37 practices: verse 14

14. To repay slander with love / how to use disgrace on the path

If someone slanders me and spreads the word, / Maligning me throughout the universe,

To pay them back I fill my heart with love, / Extolling their good traits and character:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 14 audio (click where the “play” button should be)

Once again, as in verses 12 and 13, Dilgo Khyentse begins his commentary by reminding us of the law of karma. “If someone defames and disgraces you, that is simply the result of having criticized and dishonored others in the past, especially bodhisattvas. Instead of feeling angry with such people you should feel grateful to them for giving you the opportunity to purify your past misdeeds.” This is a go-to remedy for the impulse to anger and retaliation when any kind of adversity strikes.

This verse corresponds to the worldly concern of fame versus disgrace. As long as we care what others think of us, we will be sensitive about our reputation and reflexively defend ourselves. Dilgo Khyentse tells two stories of practitioners who, rather than defend themselves publicly, took blame for negative actions they didn’t commit. In both cases the situation was eventually resolved, though we may not be able to count on that; the practitioners remained calm and matter of fact without knowing the outcome.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in his commentary on the mind training slogan “Drive all blame into one” in Training the Mind, similarly advocates stepping up and accepting the blame for deeds we did not commit. “You can actually say, ‘I take the blame. It’s my fault that such and such a thing happened.’…It is very simple and ordinary….I’ve actually done it thousands of times.”

Whether we go so far as to accept unjust blame in a particular situation or not, Togme Zangpo advises us not to take it personally or focus on self-defense, but instead to go straight to love and appreciation of the person who has defamed us, and let the chips fall where they may. That is freedom from worldly concerns.

Contemplation: Can you remember a time when you were unjustly accused of something and made a scapegoat among your co-workers or friends? How did you feel? How did you react? Did your reaction resolve the situation? How do you feel about it now? Might you retrospectively send love to those who targeted you, and begin to resolve any residual anger? What will you do if it happens tomorrow?

It may be worth considering that in this day and age, this kind of scapegoating “throughout the universe” can happen in a flash on social media. If we are the one being scapegoated, how might we respond? If someone else is in the hot seat, perhaps we might pause before assuming an accusation is true, and imagine how we would feel if it were us.

Even if we have reason to believe the rumor is true, perhaps we might refrain from piling on — both out of compassion and also remembering the ultimate reality of emptiness: no situation is limited to being the way we perceive it. In ultimate reality, it’s all like a dream anyway, and if we keep our eye on the ball of waking up from it, nothing in our relative universe needs to be such a big deal.

Dilgo Khyentse then zings us once again with an exhortation to put the teachings into practice and not just read them and go on to the next thing. “What is the point of having received teachings if you do not apply them? Unfavorable circumstances are the best opportunity you will have to put the teachings into practice.” Let’s do it!

Continue the contemplations for verse 13, and be on the lookout for feelings of “it’s not fair,” which could certainly apply to verse 14 as well.

Related link: “Row Your Boat, Clementine” (the eight worldly concerns)

The index of the study guide and recordings of the classes are here.

Next practice: Verse 15: to repay humiliation with respect (how to use disparagement on the path)

The complete study guide: click here (see “about the 37 practices study guide” at top of page for orientation if needed)