your body language is quite different from when you’re together with somebody and sitting and having a chat.

So one last time, with a different person, quiet mind. Also it’s very interesting to note what our prejudices are. Because very often you find that you’re naturally more open to one or another of these photos. And just from the way that somebody looks, you tend to be a little bit more closed. That’s very interesting to note in yourself. So it’s helpful to practice this with one of these photos that you really didn’t particularly want to look at and you wouldn’t really want to meet this person. Then already you have some prejudice just simply on the basis of what they look like, which is quite odd, isn’t it? And it could be based on age, it could be based on gender, it could be based on cultural background, many things. So please try to choose someone that is a little bit difficult for you.

So:

  • Quiet mind.
  • Caring attitude.
  • Motivated urge to relate.
  • Distinguishing.
  • Attention.
  • Pleasant contacting awareness.
  • At least a low feeling of happiness, which means, basically, relax.
  • Interest.
  • Mindfulness and concentration.
  • Discrimination.
  • Intention.

Okay, let’s just take a moment to quiet down from that.

Questions and Answers

Are there any questions or comments?

Dealing with Mental Verbalizing and Hearing Music in Our Heads

Question: I recognized that I started commenting before you said to please don’t do any comments. How should we deal with such an attitude?

Alex: Right. So he says he finds that he was making comments even before I said, “No comments.” Well, of course. That’s why I said, “No comments.” For many of us it’s like we are a radio broadcaster at a sports event and we’re describing and commenting on everything that goes on. The first thing of course is to recognize that we’re doing that and to realize and understand that actually it makes a barrier between ourselves and others. It’s like there’s a little me sitting in the back of my head commenting all the time, and so I’m not really directly relating to people or situations or whatever’s going on around me. So we need to see the disadvantage of it.

Also it’s important to realize that understanding and mentally verbalizing are not necessarily the same. You can understand something without having to verbally express it in your head. I can understand that a situation is dangerous. Let’s say that you want to cross the street and there’s a lot of traffic. You understand that it’s dangerous and you have to be careful. You don’t have to say that in your head in order to understand that, do you?

Also what can help for some people, maybe not all, depending on how much low self-esteem you have, is: Let’s say you’re standing to cross the street, and you start to comment, “Wow, what a big truck!” I mean, it’s just stupid. Why do you have to say in your head, “What a big truck!”? As I said, if you have low self-esteem, then it could be putting yourself down, so that’s not so helpful. But if you think about it – I mean, what’s the use of saying that this is a big truck? Of course it’s a big truck.

But where I find it much more difficult to quiet the mind than when we’re just talking in our heads is with a song or melody that goes through our head over and over and over again. This is, I think, one of the most difficult things to quiet down.

Participant: Typically you don’t even like the song.

Alex: Well, yes. It could be something you don’t like. Or actually there’s a certain attachment that causes you to sing one particular song and not another. It could be an association – something that you used to like when you were a teenager, or whatever. So for that you really have to become disgusted with it.

For myself, what I find helpful to get disgusted with it is to think that I’m just being like a cricket, this small insect – not so small – that when the sun goes down, just automatically makes this really loud horrible noise. It has no control over it. So “I’m like a cricket.” That often helps. In fact you find that often in Buddhist material: You make a ridiculous example, and when you see how ridiculous it is, that helps you to overcome it.

The method of letting go is usually not that effective in dealing with a song. There are deeper levels of methods that you can use coming from mahamudra and dzogchen teachings, but they’re not that easy to apply:

  • For mahamudra, you have this image of being the ocean, and this song or whatever is like a wave on the ocean, and you try to feel being the whole ocean and the wave settling down.
  • The dzogchen method is to try to imagine this music, the notes, the words of the song, being like writing on water: it arises and disappears simultaneously.

Try that with a verbal sentence: “I wonder what time it is.” Say it very slowly in your minds, one syllable at a time, and imagine it like writing on water – that as you say it, it disappears. [And just let it flow naturally. Don’t force anything.] What happens? It just stops, doesn’t it? You really would have to put a great deal of effort to get the next syllable. So this is a dzogchen method, and it’s very effective but requires a bit of training and discipline. Actually the most difficult aspect is to remember to apply it. So you say, “This is stupid. I’m like an insect. This is absurd,” and then apply a method.

Another method, much easier to apply and also effective, is instead of fighting that verbal energy in your mind, to flip it, in a sense, and harness that verbal energy to recite a mantra instead. That requires a lot of effort. It’s actually quite interesting when you try it because then it’s almost like a fight between the two. Which is going to be stronger, that song trying to come back up again or the mantra? And you really have to keep that mantra going for a long time before you stop the mantra so the song doesn’t come back.

Question: What’s the difference between the mantra and the song?

Alex: What’s the difference between the mantra and the song? The mantra at least is a steady rhythm. Well, you could say the song is a steady rhythm. But it has, associated with the mantra – let’s say if you’re doing “Om mani padme hum” – compassion, so you try to focus on compassion. It’s not just like a tape recorder reciting a mantra. Put the whole thing together with visualization or at least a feeling of compassion if you are doing “Om mani padme hum,” let’s say, or a feeling of clarity of mind if you’re doing Manjushri’s mantra.

Although in theory you could harness your verbal energy to do anything, and it probably would be just as effective. For instance, to count to a hundred in your head. That probably would also stop the song by the time you got to a hundred. But if you’re going to use your mind to do something else to get you out of singing a song, you might as well use it for something more constructive than counting to a hundred.

Okay. Any other questions or comments?

Question: Should we also stop this mental verbalizing when we are trying to generate intention, for example, and when we are analyzing whether we should approach the person, and so forth?

Alex: Optimally we should be able to function completely without mental verbalization. We’re able to do very complex tasks without having to verbalize each step that we’re doing. I mean, if you drive a car, you’re not verbalizing every tiny little thing: “Now I’m going to turn the wheel this number of centimeters.” You certainly don’t verbalize that and all the rules that you have to follow while you’re driving. Or the same thing while you’re using the computer: “Now I’m going to press down this key with that finger and now that key with that finger.” You certainly don’t verbalize that. But there’s intention involved, there’s discrimination, there’s distinguishing one key from another. All these mental factors are working there.

I mean, actually one can go deeper here in the analysis. What is behind this verbalization – besides habit, of course, which keeps it going – is the belief that if I verbalize it, I make it real. As in: “I have to say, ‘I love you,’ in order for it to be real. And now I have to hear from you, ‘I love you,’ in order for it to be real.” So that’s very, very interesting to analyze. Does verbalizing something make it more real? Think about that a moment. And I think the one that’s the strongest is in terms of: “I love you.”

Of course out of consideration to the other person, one would say, “I love you.” That’s not the problem. The problem is when it becomes obsessive, compulsive, that I have to say that, and then I get really upset if you don’t say that to me every day. Then you have a problem.

Being Flexible in Our Interactions

Question: I suppose different people discriminate these processes differently. These are projections or what?

Alex: Different people discriminate differently. Are these different projections? Well, discriminate, for instance, what to do, what is the mood, and so on?

Participant: Yes

Alex: Of course we would each discriminate differently because we don’t have complete information. So yes, part of that is projection. Only a Buddha would have complete information.

I think the analogy of a card game is helpful here. What we need to do is at least to have some idea of which is the first card for us to play. But then, in terms of the interaction and asking for more information and so on, we either validate what our discrimination was or we change it. But in an interaction you have to know what’s the first card to play, don’t you? But don’t plan out your whole strategy beforehand, and then you’re inflexible – “It has to be like this.” You have to always be very, very flexible in an interchange with others.

And the same thing just in terms of being by ourselves. I’m in a bad mood. So we discriminate: “Okay, I’m in a bad mood” and why, or whatever. That can sometimes be helpful. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter. And we have some strategy to try to change the mood that we’re in. Well, one of the teachings that’s involved in concentration meditation is to know when to stop applying the opponent. So you see: “Well, now I’m feeling better, so I don’t have to continue eating or taking a break or whatever it is.”

Exercises Aimed at Ourselves

Okay, let’s do the exercise aimed at ourselves.

Have you brought mirrors? How many people don’t have a mirror? Most people don’t have a mirror. Okay. So I brought two mirrors. That’s not going to help very much. There are two phases of this practice – one with a mirror, one without a mirror. So for those who do not have a mirror, I can give these two mirrors to you. Well, I was worried about that actually – that I have two mirrors, and is it better not to give them to two people but to just keep them for myself, because people would feel, “Well, why did he give it to these people and not to me?” But the easiest, laziest thing is to just give it to the two people that are closest to where I’m sitting.

So distinguishing. What am I distinguishing here? Answer.

In choosing who to give the mirrors to, what am I distinguishing?

Participant: Interest.

Alex: Interest from the people? No. A lot of people raised their hands to show that they didn’t have a mirror. What did I distinguish?

Participant: Initiative?

Alex: Initiative? No. I distinguished who was sitting closest to me. I didn’t distinguish who was the prettiest. I didn’t distinguish which are the women, which are the men. There are a lot of things I could have distinguished in order to choose who I give the mirrors to – somebody I like, somebody that I know. There are many things you could distinguish. So I just distinguished who was sitting closest to me.

Participant: But first you distinguished what is more fair.

Alex: No, that was discrimination. I discriminated what was more fair, to keep it for myself or to give it to somebody else, but it was based on distinguishing what to do with these mirrors. And then with certainty the decision, “Okay, I’m going to give it to others.”

But as I said, there are many things that you could distinguish here. Who could I trust that will give me back the mirror and not keep it, for example.

Question: Why we are analyzing so much about whether we should give it or not when we can simply just give it to somebody?

Alex: That’s true. Now here’s the problem. It’s that some people might feel very hurt and jealous that I gave it to someone else and not to them. And here we’re just using this as an example to illustrate what is the factor of distinguishing. It’s not such a big deal. You see, the method that one wants to learn from all of this is to be able to deconstruct any experience that’s happening into all the component mental factors and to then see that I can adjust this one or that one to improve the situation. The main thing to learn is to be able to analyze, to deconstruct.

So what is the intention? The intention to give the mirror to somebody else. When I go into a situation, do I have any intention? What is my intention? And to then adjust. If my intention was to apologize to you, then I have to distinguish are you open to receiving my apology or are you really still in a very, very, aggressive state of mind. Then I have to use some slightly different tactic, maybe avoid the whole topic for the moment. So my intention is to apologize. I want to apologize. But now I have to change my intention to not making it worse, for example, by saying something now. Let you cool down. So it’s by knowing what to adjust, what to change.

Participant: But that’s just a mental exercise. It won’t come from the heart.

Alex: With training and familiarity it does come naturally from the heart. Anything that we do, you have to train. We learn to play a musical instrument, to drive a car, whatever. In the beginning it is artificial. That’s just the nature of how you train to do something. Then it becomes natural. To play the piano you always have to look at the keys in the beginning, or to type you always have to look at the keys, but then after a while you know, and so it’s just natural; you don’t even have to look.

Okay. So if you have a mirror, then use the mirror. If you don’t have a mirror, it doesn’t matter. Yes, you have a mirror with two sides, and one makes it magnified. That’s interesting. Now, for most of us, to look at ourselves in the mirror and not make a comment is very challenging. Remember, don’t go on the trip of “Beauty and the Beast”: “I’m the beauty, and ugh this is the beast in the mirror. That’s not me.”

  • The basic start, then, is to just quiet down. If you don’t have a mirror, also quiet the mind.
  • And then the caring attitude. “I’m a human being, like everybody else. I have feelings, like everybody else. The way I treat myself affects my feelings, how I feel. It affects the mood I’m in. So I take myself seriously. I care about myself. I care about my feelings. I care about how I treat myself.”
  • Then we have the motivated urge, out of concern for ourselves, to sort of check: “How am I doing? How do I feel?”\
  • And we try to distinguish various aspects. If we’re looking in a mirror: “How do I look? Do I look tired? Do I look stressed?” Even without a mirror: “How do I feel? Do I feel tired? Do I feel stressed? Do I feel nervous? Do I feel frightened?”
  • And pay attention to what we distinguish as being meaningful, important. We have to deal with it. And try not to verbalize. That’s difficult, I know.
  • And try to find paying attention to this as something pleasant. “I’m happy to have some idea of how I’m feeling, and I am happy to be with myself. I’m at peace. I’m happy that I’m taking the time to check how I’m doing.”
  • And reaffirm or generate the interest to understand what I’m feeling by reaffirming my concern about myself. So naturally my attention stays there with mindfulness and concentration.
  • And then discrimination about what I could do to improve the situation if something is not in order. It could be taking a rest, relaxing more, working harder, getting help if I need help, whatever it might be.
  • And the intention to implement that, to put it into practice and actually do it.

So:

  • Quiet mind.
  • Caring attitude.Motivated by that care, the urge to check up and deal with how I’m doing.
  • Distinguishing.
  • Attention.
  • Pleasant contacting awareness. Happiness.
  • Interest, mindfulness, and concentration.
  • Discrimination.
  • Intention.

And if you’ve been using the mirror, please put the mirror down and repeat without the mirror:

  • Quiet mind.
  • Caring attitude.
  • Motivated urge.
  • Distinguishing.
  • Attention: “This is meaningful.”
  • Pleasant contacting awareness.
  • Low level of happiness that we’re actually dealing with ourselves and our situations. So relax your shoulders, relax your brow.
  • Interest, mindfulness, and concentration.
  • Discrimination about what I need to do.
  • And the intention to do it in order to feel more balanced in my life.

With training we’re able to do this at any time and all at once. In other words, if we’re in a situation and we’re feeling very stressed, just notice what we’re feeling and do whatever we need to do in order to relax and not feel so stressed. Or if we’re feeling very excited and it’s not appropriate – we’re getting more and more angry, and it’s maybe frightening the other person – notice that and see: “I’m interested in changing that. I have an intention to change that. I distinguish that and I discriminate what I need to do, which is slow down, not speak so quickly, lower my tone of voice.” And then do it. Intention to do it.

And in fact we are perfectly capable of doing that, because if you drive a car or you ride a bicycle, you’re doing that all the time – in terms of adjusting to the speed of the other cars or the road or whatever. We use all these mental factors, and we adjust it, and we don’t have to go through a very detailed process because we just do it almost instantaneously. So this is what we want to be able to train ourselves to do in our interactions with others and even while we’re just sitting and working or whatever in terms of how I’m feeling, how tense I might be, and so on.

But as I’ve mentioned several times, we need to do this without this feeling of a separate me. It’s not as though there’s a separate me sitting in the car, or sitting on the bicycle, driving and adjusting. Just do it. There’s not some little me sitting inside our head at the control booth and pressing the buttons.

So any final questions or comments?

Dealing with Unpleasant Situations

Question: If we’re going to meet somebody who in the past has always created a very unpleasant situation or has unpleasant feelings toward us, how do we deal with that?

Alex: First of all, our attitude: As we go into the situation, although there’s the pattern that they have always been very negative toward us, that doesn’t mean that they definitely will always be negative toward us. On the other hand, we have to be careful because probably they will be negative toward us. But we need to be open to the fact that they could change.

Now, one of the trainings is to realize that this person who’s always negative toward me is also a human being and wants to be happy, doesn’t want to be unhappy, just like me. And they are negative toward me because obviously something is bothering them. They’re unhappy. You can’t be happy while being negative, unless you’re a sadist or something like that, which then also is another set of problems. But basically something is really disturbing this person, why they are acting in this way. And so, as a person, I wish they would stop. So that means that we wish that they would be happy. That’s the definition of love, the wish for them to be happy. So instead of having the attitude of hurting them back, or just running away, at least the basic foundation is: “I wish that they could be happy so that they would be in a better mood and treat me better.” So there’s a little bit of self-interest there.

Then what are the causes for them to have this negative attitude toward me? Is it something in me, my behavior? Or is it some factors from their side? Now, if it’s something on my side, and if it’s something that I can change, and it’s reasonable to change, then change. If it’s not reasonable to change… Let’s say, for instance, that I got the job and they didn’t get the job. That’s obviously not something that you can change. It’s just a fact. But if it’s something that is on my side and it can be changed, then you change, if it’s reasonable. And if it’s something that you can’t change or it’s something from their side that’s always putting them in a bad mood – well, worrying about it and getting upset about it is not going to help. You can’t really change it. So you try to avoid provoking them. Just keep a low profile, in a sense. If you know what is going to make them even more upset, don’t do that. Don’t rub it in, we say. The strategy depends on the situation. Are they jealous of us? Or are they angry with what I did? If they’re angry with what you did, apologize.

Participant: It’s almost the same as escaping.

Alex: Try to escape? Well, if there’s nothing you can do to actually change the situation, then sure, try to avoid it. So escape in that sense. But if there is something that you can do, don’t run away. Try to improve the situation.

One line that I find very, very helpful is: “Not everybody liked the Buddha. So what do I expect for myself, that everybody is going to like me?” So there are people that don’t like me. There are people that are jealous of me. There are people who whatever. That’s life. What can you do?

So if there is something you can do, do it. If there’s something that you can’t do, then don’t worry. Just try to avoid them. Not so easy when it’s a member of your family, or so on, that you can’t really avoid.

Conclusion

Okay, that brings us to the end. And as I have said, the main thing to try to learn from all of this is that sensitivity is really an important issue – not to be oversensitive, not to be insensitive. Like, for instance, regarding ourselves:

  • Not to be oversensitive, that every minute I’m checking, and then this attitude that I have to tell everybody what I feel, I have to share it with the world, as if anybody really cares how we feel about this or that. They don’t, unfortunately. But sometimes you need to share. I mean, you need to tell somebody that: “What you said yesterday really hurt me. I really feel badly about that.” Sometimes that is absolutely necessary.
  • But on the other hand, not to be insensitive. You don’t have to, as I said, broadcast it on your Facebook page, that: “What this other person told me yesterday, I really feel hurt about that.” You don’t have to broadcast that to the world. On the other hand, you may have to say that to that person. But also don’t be insensitive to not really pay attention to that in yourself, because it could grow stronger and stronger – a grudge and feeling hurt and so on – and jeopardize many things in your life.

So balancing our sensitivity in terms of ourselves, others, situations, the effect of our behavior, and so on, can make life go much more easily.

And if we are practicing in the context of a Buddhist spiritual path, these are very important skills that we need to learn. Our aim, the motivation, is to be able to learn this, to practice this, in order to be of best help to everybody and reach liberation, reach enlightenment.

So we end with a dedication. Whatever understanding, whatever positive energy has come from this, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause to reach enlightenment. We do this in a Buddhist sense, to be of best help to everyone, with a more balanced sensitivity.

Thank you very much.