An unexpected book arrived in the mail the other day. A gift from my friend’s at Wisdom Publications. Zen Master Raven: The Teachings of a Wise Old Bird. by Zen Master human form, Robert Aitken. Here the koans are told by and to animals of the forest: raven, porcupine, owl, woodpecker, badger, black bear, and […]
The Buddha knew a thing or two about non-contingent self-worth. He recognized that we actively participate in the generation of feeling insulted. Words may be issues, yet without some kind of assent, acceptance, or appropriation, they cannot affect us.
This non-contingent sentiment is made beautifully clear in this passage from the Samyutta Nikaya. The Buddha creates a metaphor to the offering of food. Your guest may or may not take the food. The Buddha said this after he was insulted by a brahman, Akkosaka, notorious for his insults:
In the same way, brahman, that with which you have insulted me, who is not insulting,; that with which you have taunted me, how is not taunting; that with which you have berated me, who is not berating: that I don’t accept from you. It’s all your, brahman. It’s all yours. (SN, 7:2)
This is a very modern take on the situation. The Buddha is acting as the first cognitive behavioral therapist and the same time he is emphasizing existential responsibility. Words can only “harm” if the receiver adopts a certain attitude.
Whoever returns insult to one who is insulting, returns taunts to one who is taunting, returns berating to one who is berating, is said to be eating together, sharing company with that person. But I am not eating together or sharing your company, brahman. It’s all yours. It’s all yours.
How much anguish has arisen from retaliating to insults? How much blood has been spilt making another pay for taunts?
Everyone is entitle to their opinions. In Mindfulness A to Z: 108 Insights for Awakening Now, I tell a story of a how someone said I looked like a “pimp” (I was wearing my best suit). These moments are little choices: indignation or letting be. Fortunately, that day I chose letting be and just had a good laugh.
The next time someone insults you, see if you can avert taking it personally.