Advice for Dealing with Difficult People

Advice for Dealing with Difficult People

Date Posted:
December 2006

Rinpoche gave the following advice on how to deal with apparently difficult people, to two students who worked as caretakers at an FPMT retreat center.

My most dear ones,
I hope you are very well and I would like to thank you very much for all your continued dedication and service for sentient beings and the teachings of Buddha. Thank you for taking care of the meditators at the retreat center, who are trying to practice Dharma, to achieve enlightenment in order to liberate sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment.

I am sure for a long time, especially recently, you must have had a lot of thoughts about the person you mentioned, whose behavior appears to be difficult. How I see the situation about this person is that he is quite different from the others. How I see it is that he has his own particular karma, things happens to him, like he gets extremely cold because his retreat house is under trees and no sun shines on it or that many insects get in his house, so that he spent many months just picking up insects. Maybe it was because he didn’t keep the house clean. Anyway, regardless, he has his own particular karma.

It has been explained in the teachings by Buddha that everybody does not have the same karma. Some people experience one thing as extreme suffering and other people experience the same thing as enjoyment. So, we have to recognize these things, we can’t expect everyone to have the same karma.

If you think that everyone has their own karma and how they experience things is according to their own karma (whether as a blessing or great problem), if you see it this way, then you can understand things better and it can also become a cause to generate compassion.

The buddhas and bodhisattvas have more compassion for and cherish those sentient beings more who are more evil, heretical, self cherishing, who create more heavy karma, because they have more suffering. This also includes people who, when you do good things for them, don’t see your kindness but just see harm and criticize you. Thinking in this way helps you generate compassion, patience, and tolerance.

For example, there was an Indian saddhu who always criticized Lama Atisha, was always angry at him, creating problems, etc. Other people thought that Lama Atisha should not keep him around, and ask him to leave, but Lama Atisha always kept him close.

Also, Geshe Sopa Rinpoche had an attendant for 30 years. I think Geshe Sopa met him at an airport. He had strong karma with Geshe-la, and he was the main person helping Geshe-la in the University. However, all those years he was with Geshe-la he didn’t get along with any of the other people around Geshe Sopa, even the other geshes and disciples. So many people were unhappy with him, and even the geshes suggested to Geshe Sopa to not keep him around. Not only that, but the attendant would get very angry with Geshe Sopa. Even Geshe Donyo (the abbot of Sera Jhe) cried when he heard the attendant scolding Geshe Sopa, as people don’t normally speak like that to Geshe Sopa. It made his disciples very upset.

Another of Geshe Sopa Rinpoche’s attendants suggested to Geshe-la to get rid of the difficult attendant. Geshe Sopa Rinpoche said, if I have to choose between asking you or the other attendant to leave, I would choose you.

The attendant even affected the center, making it difficult for other people, but Geshe Sopa didn’t listen to anyone and kept him for his whole life. The attendant became a monk and then did Vajrasattva retreat. He died during the retreat.

Also, at Lama Tsongkhapa Institute in Italy there is a monk who gets very angry. Many times when the center is having big functions, especially on the day of the function, he will get very angry and actually throw tables around. Many centers have somebody like this, maybe one or two people. They have the karma to have people like this around.

So, it’s just due to karma. Having somebody at a center like this is extremely helpful and kind. As I mentioned in the thought transformation teachings, these people really make you practice thought transformation, especially tolerance and compassion.

These difficult people exist because things are empty, totally empty, because things are dependant arisings, depending on causes and conditions, on the base and the thought labeling the base and believing in that. I am just mentioning another way to look at the situation—different viewpoints and ways to use the situation to help you achieve enlightenment. Using the situation in this way helps your practice and your future enlightenment.

Even His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who historically is proven to be Chenrezig, predicted by Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, is criticized by many Tibetans. Some people write books criticizing His Holiness. These things happen due to karma that causes sentient beings to criticize even bodhisattvas, which is incredibly heavy negative karma. It is also extremely negative karma to criticize buddhas and especially the guru. This heavy negative karma causes them to be reborn for eons in hell realms. They criticize and use their most precious human body, in which they can achieve enlightenment in one brief lifetime in this degenerate time, to get reborn in the hell realms. Not only that, but they negatively influence many other people, who then lose faith, and also create a lot of heavy negative karma, and will also be reborn in the hell realms.

You are young and exceptionally kind and able people. Just to have the thought to offer service to the meditators in the retreat land, to help them and serve them, is wonderful. As Milarepa said to the people taking care of and serving meditators: “The meditator meditating on the rock and benefactor offering the food have an auspicious arrangement to achieve enlightenment together.”

This means in all future lives you will achieve all your wishes, they will easily be fulfilled, people will provide everything for you, whatever you wish, including all realizations, through what you are doing now for the meditators. Because you are fulfilling their wishes now, other sentient beings will become wish-fulfilling for you in all your future lives.

I am just explaining how karma is experienced differently. Please use this situation in order to be free from the samsaric sufferings of the six realms and to be able to achieve enlightenment quickly.

Again I would like to thank you both very much.

With much love and prayers...