I’m not a big fan of people—that’s one of the reasons why I practice in the Chan hermit tradition.
Zen practice doesn’t necessarily make us all, “I love everyone.” It can, sure, if that’s our True Nature. But compassion looks different in each of us, so it’s impossible to form a prototype of what a Good Buddhist or meditator is supposed to look like.
Much of the time, compassion for me is about having an open door but not seeking company, remaining a part of people’s lives, and not verbally slapping the crap out of everyone.
People have either ignored me or treated me like garbage throughout most of my life, with a few exceptions. I’m surrounded by a small circle of excellent friends, family, mentors, and mentees. I love being alone, and I love being outdoors.
Most of my interactions with people are through the interwebs, especially now that I’m not working and spend most of my days reading and writing. But even online, you still run into assholes. Even more so than in person, really.
The Buddha’s advice for dealing with difficult people was pretty much, “Don’t,” but we don’t always have that option. In that case, his advice was basically, “Suck it up, and be mindful of your thoughts and feelings.”
When someone insults me, there’s immediately a whiz of activity in the mind. There’s definitely aggravation and the urge to retaliate. Sometimes an insulting retort will appear, sometimes not. Occasionally, there might even be a little hurt and sadness.
Instead of letting those emotions dictate our thoughts, words, and behavior, we’re supposed to learn from them and observe their True Nature. They’re impermanent, and they depend on self-interest. When we see that, it isn’t an invitation to wallow in, “Oh no, guess I’m not a Buddha yet.” It’s just an observation.
At the same time, we can remember that people don’t see us—they see their version of us. Without fully functioning empathy, that’s all we can see. People see words and behaviors and they deduce our thoughts, feelings, and motives through them. These deductions are often skewed by their own self-interest, so they’re actually just projections we come to through a, “If I said or did that, it’d be because of this,” type of reasoning.
Instead of walking in someone else’s shoes, we try to put them in ours.
In Zen, we’re all barefoot. I don’t need someone to walk in my shoes, because I’m not wearing any. So if someone says, “Wow, dumb shoes, John,” then they’re clearly tripping on acid. There’s no need for me to take things like that personally or hold that insult against others.
When we carry an insult with us, that’s like picking up the person who insulted us and walking around with them on our backs all day.
That said, a well placed, “Fuck you,” isn’t always out of the question I don’t think. Sometimes it is appropriate to trade a jab for a jab, but only if it could somehow snap the other person out of their train-of-thought. I usually go with silence, a joke, or playful sarcasm.
If you do resort to a, “Fuck you,” it’s best to leave it there, not carry it around later. It’s a waste of time and energy carrying such things, or crossing oceans just because we were offended by someone.
The Buddha said that, whenever we’re insulted, it’s because we’re working off our karmic debt. In that classical Buddhist worldview, hardship is welcomed. Each stubbed toe or bruised ego is a bill we’re paying. If we accept it as that and don’t respond unskillfully, then our balance is $0.
I’m a neo-classical Buddhist though. I don’t think that someone calling me an idiot is paying off a past misdeed. I think people can just be assholes because they’re suffering and looking for relief wherever they can find it. For some people, relieving that tension means hopping on Facebook and shitting all over people.
Whenever I get pissed off at someone for not being decent, that means I was staking my peace of mind on people following my own code of ethics. That’s a risky bet. As we practice, the practice itself can offer that peace of mind and satisfaction so we don’t have to rely on the surroundings to give it to us.
As we practice, a FB troll’s insult becomes more and more like a mosquito trying to bite an iron ox, or someone trying to stab a river. Eventually, we don’t even notice.
Also, an insult and a compliment both have the same Nature. So the less puffed up we get from compliments, the less frustrated or hurt we’re going to be by insults.
A part of taking control of minds involves no longer letting others control our minds. People control our minds through praise and criticism. A vast portion of who we think we are is really other people telling us who we are.
To see our True Nature, we have to see through the illusory natures that have been forced on us since we were kids. A huge part of depression and anxiety come from us wearing outfits that don’t fit. So we take off our shoes, and strip down to our birthday suits, or we suddenly see that—even with shoes on—we’ve always been barefoot.