The Intelligent Heart
Excerpt from The Intelligent Heart
Do not ponder others’ business.
Being sloppy with our speech is not only harmful in its own right. It also perpetuates our harmful habits of mind. Careless speech leads to careless mind. But it goes both ways. Careless mind also leads to careless speech. This slogan is the mirror image of the previous one. It focuses on cleaning up the kind of “filth” in our mind than can easily come out in damaging words and actions.
Our minds naturally get attracted to thinking about what others may have as faults. This can become an addiction, especially for those who have a lot of pride. And when we discover these faults, we’re naturally interested in pondering them. Being nosy about others’ business can be exciting or even contagious. But this habit causes a lot of suffering in our mind. When we look at others with critical eyes, we create a birthplace for being unkind. Critical thoughts naturally lead to feelings of resentment. And when our criticism is directed toward people close to us, we begin to push them away, to extricate ourselves from them, to isolate ourselves.
This slogan, however, is not suggesting that we reject our critical intelligence altogether. We depend on our critical intelligence to understand others and our relationship to them. But when we use this intelligence simply to be critical, merely out of the habit of scratching an itch, we endanger both our lojong practice and our relationships with others. So when our pondering habit rears its head, we need to apply some discernment in order to work productively with our minds.
It’s important to note that we’re not trying to be forceful with our mind and suppress our negative thoughts. We are simply noticing that we have an addiction and trying not to indulge in it. When a negative thought about someone arises in your mind, let it come out and show its face. Let yourself feel the pain of it for a moment. Remember where critical thoughts can lead you, where they’ve led you so many times in the past: to harmful words and actions, to rejection and isolation. Then apply an antidote.
We can first reflect on how all our perceptions are subjective. No two people see things in the same way. Even the Buddha was seen as a person filled with faults by his jealous cousin Devadatta. There are infinite ways of looking at someone. Because of our bias, we may not want to believe this. We may deny that what we see so negatively is not inherently negative, that there is always a positive side we can focus on. But when we contemplate the results of thinking critically of others, we can give ourselves the incentive to at least balance our negative thoughts with positive thoughts.
So try to think about the person from someone else’s point of view. This person you are so critical of has relationships with many other people than yourself. Some see this person in a negative light, some in a positive light. Try to have more respect for the positive point of view. Try not to think that your own perception is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And if you focus on someone’s good qualities but still can’t come up with a single one, you can at least reflect that all sentient beings are identical at the core. All of us have the potential to overcome our self-importance and become a tremendous benefit to other sentient beings. This potential may be deeply hidden, but it exists in every one of us. We all have the potential to attain complete enlightenment. So even if you can’t think of anything good about someone, you can at least give them credit for that. Changing your focus to the person’s positive qualities is a bit like distracting a child who’s throwing a temper tantrum. You say, “Oh, look here, look at this!” and the child forgets what he or she was so upset about.