Dealing with Hostility
By Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche • 7 min read
The person with an aggressive mind is restless and discontented. They don’t sleep well, unable to find peace. They obsess about the harm they imagine their opponents might cause them, and how to get the upper hand. The idea that drives them is that their enemies can be overcome by way of anger. But in reality, when one’s mind is filled with anger, one’s enemies will increase, not decrease. It is, of course, possible to inflict harm upon our foes. But no sooner do we do so than more enemies rise up behind them. The mind of aggression is not really capable of vanquishing enemies at all.
There’s an old story: A few thousand years ago, there lived a nomadic people who traveled by foot over mountains and across great plains. Some of the paths they had to walk were strewn with sharp pebbles and thorns that pierced the soles of their feet. Eventually, they lit upon a solution: to cover the ground with leather. However, they managed to cover only about twenty miles of path before they ran out of leather. Had they used just enough to cover their own feet, it would have been as good as covering the whole earth with leather. The better solution to the nomads’ problem might seem obvious, but we often overlook the same lesson: if we tame our mind from within, it’s as good as taming all external enemies.
If our minds are filled with hatred and other mental afflictions, they’ll stay as tight and stuffy as a locked room without windows. If we are devoid of compassion, lacking the wish to benefit others, we won’t feel confidence or bravery. Moreover, since external appearances mirror our mental state, the outside world will appear unpleasant to us. For instance, imagine that two people stand before an audience. The person whose mind is disturbed and full of animosity will see, in each face, some evidence of negative qualities. The person who has kindness in their heart will look at the very same faces and see evidence of goodness there. If we imbue our mindstreams with mindfulness, kindness, and compassion, our experiences will be happier ones. We will be able to keep harmonious company with anyone, in any situation. We will also appear pleasant to others.
“If we could step back to look at the situation more objectively, we might see that people who yell at us are upset over something that may have nothing to do with us.”
– Mingyur Rinpoche –
A person whose mind is narrow and prideful finds it difficult to get along with others, because they see faults in everyone. Not only that, they perceive small faults as enormous. We see this at play when we get into fights over trivial things: “The chair should go in the far corner of the room.” “No, the chair should go near the window!” The whole issue of where to place the chair isn’t really important to begin with. We need to recognize that this is the case. If our minds are consumed with resentment and we’re only concerned for ourselves, it’s very hard to recognize when we’re caught up in this kind of thing. But if we stay stuck in these pointless battles, we accomplish no benefit for anyone.
In dealing with conflict, we should first contemplate that our adversary wants to be happy and be free from suffering, just as we do. Next, try to see things from their point of view. By looking at the situation from their perspective, we’ll be able to see clearly who has the mistaken idea, and who is in error. We will be able to see our own faults clearly, too. If, through this contemplation, we find that we are the ones in error, then we can begin to address those faults in ourselves. Should we confirm that yes, the other person is the one who is confused and at fault, we’ll still be able to see the situation with compassion. We’ll recognize that they are trying for happiness, but they misunderstand how to attain it. They might be harming us, and others too, yet we can understand that their behavior is actually impeding the happiness that they’re trying to achieve.
If the conflict is over a minor issue, like the placement of a chair in a room, we can simply let go of the whole thing, and let the other person have their way. It’s important to cultivate patience at times like that. But if the situation is serious, and it’s feasible for us to try to stop their negative action — in a peaceful way, with kindness — then, since our intention is good, it’s okay to challenge them. When we try this, we should do so in a way that won’t upset them further. If we speak harshly, that won’t give them a chance to see their own faults; it will just perpetuate their anger and elicit another combative response. Rather, try to clearly explain the reasons why their actions are harmful to themselves as well as others. If we have patience even if they’re treating us with hostility, we give them space to see the faults of their own aggression. After they’ve finished venting on us, there’s space for them to realize that they might have been wrong. If that happens, they will have more respect for us in the end. But whether or not it benefits them is out of our control. We can only try our best.
Since we all live on this one planet, we must rely on each other. If we don’t have love and compassion, the entire path of depending upon, communicating with, and having connections with one another will be destroyed. On the other hand, if we take the attitude that we are contributing to the interdependence of human life, we will be able to relate to each other; we’ll make connections we can rely on. The whole world will benefit. Take honeybees as an example. One honeybee on its own has little power. But a whole hive of them, working together — look at the beautiful architecture they create! Even if humans set out to try, it would be difficult for them to build a house as beautiful as a natural beehive. Not to mention the honey! The bees don’t have a military or a police force; they don’t need laws or prisons. You could call it a Utopian vision of what we could achieve in human society. They live in a naturally altruistic state that benefits both self and others. This is the way of relative truth: the interdependence of everything, a principle with the qualities of kindness and compassion.
Some people think that if the whole world was kind and compassionate it would be a dull place, populated by people who idled around placidly, like sheep. But if we have genuine love and compassion, turning into sheep is impossible. Kindness makes our minds open and spacious, invites confidence, and pacifies our anger. Compassion also impels us to do our best to benefit others, filling us with the joyful effort we need to work toward any goal in the name of this purpose.
Learn meditation under the skillful guidance of world-renowned teacher Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche at your own pace.
In his approach to teaching meditation, Mingyur Rinpoche integrates traditional Buddhist practice and philosophy with the current scientific understanding of the mind and mental health – making the practice of meditation relevant and accessible to students around the world. Mingyur Rinpoche is the author of the best-selling book The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, as well as Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedom, In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying, and many others.
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