17. To repay disrespect with reverence / how to use humiliation on the path
If someone, my in-fer-i-or or peer, / Through pride dis-par-a-ges and puts me down,
To hon-or them as I would my teach-er / And place them rev-er-ent-ly on my crown:
This is the way a bodhisattva trains.
verse 17 audio
Contemplation: Think back to a time when someone built themselves up by tearing you down, in a big or trivial way. It’s happened to all of us. Ken McLeod starts his commentary on this verse by having us imagine a scenario in a work situation. “You put forward an idea that you think will work for everyone. A colleague dismisses your suggestion with a witty comment at your expense . . . . You are left looking stupid, incompetent, and out of touch.” Or maybe you hear a rumor that someone has put in a private word suggesting that you’re not as competent/kind/honest as you might appear. Maybe it’s true, or maybe it’s not true. Either way, how did it feel at the time? How, if at all, did you respond? How does it feel now?
Think back again: Might there have been a time when you built yourself up at someone else’s expense? Maybe they were getting a little too much attention or respect, and you took it upon yourself to bring them down a notch. How does that feel now? What’s the process for mitigating and coming to terms with harmful actions from our past?
This is the second bodhisattva boot camp verse in which the remedy is to see our tormentor as our teacher. The other was verse 14, in which we are the victim of slander. Both these verses are identified by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche as being about bringing humiliation onto the path of awakening. It’s an overall theme in Buddhism, especially in the mind training sector, that all adversity, and especially all people who mistreat us, are precious in the same way our teachers are: they deflate our pride and false sense of control, and point out to us where we still have work to do, thus preventing us from thinking we’re already awake enough, thanks, and thus wasting our precious human life.
Without adversity, we’d be living in the gods’ realm, which would certainly be a nice thing while it lasted; but we all know how it ends: having used up all our positive karma to get there but not been motivated to do the work of waking up — because who cares about waking up in the midst of a wonderful dream? — the gods are looking at a plunge to the lower realms at the end of their lifetime. That’s why the human realm is considered the best vantage point for awakening — it has just the right mix of comfort and suffering.
From the commentaries: We haven’t heard from Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche in awhile, though he was one of the pioneers of teaching this text in the West and wrote the first commentary most of us encountered, published in 1993. He says, “Being despised is a wonderful remedy for pride.
“Praise has the opposite effect: Instead of deflating pride, praise inflates it. Of the two, which benefits your Dharma practice more? And why is it that praise causes pride and blame causes frustration? Why do we enjoy praise and reject blame?”
We could spend a lot of time contemplating these questions. The degree of our enthrallment to the eight worldly concerns — loss and gain, pleasure and pain, praise and blame, disgrace and fame — is considered an important measure of our progress, or lack thereof, on the path. As Dilgo Khyentse notes in his commentary, these four sets of concerns are the basis of the first four verses of bodhisattva boot camp.
Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche continues: “When we analyze that question with our intelligence, we discover that both pride and frustration are concepts depending on thoughts. Once we grasp this conceptual process, it is easy to understand emptiness.” What a debt of gratitude we owe those who humiliate us!
However, we are not saints yet, and Geshe Jampa Tegchok encourages us not to feel we’re a failure if our first response is anger and we end up letting off a little steam. “If someone hurts us, we may get a little angry and say something in return. This may not be the best response, but if we pretend to be patient, yet keep the anger smoldering inside us, thinking ‘I will not forget what happened. I will never help her. I will get back at her for that,’ then we commit the great bodhisattva downfall of abandoning sentient beings.”
Ornament of Precious Liberation lists three kinds of patience we need to cultivate when someone harms us: “Patience means remaining undisturbed, not retaliating, and not holding onto resentment in our mind.” As Geshe Jampa Tegchok notes, we may not be able to manage all three in the moment, but we should go for the least harmful reaction possible, and then, as we look back on our day, we can use the experience to reinforce our determination to tame our destructive emotions through consistent practice. Geshe Jampa Tegchok reminds us that in the long term, anger “is completely self-defeating and brings us only harm. There is no use in it. We must remind ourselves of this over and over again so that it sinks in.”
And Ken McLeod reminds us once again that the most constructive response is to immediately avail ourselves of the main tool in our bodhisattva boot camp tool box: “However you feel about being put down, use that feeling for taking and sending. If you are angry, take in the anger of others and send them whatever joy and peace of mind you have known in your life . . . . If you are confused, take in confusion and send clarity and insight. Take in the pain of being put down and send out the warmth of courtesy and encouragement. Take in the emotional reactions that drive one person to put down another and send out your ability to treat everyone, even your worst enemy, with kindness and respect.”
Related posts on the eight worldly concerns:
“Overview of bodhisattva boot camp verses 12-19”
The index of the study guide and recordings of the classes are here.
Next practice: Verse 18: to maintain resolve when everything goes wrong
The complete study guide: click here (see “about the 37 practices study guide” at top of page for orientation if needed)