Behind The Mask ~ THIS SIDE

Some years ago, I was invited to give a Dharma-talk in a small temple somewhere. Never having been there before, however, I didn’t know what to expect, so went with an open mind, but was a bit surprised to find that the room which had been allocated to me was completely bare; there was no bed, nor even a sleeping-mat or pillow; moreover, the linoleum-covered floor had not even been swept and was quite dusty. It was interesting to observe my reaction to this form of welcome: I watched thoughts of annoyance arise and pass through my mind; it is rather rude and disrespectful to invite someone to speak and then treat him like this, I thought, especially as the custom is just the opposite. But such thoughts were quickly followed by one more compelling: "I came here to give a Dharma-talk", I thought, "not to live comfortably. It is up to me to make what I can of the situation. I have slept on floors many times—I’ve even slept on the bare ground, and even in the rain and snow!—so this is nothing to me!

My talk that evening flowed, and was well-received, and I was not sorry I had gone there. Moreover, by the time it came to sleep, the floor had been swept and a mat and pillow provided, but even if they had not been, I would still have managed to sleep, following the successful talk.

If we grow used to preferential treatment, and expect it as our due wherever we go, we shall often be disappointed, as there are many impolite people in the world. Is it our right, as monks, to always be treated respectfully? Many monks and lay-Buddhists obviously think so, but such thinking is corrosive. If we were to become upset when we do not receive the kind of treatment we think we should get, how would it be possible to carry on? If we often have to swallow our pride, it is because the pride is there in the first place; were it not there to begin with, we would not have to swallow it.

This is not to condone ill-manners, of course; certainly not. And it is one thing to show disrespect to a person, and another for a Buddhist to disrespect the Dharma. It is perhaps time that something were said about this, as it is harmful to the one who so shows disrespect. The above-mentioned case was not the only time I have been invited to talk and been rudely received; it has happened a number of times, and for the sake of helping people to avoid doing this in future—not just towards myself, but towards anyone—I would like to say (though I’m sorry I feel it necessary to say it), that without due respect for the Dharma, it is better not to invite anyone to give Dharma-talks, as the basis for success will not be there. There must be respect towards the Dharma.

We are often confronted with rudeness, either deliberate or unintentional. Why are we—and let’s not separate ourselves from the masses too soon here, as most, if not all of us are rude at times—ill-mannered and impolite? It comes back to the tap-root of all our troubles: Ignorance. This can be conscious, as when we are deliberately rude and wish to offend someone, or unconscious, as when we show bad manners without knowing it or intending to. Either way, it can be traced back to ignorance, or not understanding.

I will not tell much of the unequal way I was treated in the place I was staying when I first wrote this (in 1994), as it might seem that I was dissatisfied with my conditions when I was actually very grateful, having all that I needed, but something said about it might serve a useful purpose. It was noticed—by others as well as myself—that I, as a Westerner, received less-than-equal treatment compared to the Asian monks there, who were treated very ceremoniously and respectfully. There really was a distinction, which might almost be considered racist. However, I did not really mind this, and actually prefer to be disregarded than to be made such a fuss over. Perhaps the reason for the disparity in treatment was because I do not, as a Westerner, come from a traditional Buddhist background, and because I am not much concerned with tradition, considering the Buddha’s Way to be something to live by rather than a thing of tradition; I avoid ceremony and show whenever I can. And, as for people not paying much attention to me, well, I realize I do not have something for everyone, and feel that if and when people want what I have to give, they will come for it, like a bee to a flower, not the other way around, and that if they don’t want it, it would be useless for me to try to give it to them. Have I not said elsewhere that this thing must be wanted and not just needed if it is to be of any use? Everyone needs Dharma, but few want it.

This means that I must often keep things to myself, but occasionally, someone comes along who is ready for, and wants, something more than just bowing and chanting in languages that they do not understand, and if they want it, I might be able to provide it. So, I must wait patiently, and try not to force things.

If people are enlightened already, they do not need all this; but those of us who are this side of Enlightenment—which means most of us, of course—will be ill-mannered at times, because we are still ignorant, still in the state of unknowing.

No-one is exempt from being abused and taunted. In the Buddhist scriptures, there are a number of cases of the Buddha Himself having to deal with rude people, but He understood that it was through not understanding that people behave so, and was often able to help them realize their mistakes. Once, when someone scolded Him, He remained calm, as always, and when the man had finished, the Buddha said: "If you offer something to someone and he doesn’t accept it, to whom does the offering belong?" The man replied: "To the one who wished to offer it, of course". The Buddha then said: "In the same way, I do not accept your abuse, so it belongs to you". The man understood, and humbly begged forgiveness. On another occasion, He explained that abuse not accepted falls back on the abuser like dust thrown into the wind.

Since we are, as I have said, this side of Enlightenment, it is hardly surprising for us to think negative thoughts, and feel upset by rude remarks and behavior; it may be considered quite ‘normal’. However, if and when such thoughts come into our minds, we need not permit them to remain there and dominate us. After recognizing them for what they are, we can change them into something else, or, using one of the Buddha’s techniques, remove them with a thought of a different, more-positive, kind, just as we might use one thorn to remove another thorn from the flesh.

Frequently, we take personally rudeness from others who do not know us, and whose abuse is not directed at us personally, but is just an expression of how they are feeling, or the level of their evolution, for which we are in no way responsible. At such times when we might be abused by strangers, it helps to think about it so: "This person doesn’t know me, so how can his abuse apply to me? If he knew me, he would speak to me differently; he might even be more abusive than this!" Also, if people knew of the Law of Karma, and of the Golden Rule, they would restrain themselves more and not abuse others, for by so doing, they only hurt themselves, and are therefore to be pitied. We do not like it when others are rude to us, and we should realize that others don’t like it if we are rude to them.

We are imperfect not because we want to be but because we are not enlightened, and if we understand this, we will more-readily forgive people who are rude to us and offend us, and, at the same time, restrain ourselves from behaving like that to others.


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