The easiest thing for anyone to do is to opinionate on what others do and how other people should live their lives. We are all guilty of making such opinions, passing such judgments, all the time. There’s a certain, call it sadistic if you like, joy that people derive in hurting others with their words. And there’s so much grief, therefore, that people carry within them, of memories of such wounding words, in their lifetimes.
In order to avoid getting into either end of this hurt trap, it is very important to stay aware.
The moment your mind rushes to judge someone, remind your mind that your opinion is perhaps both unsolicited and avoidable. Enquire whether what you are about to say is true or kind. And only then, only if completely unavoidable, and totally true, say what you must, but say it kindly. If you can’t say it kindly, just don’t say it! Period. The other thumb-rule to follow is while you can have an opinion on someone, it is best when it is with you. For it is completely worthless when it is invested in someone who does not value it.
Now, while you can indeed check yourself, and your pronouncements, with your awareness and with lots of practice, you really can’t control what people have to say about you and the way you live your Life. The fickle human mind, that craves for instant gratification in all matters, will want you to rush to defend yourself when you are criticized, ridiculed, opinionated on and your Life is scrutinized beyond reasonable limits. Overcome that temptation to defend, to clarify, to retaliate by simply remembering this – what I learned very early on in Life but did not realize its value until recently – “Opinions are like farts. Everyone has one. And they all stink!”
So, in essence, all you need to do when people say or do something that hurts you is to ask, in complete, genuine bewilderment__because your sense of shock is really that__ “Is that so?”. I learned this through a Zen story I heard some years back.
The Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1768), one of the most influential figures of Japanese Zen Buddhism was revered by his neighbors as one living a pure life.
A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. One fine day, the girl’s parents discovered that she was pregnant. This made her parents very angry. She initially would not confess who the man__who had got her pregnant__was. But after much forcing, she, at last, named Hakuin. Horrified, the shocked parents went to the Master, blamed him, berated and threatened him with dire consequences if he did not “own” their daughter’s child.
“Is that so?,” was all that Hakuin said, smiling.
After the child was born, it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, as people shunned him for his “immoral” conduct. The barbs from, and being ostracized by, the people did not trouble him at all though. Instead, he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from some of his more forgiving and tolerant neighbors and provided for everything else the little one needed.
A year later, the young girl could stand her own lie no longer. She told her parents the truth – that the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the local fish market.
The mother and father of the girl were even more horrified this time. They at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get their grandchild back again.
Hakuin was both forgiving and willing. In yielding the child, all he said again, smiling, was: “Is that so?”
The moral for all us is to learn from Hakuin. Let us learn to be just witnesses of whatever happens to us in Life. Including being witnesses to judgments and opinions being pronounced in favor or against us. In fact, that’s what we really are __ mere observers. In joy or in sorrow let us not get attached to the events, people, circumstances, opinions and judgments of, and in, our lives. Let’s develop an Is-That-So attitude to steel ourselves in Life. This, and this approach alone, can guarantee us the inner peace that we all crave for, work hard for, but never really manage to find.