Lam Shenphen Zangpo answers basic questions that every man, woman, and child on the street wants to know.
As a Buddhist how would you deal with this statement – “My co-worker is quite difficult to get along with!”.
Let’s forget about being a Buddhist for the moment. First and foremost you are a human, and like all sentient beings you try to avoid suffering. Now, as a Buddhist, you realize that your well-being cannot arise independently. In the same way that fruit needs numerous factors such as nutrition, warmth and moisture for its healthy development, so our well-being requires a combination of causes and conditions to arise. So, how do we create these conditions? First of all, it is important to understand our intricate relationship with the outer world. Fruit cannot grow if conducive factors are absent. Likewise, we also cannot flourish if our world is sick and our fellow beings suffering. We are like an organ in the body. We only develop in accordance with the rest of the structure. If one organ is sick, the whole body suffers.
In this way, we can learn from the tree. It creates its own conducive conditions for development. For example, when leaves are fresh they purify the air. Later, they provide nourishment for the soil.
Obviously, you cannot shed leaves in your office, but you can shed understanding and wisdom. If your co-worker has an antagonistic attitude, there must be a reason. Maybe they lacked love and guidance as a child. In any case, anyone out of harmony with their surroundings is suffering. They mistakenly believe that adopting a self-righteous attitude or being uncooperative somehow results in happiness. As a Buddhist, we know this view to be totally incorrect, and that rather than producing happiness it is actually a direct cause of suffering. When we think of the situation in this way, perhaps we can begin to generate compassion.
In addition, we can consider why we label the co-worker as ‘difficult’. Rather than dividing situations into good, bad or neutral, we could instead recognize them as merely an unfolding of our life. Think of the situation in context. Has there ever been any living being who has not encountered opposition or had their plans disrupted? No, its impossible. Even the Buddha had to contend with his cousin Devadatta who, out of jealously, continuously created problems for him and his community.
Thinking of the situation in this way can help us to slowly change our outlook. Rather than labelling the co-worker as difficult, perhaps we could think of them like changing weather. We act appropriately to prevailing conditions, such as wearing warm clothing in winter or rain gear in the summer, but we do not label any situation as good or bad. Rather, we just experience each as an on-going part of life. In this way, our minds are peaceful, but at the same time we act appropriately.
From our side, if our co-worker’s words hurt, we can transform the situation by researching what is being hurt. And, if we are honest, we will have to admit that we have formed a very inflexible and over-rated opinion of ourselves. Therefore, when someone fires an arrow, it finds a target. To address the situation, we have basically three options: ignoring the attack, trying to stop it or removing the target. The former option only results in repression, while the second is difficult to accomplish and needs to be continuously repeated each time a new archer appears. The latter means is the only realistic option.
Think about what is hurt. Its our pride, and pride is merely based on a rigid opinion of ourselves. As stated above, we have created a very over-rated and inflexible image of who we are. In reality, we are complex beings displaying a whole range of emotions and feelings. When we recognize this fact, the target softens and dissolves. Like the tai-chi masters in Taiwan and China, we realize that softness is our strength.
Anyway, the point of all this analysis is to transform our perception of the world and ourselves. Generally, we are like a man who sees a piece of rope and mistakes it for a snake. His reactions are totally inappropriate, and only after the true situation is revealed does he relax. Therefore, we understand that our happiness and sanity lies within our own minds. Changing the outer world is not only difficult to accomplish, but is ineffective in relieving our suffering. Therefore, the best way to deal with your co-worker is to take the advise of the Buddhist scholar Shantideva: “You can never remove all thorns from the world, nor cover the entire world with leather. However, by covering one’s own feet with leather sandals it is as though all the world has been covered with soft leather, and all thorns removed.”