37 practices: verse 15

15. To repay humiliation with respect / how to use disparagement on the path

If someone tells a crowd my hidden faults / And speaks of me with undisguised contempt,

To see them as my spiritual friend / And bow to them sincerely with respect:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 15 audio

Contemplation: Think of a time when this happened to you. In contrast to practices 12, 13, and 14, in this case, you are being blamed for something you actually did and/or faults you actually have. Your tormentor is just making public what you had hoped to keep hidden. How did you respond? How do you feel about it now?

Taking it to the next level, is there some behavioral pattern or shameful deed in your past (or present) that no one knows about and that you would be humiliated to acknowledge? What would you do if someone called you out for it — or posted about it on social media? Would you reflexively deny it, if you thought you could get away with it? If you deny it, what then? What would happen if you owned up to it? Would you be able to respond in the way Togme Zangpo advises? How might you increase the odds that you could respond this way were it to happen in the future?

And if no one ever knows about it but you, is there a way to deal with it constructively and diminish the karmic repercussions now through your practice? What specific practices are available for this?

Silent pop quiz: Which of the eight worldly concerns are at play in this verse? Can you name all eight? If not, Row your boat, Clementine!

From the commentaries: Dilgo Khyentse points us to a handy list I had not heard of previously, which his translators call “the four principles of positive training.” Tony Duff, in his fabulous Illuminator online Tibetan dictionary, offers a more literal translation, “the four dharmas of trainees in virtue,” and identifies them as four practices the Buddha required all his monastics to follow. We could also think of them more informally as “four ways to train as a bodhisattva warrior.”

They are: 1) if someone abuses you, do not abuse them in return; 2) if someone gets angry with you, do not get angry with them in return; 3) if someone strikes you, do not strike them back; and 4) if someone exposes your hidden faults, do not expose theirs in return.

What would the world be like if we could all follow this advice? This is a list to embroider on a cushion and/or post on your bathroom mirror.

Dilgo Khyentse continues, “Allowing others to win is a characteristic of all Buddhist paths. In fact, what is there to be won and lost? From an absolute point of view, there is not the slightest difference between winning and losing.” In fact, who thinks there’s a difference?

There are so many gems in this short commentary. Here are a few more:

  • “There should be no insult or humiliation that is too great for you to bear.”
  • “Never give way to anger . . . . Be patient and, moreover, be grateful to someone who humiliates you, as they are giving you a precious opportunity to strengthen your understanding and practice.”
  • “Indeed, you are unlikely to make much spiritual progress if you lack the courage to face your own hidden faults.”

Geshe Jampa Tegchok places this verse in the context of the eight worldly concerns, specifically the polarity of praise and blame, and offers this advice: “To avoid becoming angry when are criticized or blamed, we can also think that not everyone on the planet criticizes us. There are people who have nice things to say about us . . . . Similarly, when others praise us, instead of getting puffed up, we should think that not everyone says nice things about us. Some people say awful things . . . . This can help us remain more emotionally balanced, without reacting so much to either praise or blame.”

Pema Chodron suggests, ” I think Togme Zangpo must have had this kind of thing happen to him in his life.” As we learned in his biography, he wrote these verses primarily as reminders for himself. This is the basis of all empathy and compassion: what happens to any one of us happens to everyone else as well , and remembering this helps us to respond to aggression from others, which we know comes out of their own suffering, with love, compassion, and also recollection of karma. According to the law of karma, if someone treats us badly, it means we created the karmic seed for it somewhere in our own history, and by bearing it with patience we pay off that karma; likewise, if we return aggression for aggression, not only does that harm the other person, but we are also setting ourselves up for more pain in the future, thus perpetuating the endless cycle of samsara.

Somehow “Team Other” always works to the benefit of “Team I” as well; yet if we work only on behalf of “Team I,” no one benefits at all. That is the catch-22 of the Buddha’s teachings.

Related links:

18 Ways to Catch Ego-Clinging in the Act!

Row Your Boat, Clementine!

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

Next practice: Verse 16: to repay ingratitude with affection (how to use on the path being wronged in return for kindness)

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