Many of our escapes are involuntary: addiction and dissociating from painful feelings are two examples. Anyone who has worked with a strong addiction—compulsive eating, compulsive sex, abuse of substances, explosive anger, or any other behavior that’s out of control—knows that when the urge comes on it’s irresistible. The seduction is too strong. So we train again and again in less highly charged situations in which the urge is present but not so overwhelming. By training with everyday irritations, we develop the knack of refraining when the going gets rough. It takes patience and an understanding of how we’re hurting ourselves not to continue taking the same old escape route of speaking or acting out.
– Pema Chödron
from the book “Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change”
Those who do not pursue praise and gain, those who do not shun criticism and loss, may be stigmatized as abnormal or even insane. When observed from an ordinary point of view, enlightened beings may seem insane because they don’t negotiate, they cannot be lured or swayed by material gain, they don’t get bored, they don’t look for thrills, they have no face to lose, they do not conform to rules of etiquette, they never employ hypocrisy for personal gain, they never do things to impress people, and they don’t display their talents and powers just for the sake of it. But if it benefits others, these saints will do anything necessary, from having perfect table manners to leading a Fortune 500 company. In 2,500 years of Buddhist history there have probably been countless enlightened beings who were never identified or who were banished for being insane.
We’ve all come across toxic people before. You know, the type of person that can be manipulative, judgmental and inconsiderate of anyone’s feelings.
It can hard to deal with these people, especially if you’re forced to every single day. That’s why I thought the advice below from a Zen master on Reddit was quite remarkable.
But first, let’s define what a toxic person is so you know who you’re dealing with and then we’ll get to the Zen Master’s advice.
9 Traits of a Toxic Person
1) They talk more than they listen
Toxic people tend to have narcissistic tendencies and find it difficult to focus on anything but themselves. This goes against Buddhism where compassion and kindness for others (and yourself) is paramount.
2) They are never wrong
Everything they say is right and everything you say is wrong. They are unwilling to learn and will react harshly if you go against them.
3) Drama follows them
There’s always something wrong. If you offer advice, they’ll simply say it won’t work.
4) They force relationships
It’s more about having relationships for the sake of other people seeing that they have relationships, rather than actually enjoying the connection for what it is.
If you’ve spent any time on the Internet, you’ve probably encountered a hater or two. Trolls are everywhere it seems.
But what’s the best way to respond them?
Seung Sahn Soen-sa, a Korean-born Zen Master, encountered a some harsh language directed towards him in 1975.
Seung Sahn Soen-sa’s book “Dropping Ashes on the Buddha: The Teachings of Zen Master Seung Sahn Soen-sa” contained many illuminating and sympathetic letters. The letters were his remarkable response to – what in modern times can be called – hate mail.
It’s a known fact that the act of hate reflect the actions of the hater and not their victim. This cynical urge to force our inner pain to take a form of aggression attracts absurd targets. And one of them was Seung Sahn Soen-sa.
Here is the first letter from the student in regards to not understanding the “don’t know mind”:
“Please answer me soon, but you probably won’t, huh? Anyway, I’d like to tell you to go fuck yourself.
Respectfully, and hope to see you soon,
“You say that you are confused. If you keep a complete don’t-know mind, how can confusion appear? Complete don’t-know mind means cutting off all thinking. Cutting off all thinking means true emptiness. In true emptiness, there is no I to be confused and nothing to be confused about.
A kong-an is like a finger pointing at the moon. If you are attached to the finger, you don’t understand the direction, so you cannot see the moon. If you are not attached to any kong-an, then you will understand the direction. The direction is the complete don’t-know mind.
You must keep only don’t-know, always and everywhere. Then you will soon get enlightenment. But be very careful not to want enlightenment. Only keep don’t-know mind. Your situation, your condition, your opinions — throw them all away.
At the end of your letter you say, “Go fuck yourself.” These are wonderful words that you have given me, and I thank you very much. If you attain enlightenment, I will give them back to you.
So, what’s the lesson from this?
Don’t feed the haters by responding back with more anger. Instead, respond with guidance, empathy and warm wit. According to Thich Nhat Hanh:
“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”
This is similar to the advice offered from a Zen master on dealing with toxic people:
“The deeper your present moment peace gets, the easier it’ll be to react non- passionately when confronted with hostility. As this gets better, you can begin to realize more deeply just how much someone has to be suffering internally in order to have such harsh reactions. With enough insight, you can develop your empathy and compassion based off this knowledge and these also help you remain even more peaceful in the present moment.
Eventually, with enough compassion and insight on your side, you can begin to extinguish the fires of hostility by extinguishing anger with patience and understanding… It’s hard to continue treating someone harshly when they continue treating you well. In helping them relieve these feelings, you not only help them but you also help yourself, since you no longer have to deal with them as they were.”
The Dharma teaches that the manifestation of a consequence requires the confluence of multiple causes and conditions. Wrong views, afflicted emotions (attachment, aversion, and indifference), and the habits and tendencies that impel us to act in ways that are unskillful or undesirable constitute the fundamental causes of unbeneficial actions. The conditions that favor such conducts include material circumstances, similarly-inclined company, and situations.
If we desire to avoid those habitual tendencies, it is essential that we avoid conducive conditions for its manifestation. A well-known example is that of a person with alcoholic tendencies, who must avoid proximity and access to alcohol (material circumstances), persons with similar conducts (company), and those events in which this behavior is normative (situations).
We can successfully apply this strategy to all unskillful tendencies, identifying and avoiding the triggers that favor the repetition of any conduct we may wish to eliminate.
Nobel Peace Prize nominee and Zen Buddhist master, Thich Nhat Hanh has a very different theory about why our ecosystems are dying and our financial systems are crumbling. The Vietnamese monk credited with bringing mindfulness to the West believes that our desperation to succeed at all costs fuels our voracious economic system. An innumerable number of worldly ‘sicknesses’ come from this singular philosophical vice.
“Each one of us has to ask ourselves, What do I really want? Do I really want to be Number One? Or do I want to be happy? If you want success, you may sacrifice your happiness for it. You can become a victim of success, but you can never become a victim of happiness.”
Thay – as his followers call him, is no stranger to the ideology of the movers and shakers in our world economy. He was invited to speak in Silicon Valley by Steve Jobs once, and has met with the World Bank president Jim Yong Kim. He has also met with senior Google engineers to discuss how they could develop technologies which could be more compassionate and bring about positive change, instead of increasing people’s stress and isolation, taking them away from nature, and one another.
He recently explained his concern with how people pin their happiness on success in an interview with the Guardian.
“If you know how to practice mindfulness you can generate peace and joy right here, right now. And you’ll appreciate that and it will change you. In the beginning, you believe that if you cannot become number one, you cannot be happy, but if you practice mindfulness you will readily release that kind of idea. We need not fear that mindfulness might become only a means and not an end because in mindfulness the means and the end are the same thing. There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.”
Thay warns, however, that practicing mindfulness just to be more productive at work, or only to enjoy more material success will leave the practitioner with a pale shadow of awareness compared to what true mindfulness can provide. He suggests:
“If you consider mindfulness as a means of having a lot of money, then you have not touched its true purpose. It may look like the practice of mindfulness but inside there’s no peace, no joy, no happiness produced. It’s just an imitation. If you don’t feel the energy of brotherhood, of sisterhood, radiating from your work, that is not mindfulness.”
As company executives in banking, oil production, agriculture, manufacturing, tech, and other fields strive to be successful, are they missing out on the true peace that might come from preserving an ecosystem, or helping to protect biodiversity? Are these titans of industry reflective of our social and political slant toward ever-increasing spending, a lack of accountability fiscally and environmentally, and the disassociation workers feel from their families and friends while constantly trying to work harder and earn more?
Thay says that all businesses should be conducted in such a way that all the employees can experience happiness. He says that helping to change society for the better can fill us with a sense of accomplishment that doesn’t come from focusing purely on profits.
When top CEOs make 300% more than their workers, and include stock incentives, luxury cars, and healthy expense accounts, how can balance truly be upheld?
When the world’s top 3,000 firms are responsible for over $2.2 trillion in environmental damage, how can we find joy from nature?
When even Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz, who now heads up the software firm Asana calls out the tech industry for a lack of work-life balance, how can anyone find time to practice mindfulness or meditation?
Furthermore, even loss of life is acceptable in the name of profits. The ‘business’ of war has allowed the 100 largest contractors to sell more than $410 billion in arms and military services. Just 10 of those companies sold over $208 billion – while providing the means to kill millions.
Is it any wonder employees are broke, stressed out, and burned out from a lack of balance, no connection with other people, and an incessant work flow that promises very little reward, either financial or otherwise, from their toil?
Then there is the debt-based financial system of the Federal Reserve, propping up this entire show.
We also don’t need CEOs who make 300 times what their employees do, or ridiculous government policies which allow the notion of corporations as people, while ignoring the basic needs of real people.
Our courts have extended constitutional protections to the most unconscious among us, preserving a way of life that does not allow true happiness. Our constant aim for success has warped our original goal – to be happy. Isn’t that why people want more money, more power, and more ‘things.’ But as Thay says, this is a false way to attain happiness.
What this quiet Zen monk is trying to tell us is that our entire society is upside down. Our economic system protects mindlessness, not mindfulness.
He says that the primary affliction of our modern civilization is that we don’t know how to handle the suffering inside us and so we attempt to cover it up with all kinds of consumption.
Retailers peddle a host of devices to help us cover up the suffering inside. But unless and until we’re able to face our suffering, we can’t be present and available to life, and happiness will continue to elude us.
How do we change our economic policies so that all employees can be happy? It might help to look at our true goals. It might help to acknowledge the pain we’ve caused thousands of people by perpetuating war for the sake of profits. Success doesn’t automatically equal happiness, not if the definition of success only includes the bottom line.
We can measure success by our fulfillment in life, by the people we’ve been able to touch with our good deeds, or a mindful interaction, by having friends, experiencing love, being able to walk in a forest, or learn how to play a musical instrument.
Perhaps the true goal should be peacefulness instead of happiness, even. As Hanh has said:
“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society will benefit from our peace.” This could be our new definition of success.
“I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my judge. Whatever I do, wholesome or unwholesome, to that will I fall heir.” One should reflect thus often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained.
Knowing the fruit of causal effects of any action, the wise gains complete understanding of dependent origination and sees all action as it really is. By action are all phenomena determined, by action the world goes on, and by action the beings go on. Beings are bounded, conditioned, and created by their behavior. By self-taming, by self-control, and by living the moral life, only by this supremely pure state do they become noble.
Exaggerated expressions accentuate and intensify afflicted emotions. Don’t say “I adore this food” or “I love this car” when a simple “I like” is enough to describe your emotional relationship with a mere object. Don’t say “I hate the heat” or “I detest this music” when you simply dislike them.
Modulate your emotions while describing them. Use language with precision, and you will discover that extreme emotions are conceptual fabrications.
In Buddhism, the words ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ are rarely used; instead, teachings refer to ‘mind’ and ‘consciousness’. Because there is no creator God in Buddhism, no sense of a supreme Judge or Deity-in-charge, but rather an acceptance that life is determined by constantly evolving causes and conditions- karma- there is no concept of sin either, in the sense in which it is understood in most religions, as a transgression of God’s will. The emphasis instead is on personal accountability for moral conduct. Robina explains that guilt is dismissed as a function of the ego, anger turned inward, a destructive emotion; this is quite distinct from remorse, which requires true acceptance of responsibility for one’s actions and a sincere effort to discover what changes for the better are needed.
Robina is a Buddhist nun, a Ani, working in the British prison system. From the book “The Saffron Road”,By Christine Toomey. Portobello Books 2015.P.336-337.
I am posting this today because it points to what Buddhism has been saying since Buddha: The universal law of karma is real, and it affects us and our descendants for generations. Be careful what you think, as you are affecting your grandchildren’s health!
We all know that stress can wreak havoc on your health but what does it do to your genes?
Lecturer/Senior Lecturer, Nottingham Trent University
March 15, 2016
The Dutch famine of 1944 was a terrible time for many in the Netherlands – with around 4.5m people affected and reliant on soup kitchens after food supplies were stopped from getting into the area by German blockades. As many as 22,000 people were thought to have died, and those who survived would find it extremely difficult to ever fully recover.
The dietary intake of people in affected areas was reduced from a healthy 2000 calories a day to a measly 580 – a quarter of the “normal” food intake. Unsurprisingly, without a balanced diet, children born to mothers who were pregnant during the famine showed a much lower than average birth weight.
But then something strange happened: their children’s children had the same low birth weight, despite their mother’s “normal” food and calorie intake.
We often talk about our genetic make-up and “how good” or “how healthy” our genes are. We also know “bad genes” can lead to us having a higher chance of developing a particular disease if our parents are carriers. But while scientists can look for those faulty or changed genes, over the last decade we have learned this is not the whole story.
Because it is not just our genes and DNA which determines our health, but also environmental factors such as diet, stresses, and lifestyle choices – just like in the Netherlands.
These environmental conditions, alongside the life experiences of our parents, grandparents, and even our great-grandparents, have been shown to flip “stop” and “go” signals which regulate pretty much every process taking place in our cells. These signals can then cause changes on top of the inherited DNA molecules which can determine our well being – hence the lower birth weight of babies only distantly related to the famine.
Epigenetics takes the age-old question of “nature vs nurture” to a whole new level of scientific interest. But it is a controversial field of study with wide-reaching implications which could change everything we thought we knew about genetic inheritance.
What we do know, though, is that the environment and our nutritional intake plays a crucial role in affecting changes to our DNA – which has been demonstrated by the effects of the Dutch famine. The famine has shown how changes in epigenetic markers – the “stop” and “go” signals – are inherited, from parent to offspring and to their offspring in turn. This process is called transgenerational inheritance.
The genes affected are ones that are important in processing nutrients and are associated with diseases such as diabetes or are implicated in mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.
Studies on identical twins show how the environment and trauma can change these epigenetic flags. While the siblings were genetically identical, their identical epigenetics changed over time – essentially showing how environmental factors can alter genes which are linked to depression, anxiety and obesity.
Recently, studies using mice, rats, fruit flies and worms have also shown that trauma and stress can affect these epigenetic flags which then get passed on to the next generation, and then on to the next.
We know that if a female rat takes good care of her offspring, for example, then the pups are able to cope better with stress compared to rat pups that were ignored and had high levels of stress. In this instance, the removal of “stop” signals on a specific gene seems to be linked to happier offspring.
Similarly, male mice who experience stress early in their lives pass this on, even to their grand pups – which are more likely to show symptoms of anxiety and depression, even if they were looked after well and grew up in a nurturing environment.
Fixing the future?
Studies in humans are difficult to control as generally we do not have a reference value for epigenetic markers before a trauma or stress, so we cannot make easy comparisons. But what we do know is that women who were pregnant while experiencing extremely stressful situations, such as the 9/11 attacks, apparently have passed on this experience to their child.
Their children have reported experiencing depression, anxiety and poor coping mechanisms in stressful situations. Similarly, children and grandchildren of Holocaust victims often have mental health issues.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom. We aren’t simply living at the mercy of our ancestors’ past lives because we do know that at least some of the epigenetic marks are reversible.
We potentially can affect our epigenetics by living a healthy lifestyle and providing our body with the necessary building blocks for these epigenetic flags.
Recent research also shows that drugs can remove negative epigenetic marks and remove “stop” signals – which has been shown to allow changed genes present in cancer, Alzheimer’s or diabetes to go back to their original state.
So while we may still be some way off fully understanding the role epigenetics plays in the “nature vs nurture” debate, one thing is clear: it’s not simply our genes that make us. So next time you’re feeling stressed or angry, or thinking about grabbing another takeaway pizza on the way home, think of your future grandchildren. It may save them a whole lot of bother.
“When we come into contact with the other person, our thoughts and actions should express our mind of compassion, even if that person says and does things that are not easy to accept. We practice in this way until we see clearly that our love is not contingent upon the other person being lovable.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
“We are Life, in human form. Descendants of the stars and galaxies, children of the oceans and forests, creative expressions of Nature. As much a part of this planet as the rivers, trees, mountains and butterflies.
As more and more of us wake up to that deeper sense of identity we will be more easily able to transcend old thought patterns and beliefs. Observing Nature’s Systems closely, studying her ways, we can re-write and delete old programming.
To truly bring an end to the destructiveness of humanity- to really transform the world- a deeper wisdom has to first arise from within. We must “be the change” as Gandhi put it. We have to free ourselves first, transform our ways of thinking, feeling and behaving.
Then take the wisdom of our wholeness and apply it to everything we say and do, to all fields of human activity. Economics, entertainment, education, law, medicine, transportation, energy technologies- they all can (and must) be transformed.
We are not the solitary individuals we have believed ourselves to be. We are expressions of Universal life, Children of our Galaxy. We are the “leaves of grass” Walt Whitman spoke of – the Awakening voices of Eden, instruments of the great turning.
Nature’s Agents of Transformation- The Global Butterfly Effect.
Two Zen monks were traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was falling. Coming around a bend, they saw a lovely woman in a silk kimono, unable to go further because of a puddle that blocked her way.
“Come on, girl,” said the older monk. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the water.
The younger monk was shocked by his behavior, but did not speak until later that evening. Finally, he could no longer restrain himself. “Buddhist monks don’t touch females,” he told the senior monk, angrily, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”
“But I put the girl down right away,” said the older monk. “Why are you still carrying her?”
Matthieu Ricard, a 69-year-old Tibetan Buddhist monk, has been called the “world’s happiest man.”
That’s because he participated in part of a 12-year brain study on meditation and compassion led by University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson. And Davidson found his brain waves and activity to be off the happiness charts.
In 2008, Davidson had a group of expert meditators (including Ricard) and a group of controls (people who were not experienced in meditation) meditate on compassion, he reported in Scientific American.
Then he had them listen to the sounds of several stressed-out voices. Davidson found that two brain areas known to be involved in empathy showed more activity for the meditators than for the non-meditators, suggesting that people like Ricard have an enhanced ability to respond to the feelings of others and empathize without feeling overwhelmed.
We spoke with Ricard at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last Thursday. He says feeling happy comes down to being altruistic and benevolent. He also believes the mind can be trained to be happy through meditation.
And as for dealing with stress? Ricard says the key is let things go.
Most things you think are problems aren’t actually problems
When “Zen Pencils” cartoonist Gavin Than asked fans to vote for their favorite poem to be turned into a comic strip, they chose “Desiderata”, the widely popular poem written by Max Ehrmann in 1927, whose title in Latin translates to “things to be desired”. The poem has been described as a survival guide for life. Than’s illustrations bring these celebrated words alive in a unique way.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. –Max Ehrmann, Desiderata
This above cartoon strip originally appeared on Zen Pencils and is reprinted here with permission from artist Gavin Aung Than. Gavin is a freelance cartoonist based in Melbourne, Australia. After working in the corporate graphic design industry for 8 years he quit to focus on his true passion, drawing cartoons. Gavin launched Zen Pencils at the start of 2012, a cartoon blog which adapts inspirational quotes into comic stories, and hasn’t looked back since.