B1 Intermediate UK 2594 Folder Collection
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Ajahn Brahm: So in a few minutes, I'll try and materialize a talk. Those of you who want
to go out, go out. Make a run for it quickly before I start my jokes. Those of you who
have got more tolerance of bad humor, please stay.
Okay, somebody, again this evening, gave me a great suggestion for a talk, which is concerning
how we put these teachings into practice in life. The talk this evening is on how to deal
with difficult people. [laughs] I'm sure that's relevant to your life. I don't know why there's
so many difficult people in the world, but I'm sure you've met many of them and even today.
The reason I give talks like this is to show just how we can apply these great insights
for meditation in Buddhism to help solve many of the problems in this world. The whole point
of Buddhist teachings is to lessen suffering, to give more freedom as we grow closer and
closer and closer to the pure freedom and bliss and ease of enlightenment.
I know, just this afternoon, giving a talk at Curtin University, I was reminded of something
I said last Monday night where some people who had never heard of Buddhism before, were
asking the old question, "Is Buddhism a way of life or is it a religion"? You should know
the answer to that question. It is a religion, for tax purposes.
Ajahn: You have to be practical about these things. You just ask our treasurer.
It's also a way of life. It's a way of dealing with the problems of life. It's many, many things.
I usually focus on the practical aspects of Buddhism in these Friday night talks and today,
how to deal with the difficult people you see from time to time in your life when you meet with them.
Don't think that just because I'm a Monk and you live in nice monasteries you don't have
your share of difficult people. I don't know what it is like, but sometimes as a Monk you
attract difficult people. I'm not saying you're difficult. [laughter]
Ajahn: ...because people have got nowhere else to go, and, sometimes, a monk's kindness
and compassion means that you accept everybody.
First of all, how you deal with difficult people, to know that difficult people are
par for the course. When we understand that, we understand it's not unusual to have difficult
people. No matter what you do, where you go, and how you behave, you're always going to
meet them.
So first of all, there's nothing wrong with having difficult people. In fact, we can look upon
difficult people...as my teacher Ajahn Chah says, they're a great blessing to our life.
They teach us patience. They teach us compassion. They actually lead to so much wisdom.
Really, you don't learn so much from the nice guys and the nice girls of life, do you?
You have a good time with them, but where you really learn your lessons is with the difficult
ones, which is why I learn from my teacher in Thailand, Ajahn Chah.
Ajahn means "teacher." He said that anything which is irritating you, anything which is
troubling you, that is your teacher. Being in Northeast Thailand, we'd always call the
mosquitoes "Ajahn mosquito"... [laughter]
Ajahn: ...because I learned so much from those damned mosquitoes. [laughs] That's what I
thought at the time, those mosquitoes. Because even when we just do loving kindness.
For those of you who are Buddhists, you know that we spread love and kindness to all people,
all beings, all genders, no matter what you are or who you are.
May all beings be happy and well. However, as a young man being a monk in Thailand, I
just could not do that. It's impossible. I did the best I can. I used to chant, "May
all beings be happy and well, except mosquitoes." [laughter]
Ajahn: "May all beings be free from suffering, but not those mosquitoes. They don't deserve,
what they've done to me." [laughs] I'm sure that if ever you spread loving kindness,
you've also got exceptions. [laughs] But it didn't work well when I had exceptions, so
I learned how to learn from those mosquitoes to be kind to them.
Sometimes, I was so kind to those mosquitoes I let them bite me. They would land on my
hand. I said, "Come on, mosquito, you can bite me. The door of my heart is open to you.
It's only a little bit of blood. I know that you need this to have your dinner.
And I like my dinner as well, especially as a monk. I know this is your dinner, so have something to eat.
Do you know what those mosquitoes did? Sometimes difficult people and difficult beings are
like this. They take advantage of you. They put their nose into the skin, and it's irritating.
So you just endure that. It's only a few seconds. But these mosquitoes, that was just an exploratory
drill. They took their nose out, walked a few steps, and tried somewhere else. [laughter]
Ajahn: They were fussy. You have three or four bites for one mosquito. They were taking
advantage of my kindness. [chuckles] That's just the nature of mosquitoes. It doesn't matter.
I have plenty of blood, and I learned a lot from that.
Number one, first of all, know that the difficult people and difficult beings and difficult
situations in life, that's common. There's nothing wrong. You never find any place where
you can run away and hide and escape from difficult people or difficult mosquitoes or
difficult experiences.
So number one, you have to accept that, and you have to learn how to deal with them.
One is learn that they're part of life and you can learn so much from them. Number two is to
realize that most of the difficulty of difficult people is actually coming from you, the way
we react to them.
Someone once said, "If ever you see a difficult person, remember, you only have to endure
them for maybe a few minutes, a few hours at most." Even if you live with them, it's
your husband or your wife, I don't know why you chose that person anyway. That's your
karma. [laughter] But anyway once you chose them....
Ajahn: Even if they're that close to you, you only have to live with them for a short
period of time, but they have to live with themselves all day. Sometimes when you think
how irritating they are for you, they'll be equally irritating towards themselves. Those
poor people have to live with that mind 24 hours a day.
It's a wonderful reflection when you see difficult people. You know if they're that difficult
for you to live with, they're also difficult to live with themselves. That gives you so
much compassion. It takes away the hurt which you feel, and you notice the hurt that they
feel, that they're so difficult to you.
It's actually empathizing with the other person, taking the pain away from yourself.
Why do I have to deal with this person? Get an idea of what they are going through in their head,
in their mind, in their life. Some of these people, if they're that difficult to you and
you're an ordinary person they've probably got no friends, no one they can really relate
to, because they're such an incredibly difficult character to live with. They're so lonely.
That actually arouses a bit of compassion to such people. When you have compassion to
such people, your endurance levels go up enormously. You can actually bear dealing with such people
because you know they're not going to be around for long.
They're going to walk out of your office, or you're going to go home to somebody else.
If you can't escape from it, you can always come on a retreat in my monastery or in
Dhammasara monastery. There's always some place you can get away. That's one thing you can do
It's also to know that the difficult people in life, you can actually change them. It's
a wonderful thing to know the difficulties which you face in life or difficulties which
they experience, they are impermanent. They're not always there. It's a phase which people
go through in their life, being difficult. Of course, that phase may last from birth
until death, but it ends eventually. [laughter]
Ajahn: It's not forever, but it's nice to know you can actually change people. You can
actually see them grow. How you change people is a wonderful psychology which I've learned
as a teacher, how you can interact with people and take the cause of them being difficult
to themselves and others and actually just move that, nudge that, in a sense of learning
to be more kind, more sensitive, less demanding, and less of a pain to live with.
It's wonderful. You can do that. How is that done? I was mentioning it in a talk this afternoon
at Curtin University. I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago. This was a powerful little experience
which I had about a month ago, maybe even longer, six weeks ago, in Singapore.
I was invited to give a talk at a conference at the Institute of Mental Health. It was
one big anniversary of their hospital. They invited me over with all these other psychologists,
psychiatrists, doctors and professors, as a monk, to give a talk on how to deal with
mental health.
What I was talking about there was the things which you heard here before. What I was really
impressed with was afterwards there was a devout Christian who was head of one of the
wards...departmental head. He invited me to his ward to do some Buddhist chanting.
but he told me actually not to tell anybody. Now I've blown it. [laughter]
Ajahn: I said, "Why do you say that?" He said, "Because what you said just makes so much
sense." He said, "I really respect that wisdom."
He said, "What I respect most of all is you're telling us something which you've only recently
been practicing. Where we don't focus on the times of the day where our patients are
sick and difficult, the times when they experience delusions or psychosis, and are dysfunctional.
We just put that aside. The times that they are apparently healthy, where they're relating
to themselves and their environment in a sensible way."
Because when a person has a mental dysfunction, it's not 24 hours a day. They have periods,
times when they're sort of in some sort of delusional state and times when they come out afterwards.
He said, "They were focusing on the times when they weren't delusional," and he said,
"By focusing on the times when they were healthy." He said, "A healing was happening." The times
when they were healthy were extending and the times when they were dysfunctional were decreasing.
I'd been teaching that for years. It's wonderful to see that has gotten into a modern health
system, in the only sort of mental hospital, which they have in that city state.
I know that's the same with difficult people. If you focus on their difficulties and make
a big deal about that, you're actually encouraging those difficulties. You're feeding them and
eventually they'll get worse and worse and worse.
There's a classic story, and I've used this so many times. If you haven't heard this before,
it's a very good one to hear. If you have heard it before, you're learning how to be
patient with a difficult monk who keeps on repeating the stories. [laughter]
Ajahn: Either way, it works. It's a great story of the demon who came into the emperor's
palace. Demon coming into an emperor's palace, and emperor was away. Because he was away
there was a monster, a big, ugly terrifying demon came and strolled right into the palace.
He was so frightening, so terrifying. Everybody froze in horror at this ugly, disgusting,
slimy demon. Allowing the demon to go right through, into the heart of the palace and
sit on the emperor's throne. As soon as he sat on the emperor's throne, that was just
too much for the guards and the ministers. They came to their senses.
They said, "Get out of here! Who do you think you are? This is our emperor's seat, not yours!!
Get out, or else!" At those harsh words, the demon grew an inch bigger, more ugly, more
smelly and the language got far worse.
That made the soldiers and ministers even more upset. They got out their swords. They
got out clubs. They clenched their fists. But at every unkind word, every angry deed, even
every unkind thought, the monster just grew an inch bigger. More ugly, more terrifying,
more smelly, and the language from the monster got worse and worse and worse.
This had been going on for quite some time before the emperor came back. At this time
that demon was so huge he took up half the throne room. He was massive and talk about
ugly and frightening.
I've never seen "Alien," the movie, but people said the alien is pretty terrifying. Imagine
the alien, multiplied by a thousand. This was so terrifying, not even
DreamWorks could manufacturer such a terrifying, horrible spectacle as this ugly demon
According to the story, the smell, the stench coming off this demon's body would make maggots
throw up. [laughter]
Ajahn: It takes a lot to make a maggot sick. [laughter]
Ajahn: The language coming from this demon was worse! Was worse than you'd hear in Northbridge
after both the Eagles and the Dockers lose. [laughter]
Ajahn: This was a problem, a real difficult being coming into the palace. When the emperor
came back...the reason he was emperor was he'd been to Nollamara, heard the talks and was wise.[laughter]
Ajahn: I always change these stories every time. Embellish them this way and that way,
so you could always hear a new angle.
The emperor had also read "Opening the Door of Your Heart," which is available at the "Book Shelf" for $25.00. [laughter]
Ajahn: I've also learned marketing. I was at an entrepreneurship business conference
this afternoon. But anyway, the emperor said, "Welcome. A monster, thank you so much for coming to
visit me. Why have you waited such a long time to come and pay me a call?'
At those few kind words, the monster grew an inch smaller, less angry, less smelly,
less offensive. All the people in the palace realized their mistake. Instead of saying,
"Get out of here, you don't belong! What are you doing here? You don't belong in here!"
they started to say, "Welcome."
One of them said, "Actually, do you want something to drink? We've got some orange juice, freshly
squozen." Squeezed...squozen? I don't know, who cares? [laughter]
Ajahn: "Would you like something to eat? We've got some nice curry puffs." They're available
this evening. I don't know what, I didn't see what's other. "They got some curry puffs.
We got some sandwiches." Someone said, "Would you like a pizza? I can ring up.
Monster size of course for someone like you." [laughter]
Ajahn: Someone gave the monster a foot massage. Have you ever had a foot massage? Imagine
a monster, with such big feet. It took about 10 of them to give each foot a massage.
Someone else, "Do you want a cup of tea?"? We have English tea. We have peppermint.
It's good for your health. Or a cup of coffee? Latte, cappuccino, or Brazilian?" I don't
really know what I'm talking about with coffee. I am just saying... [laughter]
Ajahn: Anyway, at every kind word or kind deed or kind thought the demon grew an inch smaller.
less ugly, less offensive, less smelly. It wasn't such a long time even before the monster's pizza
arrived he was back down to the size when he first began, when he first came in. They kept laying
on the kindness until that demon got so tiny one more act of kindness and that demon vanished
completely away.
The Buddha told that story in the Udana, but there was no mention of pizzas and peppermint tea.
I made that up. Buddha told that story in Udana. He said, "We call those things anger-eating
demons. When you give them anger, they get bigger, less ugly, less offensive, less smelly,
their language gets worse." He said, "The only way we can overcome the anger-eating demons
in life is with kindness. Welcome. Thank you for visiting for me."
Many difficult people you meet in life are anger-eating demons. You give them anger, you say, "Get
out of here, you don't belong in here," it actually does get worse. So instead of saying,
"Get out of here, you don't belong," some of the difficult people you say, "Welcome.
Thank you for coming to bother me." [laughs] You don't actually say that. You say, "Thank
you for coming to visit me," and give them kindness.
Sometimes people say, "That doesn't work. It might be OK for you as a monk. Maybe Ajahn
Brahm's got psychic powers. You can actually get into their head and their mind and rearrange
their neural pathways so they're not difficult with you." No, it does work.
One of the first time, 20 years ago, when I told this story it was when I as teaching
in prison, in Karnet Prison Farm, just down the road from my ministry. We still go there most Fridays.
When I was teaching that at Karnet Prison Farm one of the prisoners complained and he
said, "That is just new age rubbish. It doesn't work in the real world, especially in a prison.
Prisons are tough places. If you've got a difficult person you've got to stand up for
yourself. That's the only language they understand."
Of course, I wasn't having any of that. I said, "I don't believe you." He said, "You
don't live in prison." I said, "Monastery we have cells, we have wall around." Actually,
they don't have a wall around Karnet but we have a wall around our monastery. Sometimes
people, in the early years, they used to drive to Karnet Prison Farm and ask where are the
monks. It was very embarrassing. Luckily, there weren't any monks in it.
Anyway, I challenged this guy and said, "In this prison, who is the most difficult person
you have to deal with?" The prisoner I challenged was with a number of other prisoners. He said,
"The chief officer. The chief officer, my job is to serve him tea and coffee every day.
That's my job in prison. I hate that guy. He's always really nasty."
He told me a story which happened a week before. One of the prisoners in Karnet, he had hardly
ever had a visit from his family because it's such a hard place to get to. There's no public
transport and if you're poor and haven't got a car you have to find a friend who can actually
take you all that way. It's a difficult place to get to.
He said this man's wife had managed to get a lift to come and see him, but before you
can go and see your relations in prison you have to check in, say your name, go through
all the security stuff. The chief officer had seen this woman checking in and knew that
she had come to see this prisoner and decided to be cruel to the prisoner.
On the PA system he said so-and-so, I've got a job for you on the other side of Karnet
Prison Farm and sent him to a place where the PA system didn't reach. It's a huge prison
farm. He did it on purpose because as soon as his wife had checked in the PA system announced
prisoner so-and-so, your wife is here, please go to the visitor's area, but he couldn't hear it from where he had been sent.
The message was repeated two or three times. There was a search to try and find him. They
did find him. By the time they found him and he came back visiting hours are over. Better
luck next time. He said, "The chief officer did this on purpose with no reason other than
spite and trying to give the prisoners a harder time than they deserved. That's why, in that
time in prison, he was called a dog."
I said, "You hate him?" He said, "Yes. Really big time. He's so difficult. He never respects
us, never says anything to us. He always puts us down and treats us like dirt." I said,
"Great. This is a challenge. You meet him every day serving tea and coffee. Be kind
to him. Don't embrace him with your arms, you'll get in trouble that way, but at least you can embrace him with your heart."
I said, "How you can do that is every time you serve him some tea and coffee try and
put some love and care in that tea or coffee. Try and make it the most beautiful, delicious
cup of coffee you possibly can make. Find out what he likes and be kind. Get lots of
love and compassion whenever you serve him tea and coffee."
So all credit to this prisoner, he tried it, for a week. When I came back after one week, "How is it going?"
He said, "It's a complete waste of time. I'm trying really hard to be kind to this guy
but every time, even if I put lots of effort into making a nice cup of tea and coffee,
he completely ignores me as if I don't exist, as if I'm lower than a cockroach. He even
says to the cockroach get out of here, but not me."
I told him, "Carry on." It was about, I'm not sure how long, maybe a couple of months,
I had to encourage him and force him to do this, before we got what I call the big breakthrough.
One day I actually came to visit and he couldn't wait to tell me this.
He said, he'd made this prison officer a beautiful cup of coffee with cream or whatever he found,
just the type he thought the prison officer liked, and managed to find him some biscuits
which he noticed the prison officer liked, and he said, "Here you are sir, have this
coffee, and I've found some special biscuits which I know you like," and the prison officer
said, "Er." He grunted. That was our breakthrough. [laughter]
It was the first time he acknowledged that this prisoner actually lived and existed and
breathed. That grunt, I said, "Wow, this is exciting!" That is the crack in the dam wall.
I was right. It was only about two or three weeks later the prisoner managed to find a
special cup of tea, a sandwich or whatever, handed it to this prison officer, the chief
officer, who was a dog, and the chief officer turned around and said, "Thank you."
All the other prisoners were telling me this and they were all looking at me and they said,
"You don't realize just how the prison grapevine works. That has gone to every prison in the
state." That this chief officer could say thank you to a prisoner was unbelievable.
I won the challenge. I knew I'd win eventually. Even such a dog you can change into a cuddly
little puppy with lots and lots and lots of kindness.
You can turn difficult people around, but it just takes a lot and lot of patience, a
lot of kindness. Some of you will not be able to do that. It's too much for you. You have
to know your limitations. But it does work if you really push at it. The most difficult
people can become the best of your friends. Sometimes it's a challenge which is worth
facing in life. You have people in the office. Give them kindness.
When they give unkindness back to you and difficulty to you, know your limitations.
If you have to run away, fine. If you have to, talk to them and point out what it feels like.
What I talked about this afternoon in a conference is also what I talked about here, the old sandwich
technique. If you do have to tell a person you're being difficult to me, I have my own
space that I need to protect, you don't go blurting out the negative stuff straight away.
That will never work.
Whenever you are talking to someone and want to bring up a difficult problem, in other
words to criticize them, to tell them they're making a problem for you, sandwich technique.
Two or three pieces of praise, first of all. You're a really nice person, just the way
you work, you're so diligent, you're so well dressed or whatever, something which praises
them, and then you tell them.
Say you want to criticize me. You say, "Ajahn Brahm, you're such a nice monk, coming all
the time, giving these talks, and they're very inspiring. When you say things like that
I open up to you. You lighten [?] me. I'm listening to you." Then you say, "But your jokes are
sometimes a bit over the top, but I know that you do look after the monasteries and look
after the Buddhist society." You praise afterwards.
If you actually sandwich your criticism between heaps and heaps of praise, people actually
listen to it. If you are dealing with a difficult person and you really need to tell them, they
really need to listen to you to know exactly what they're doing and the problems they're
causing, please praise them first of all. Get on their right side. Then they know they're
not being attacked.
Push this back at you. Isn't that what you need when you're being told off because you
are difficult people, as well? Sometimes aren't you? It's always somebody else. Sometimes we create difficulties
for others. If I was going to tell you off, this is how I would do it. I'd praise you,
first of all, butter you up, make you know that I appreciate and value and care for you.
If you just give criticism straight away what we feel is that person, why are they my enemy?
Why are they just saying this to me? Don't they realize how hard I work and the difficulties
and the problems I have to face? When you get criticism straight away you just get defensive,
you justify yourself, and you don't listen to the other person. You don't take it on-board.
By getting that acceptance, the very fact that you're accepted, you're appreciated,
you're valued means you're opening up. Then you put the criticism in and you butter over
afterwards. I really like you, you're really valued, thank you for being who you are.
Then people actually can listen.
A lot of times people don't realize they're being difficult to you. It's weird, but they
think they're being a friend. They think they're being them or they're being funny or they're
being whatever. Sometimes we do need feedback to know exactly what we're doing and how we come across.
I remember playing this game once with one of my fellow monks about 32 years ago. We
sat down and we wrote what we thought of each other and then we passed it to each other.
It was amazing for me to listen to what another person thought of me. It wasn't what I thought
he thought of me and what I thought of him wasn't what he thought I thought of him, completely different.
The way that we relate to each other is not actually the way that we are thought of. Sometimes
they don't realize they're being difficult, so they do need some feedback. That has to
be done on the sandwich technique, at the right time and place, and then people will
take it aboard, and they can change, and how do they change?
Make sure they're not put in the situations where that difficulty arises from in the beginning.
One of the reasons why people are difficult, why sometimes you are difficult, is because
people are too stressed out. When you're stressed out at work, you take it back home, give people
a hard time at home, and then because you have a hard time at home, you have family
problems, when you go back to work, you're stressed out at work even before you begin your day.
You are in the cycle of negativity and stress, so much so that we really should deal with
that problem, whether at home, or at work, to learn how to de-stress, and to be able
to de-stress a little bit of meditation really works.
You know the old story, how heavy is a cup? The longer I hold it, the heavier it feels,
if I keep holding this for five minutes, my arm aches, 10 minutes, I'm in great pain.
If I keep holding this for half an hour, I'm a very stupid monk. [laughter]
Ajahn: What should I do when it starts to get heavy? Put it down for five minutes. If
you don't believe me, you can try this out at home. [laughs] It works, after five minutes
you pick it up again, it's much lighter. It feels lighter. It's exactly the same weight,
it feels lighter because you have rested. Your stress is nothing to do with how much work you have.
The amount of responsibilities and duties you have, that is not the cause of stress.
The cause of stress is when it gets too heavy to bear, you don't know how to put it down.
You're afraid of putting it down for a few minutes, to rest, to get your energies and
strength back up, and you will find, as any psychologist or monk will tell you...actually,
we teach the psychologists, that's where they got all their ideas from. [laughter]
Ajahn: We should patent them, but we give things out for free.
Ajahn: This is the work you have. You find if you put it down for 5 or 10 minutes,
it's not 5 or 10 minutes wasted, it's actually an investment of time. Because when you're
rested, afterwards, the quality of your work improves enormously. You get more done in
less time too. You become more efficient, and sometimes at work we mistake the quantity
of work for its quality and efficiency.
Giving yourself a break, 10 minutes of meditation, rest, or whatever, and I recommend the toilet
is a great place to meditate. [laughter]
Ajahn: You can put on, "engaged" there, no one will bother you, and you can always say
you were constipated. You're not lying, because your brain was constipated. [laughter]
Ajahn: Then rest for a few minutes. When you come out afterwards, you make up that 10 minutes
you spent in the loo very quickly, so you get more work done, more efficiency, higher
quality, and you're not stressed out.
So when you go home, you can enjoy the company of your relations, and know your kids, and
your wife, your husband, and even actually relax and enjoy your dinner. Because when you enjoy
the company of home...again, home is supposed to be a place where you de-stress, you can
relax, have a good dinner, and meet the people you love and care for.
When you have a nice rest in the evening, you go back to work in the morning, then you're
sort of calm. It's a cycle which you can either have a vicious cycle of stress and argument
at home, or stress at work, and you get really crazy, or you can break that cycle, rest a
little bit at work. You get more done, you come home, you relax, everything is going
well at home so you...happy at work as well. You get more done there.
That's a cycle where you don't become a difficult person to live with. That's why I say to people
when they come on meditation retreats, they're doing meditation here on a Saturday afternoon,
or beforehand, "Why do you meditate?" Because other people have to put up with you. [laughter]
Ajahn: That's one of the great reasons to meditate, and if you meditate, you're a much
nicer person afterwards. Many times when I've been teaching meditation, especially down
at Armadale, I don't know why this happens always in Armadale group. In Armadale group,
sometimes after the meditation, talking to people afterwards, and very often people say,
"You know, this evening, I never wanted to come."
"It's Tuesday evening, I've been at work, and I'm tired, and I told my kids I'm not
going this evening, and my daughter said, 'Mommy, you must go to meditation.' I said,
'I don't feel like it darling, I'm tired.' 'Mommy, you must go to meditation!' 'No, not
this evening.' 'Mommy, go to meditation!!' 'Why darling?' 'Because you're a much nicer
mommy when you come back.'" [laughter]
Ajahn: So they go. Many of the kids actually understand that. They can see the change in
you when you're de-stress, so you're not such a difficult mother or a difficult father
to your own kids. This is actually how you can see in practice, a little bit of rest
makes people less difficult people to live with.
You see, in the course of these things, so it's not just being compassionate and kind,
it's actually knowing the causes of being difficult, and dealing with them by giving
yourself a bit of rest, being de-stressed.
One the other things about being a difficult person...You know what it's like sometimes,
just so much stuff comes on top of you, you've got so many things to do. I've had an incredibly
busy week, but when I have a busy week, I try really hard never to get negative.
Sometimes I go, "Oh, why me? Why do I have to deal with all these crazy people? Why do
I have to take all these calls?" Sometimes from overseas, people ring up, they're crazy.
It's what I've called here, "Dial-up a monk service." [laughter]
Ajahn: Sometimes, even people have lost their dog, over in sort-of Canada somewhere, and they say
"Can you do some chanting for me over the phone?" [laughter]
Ajahn: I was saying today that I was in Japan three or four weeks ago, and Japan is such
a high tech country, and if we ever...I should maybe do a fundraiser soon to buy a robot monk... [laughter]
Ajahn: ...like a cyborg, it can look like me or any other monk, we'll put a robe on
it, so if they want any chanting, you can just put a donation in a little slot here,
press a button, and we can give you the blessing services... [laughter]
Ajahn: ...or even on a Friday night if I'm not feeling myself, and just want a bit of
a rest, I can put my cyborg appear, you put one of the old CDs of favorite talk, press
a button, and no one will know the difference. [laughter]
Ajahn: This goes...an idea, it's got some potential. [laughter]
Ajahn: But I would never do that, because of, "Why do I have to work so hard?"
Because when you get sort of negative, you do become a difficult person to live with,
so know that whatever you have to do in life, you embrace it, have fun with it. If you teach
a person to have fun with the difficulties of life, to embrace them, then you'll find
that you never get a difficult character.
Seeing a person who is a difficult person to live with, it is because they're fighting
their life. They're angry at just what life gives them, and they're probably working too
hard, "Why do I have to do all of this? Why does all these things happened to me? Why
is this life so tough for me?" and they take it out on you, and all the other people they live with.
Hope I never take it out on the monks which I live with. Instead, you just embrace it,
take it on board, it's just life. You can't change life, but as I said many times, you
can always change the attitude you have to life. It's an attitude problem we have, that's
all. What's wrong with working hard? You can only do one thing at a time, that's all we
ever do. That's why we never get angry at people not turning off their mobile
phones, we embrace that. [laughter]
Ajahn: Thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to explain just how you can embrace
the difficulties of life. [laughter]
Ajahn: Look, I had a choice, I could get angry at someone not turning off their mobile phone,
but why get angry for? It's already been turned on, big deal, so you don't get angry
at life, you just embrace it. People make mistakes. I make mistakes. I made a big mistake,
I hope she's not here today. Last Sunday I was doing a marriage service for one of the
people who comes here regularly, and she's married to a nice young boy. You always have
to get married to a boy, I suppose, if you're a girl. [laughter]
Ajahn: I don't know why I said that, but anyway she was getting married... [laughter]
Ajahn: ...and after the service, doing the blessing service, and I said to him...That's
right, this elderly man came to stand next to him, and I said, "Oh, is that your father?"
And the old man said, "No, I'm the best man." [laughter]
Ajahn: He was not very happy at me. [laughter]
Ajahn: Well, like I was telling a funeral director on...When was it? On Wednesday, or
Tuesday...Thursday, Thursday, yesterday. I was telling the funeral director about one
of the funerals I did once for a couple who comes here. One of their parents died. I'm
doing the funeral service and saying, "Oh, it's such a shame that your mother passed
away, she was such a good Buddhist, and she'd done so much."
Then this old lady stood up at the back and said, "It's not me, it's my husband. I'm alive!
It's he who's dead." [laughter]
Ajahn: I do stupid things many times. [laughter]
Ajahn: But when you make a stupid thing, instead of getting tense about it and being
a difficult person, you laugh at life. I actually try and collect all my stupid mistakes, and
try and tell you all about them... [laughter]
Ajahn: ...so that you laugh. When you make a mistake, it's like a wonderful opportunity
to make people laugh. That's why one of the sayings, "When you ever make a
stupid mistake, and people laugh, you laugh as well, because then the world never laughs
at you, it only laughs with you." So we laugh as well at the stupidity of life and making
a mistake, and that way we embrace and accept things, even the difficult things, and we
don't become a difficult person.
No matter what you have to deal with, you can embrace and make it work, so if you learn
that, then you're not one of the difficult people in life. It's always other people who
are difficult. No matter who those other people are. They're us, so when we
learn how not to be difficult, we can maybe give those skills to other people, but not
be so demanding of life by having an attitude which is more accepting of life.
When it's a problem, we know how to deal with it with the...what's it called? The sandwich
method. That way, the other people and yourself can actually live peacefully together. But
I've already mentioned in passing, the most difficult person in your whole life is not the boss from hell.
The most difficult person is not the person you married, or your mother-in-law. Somebody
actually told me, "You know, mother in law is an anagram. You can actually change the
letters of mother-in-law, and it comes out, 'Hitler woman.'" [laughter]
Ajahn: I might get in trouble for that one. But it's true, work it out. Write out "mother-in-law,"
and you can see it. But many mothers-in-law are not Hitler women, they're very nice people.
But, where there is a difficult person in your life, sometimes that can be you, and
actually they're not the most difficult person in life. The most difficult person in life is yourself, isn't it?
The one you have the hardest time living with, at peace, and embracing, and being kind to,
is you. It's important to recognize that. Learn to live with difficult people. First
of all, you have to learn how to live with a difficult you, and what's the difficulty with you?
Anyway, who do you want to be? Of course, if you want to be something other than you
are, if you want to be the great meditator who can fly through the air on a Friday evening,
you've never seen that before, that would make it interesting.
Ajahn: If you always want to give the best talks, or if you always want to be the wisest
and skillful comedian, and get everyone always to laugh at your jokes...Actually, one of
my favorite comedians, he once said...He wrote his autobiography, and he said, "When he was
young, he always wanted to be a comedian." He said, "His friends would laugh at him for
wanting to be a comedian." Now he's a comedian, they don't laugh anymore. [laughter]
Ajahn: What was the other...one of his other favorite jokes was, he said, "When I die..."
He was contemplating on death, which is a Buddhist thing to do, so this is almost a
Buddhist joke. He said, "When I die, I want to die in my sleep just like my father. He
died in his sleep. Not like the passengers in the bus he was driving at the time, screaming and shouting." [laughter]
Ajahn: That was a nice joke. [laughter]
Ajahn: Anyhow, where was I going with this story? Being kind to yourself, and accepting
yourself, is actually learning not to be your own enemy. Not to be a difficult person to
yourself. You know, I have got my idiosyncrasies, and they've all been on display for the last
20 years in this place. You know who I am, but you accept yourself as you are.
You relax, you allow yourself to make mistakes, you allow yourself to be who you are. You
have this beautiful sense of embracing yourself with all of your idiosyncrasies.
In other words, you become at peace with yourself. That's actually what many people do when they
come to a place like this. They learn how to accept themselves as they are, to be at
peace with themselves, and not being the most difficult person in the world to live with.
Strange thing, but as a monk, I spend many, many hours by myself. Sometimes people ask
that, "As a monk, you never had a wife, haven't got kids, aren't you ever lonely? Sometimes
on retreat, you never speak to a person for two weeks. Did a six-month retreat once, never
spoke to a person, or saw anyone for six months, weren't you lonely?"
I have to answer them when they ask that question, "Actually, I'm never lonely. I never feel
wanting to have to be with people, but I like people, but I don't have to be with people,
so even at times of solitude I never feel lonely." When they asked me that question
the first time I thought, "Why not?" and I realized actually that there's
always somebody around, me.
Because I'm a friend of myself, because I like me, I'm always with my best friend.
At nighttime, in my cave, where I live at Serpentine, I always go to sleep with my best friend,
me, and because I'm at peace with myself, and accept myself, understanding I'm not perfect,
but I'm good enough, then I'm never lonely.
Lonely people are people who don't like themselves, people who are afraid of themselves, so when
no one else is around, you're with this strange and terrifying being called "me," which you
haven't really made peace with yet, haven't really understood yet.
Once you understand who you are, you accept yourself with some kindness, you become at
peace with yourself. Actually, you like yourself, you find one of the greatest insights you
could ever have is, "I'm OK" insight - to realize there's absolutely nothing wrong with you,
as you are, you are perfect. You don't believe that, which is why you keep trying to change yourself.
When you make peace with yourself, and accept yourself for who you are, then you're a friend
to yourself, you never feel lonely, because you're there all the time. Only people who
don't like themselves feel lonely. They are the biggest problem. They are the difficulty.
Something strange happens, once you actually solve that difficulty, "you," and make peace
with yourselves, and at ease with yourself, no one else in the world would ever be difficult for you.
There won't be difficult people anymore, because the difficulty of other people is just a projection
from yourself. It's why I've noticed, when people criticize others, "He talks too much."
I notice the person doing the criticism also talks too much. [laughter]
Ajahn: I've seen people say, "You eat too much." It's only fat people say others eat
too much. It's amazing how people criticize because it's something in their character
they don't like about themselves, which they project onto other people. I notice that,
and think it's a common psychological trait. So the only reason you find other people difficult
is because you find yourself difficult.
If you can actually heal the problem, coming to peace with yourself, being at ease with yourself,
accepting yourself, then you can find you can accept just about every other being.
Of course, as a monk, I've come to peace with myself a long time ago.
I have these crazy people come and talk to me, stupid people come and talk to me, wise
people, beautiful people, they're all beautiful people, they're just who they are, so I respect
people, and of course I've been in these jails, and saw these real crooks in the jails. I've
been talking to politicians and seen the crooks on the outside as well.
Ajahn: Sorry, they're not real crooks, they're just people, they're trying to do their best,
but sometimes they've got their defilements as well. So when you start to see people for
who they are, and you can accept them and be with them as they are, then there's no
such thing as a difficult person anymore.
I remember this one lady, no other monk would be able to talk with her, and she would come
on the telephone...I think [?] knows who I'm talking about, and she would
swear, F-words, bloody words, "Bloody monks, I'm going to come up there with an M-16 and
shoot you all." I said, "OK, that's a nice thing to do." [laughter]
Ajahn: I understood her. No, she's a really difficult person, but because I never reacted
back, because I always react in kindness, she always loved me and said, "You're the
only person who understands me," and of course she never came to the monastery with an M-16 to shoot us all.
She was just taking out her venom on someone who would listen and not take it seriously.
I could understand where she was coming from, the pain of her life, the difficulties of
her life and embracing her for who she was. Then she'd calm down, become very peaceful
and tell me all about her life, a very painful difficult life. She was not a problem. She
was not a difficulty. As I understood myself, I could understand her.
You can actually calm down the so called difficult people in this world when you have learned
how to calm down yourself. Then everybody in the world is not difficult anymore. It's
not as if they continue those bad habits which other people think as difficult. Because you
can calm them down, accept them peacefully, they don't need to express that difficulty
anymore in those dysfunctional ways.
It is exactly the same as in the hospital you are focusing on the beautiful parts of
them, the beautiful parts of them grow. How we can deal with difficult people in life,
not just difficult people but difficulty in ourselves, and the difficult situations in
life which occur again and again and again in life. Your flight gets canceled because
Bangkok airport has closed. Wonderful! You can spend more time in Perth.
Those people in Bangkok? Great place to see, get two extra days of holiday and your boss
can't actually blame you. Why do we make life difficult instead of exploiting
life? When life doesn't go the way we want it, great! Wonderful! And even when people
criticize you unfairly, what a wonderful experience that is, to be criticized and test yourself out.
Don't know when was the last time I told this story about a donkey who fell in the well. Once upon a time... [laughter]
Ajahn: ...there was a donkey, just walking happily along in the forest, just munching
and minding its own business. Because it wasn't mindful, he fell into a well, the well was
dry so it didn't drown, and he didn't really injure himself, just a few bruises and scratches.
When the donkey came to his senses he realized he was at the bottom of a well and there's
no way up because donkeys can't climb. The only thing the donkey thought he could do
was to cry for help to get someone's attention otherwise he would die down there of starvation.
He started crying for help. [makes donkey sound] I can't really do donkey noises, as
I think now you have understood because probably I've got no previous incarnations as a donkey. [laughter]
Ajahn: Those people who imitate animal noises, it must be that in your last life you were
an animal. [laughter] As for me, I wasn't a donkey in my last life so [makes donkey sound] is the
best I can do. " [makes donkey sound] ," said the donkey again and again. After a couple
of hours actually somebody heard him. It was the local farmer. "What's making that noise?"
He came over and saw it was coming from the well. He looked down, "my goodness,
a donkey has fallen down that well."
Now that farmer never liked that donkey. The donkey was always eating his farm produce and was
being very stubborn. He'd never do what the farmer wanted. He also realized that well
was a very dangerous thing. Somebody might fall in that well, a human.
He thought of a wonderful idea. He could get rid of that dangerous well and the donkey
at the same time.
He got out a spade and started filling that well with earth. The cruel farmer. Now, if
you do something like that it's called "bad karma." If you do any bad karma you're going
to get unpleasant consequences, as you will see as this story develops. [laughter]
So this donkey at the bottom of the well, thinking at first the farmer would help him,
realized the farmer's trying to kill him by shoveling all this dirt over the donkey. When
the donkey realized that, [makes donkey sound] even louder. [laughter]
But that didn't stop the farmer. He just kept shoveling more dirt over this donkey,
more and more dirt, trying to fill in the well and bury the donkey alive. After a while
the donkey went quiet and never said anything. The farmer thought, "I've killed him." "I've
buried him. Good riddance," and kept on shoveling.
But the donkey hadn't died. The donkey, who must have also gone to Nollamara in the previous life... [laughter]
Ajahn: ...had insight. He was a very smart donkey. Never underestimate donkeys. His insight
was this. Instead of complaining when people throw dirt all over you, instead of complaining,
just shake it off, tread it in, and he found he was growing a centimeter taller. The next
shovel full of earth, shake it off, stamp it in, he's another centimeter higher. Every shovel of earth,
he was getting closer and closer to the top of the well.
Now the farmer, thinking the donkey had died already, paid no attention at all, shoveling, shoveling,
when a pair of donkey ears appeared above the top of the well. Shovel, shovel, shovel.
Shake it off, stamp it in, until a donkey head appeared at the top of the well. Before
the farmer realized, the donkey was close enough to the surface it jumped out and bit the farmer on the backside. [laughter]
Ajahn: Not because the donkey didn't like the farmer, but because he had to show the
farmer the law of karma. [laughter] He was just an agent of cause and effect. He ran away. That's how the donkey
escaped from the well. The moral of that story is, and I've told that to politicians. I even, actually, told that to the president
of Sri Lanka a couple of years ago, all you Sri Lankans here, he loved that story, because, being a politician, people are always
throwing dirt on you. Shrug it off, stamp it in, and you get higher moral ground.
It's the same with you. People criticize you. Your husband calls you ugly. You called him stupid,
whatever it is. Just shrug it off, stamp it in, and you'll get closer to the top of the
well. That's how to deal with difficult people. People called me lazy because I haven't got a proper job. [laughter]
I say, "Well, in this time of economic difficulty, I'm freeing the labor market up
for you people to get jobs rather than take it myself." People are saying, "Oh, you're
scared of relationships, because you don't have children." I'll say, "I'm making the
planet more carbon neutral because if you have kids, how much of a carbon footprint do you get
with kids? Being celibate, I'm doing my bit for overpopulation."
So whatever it is, when people criticize you, you can always turn it around, shake it off,
and you don't need to think that they're making life difficult for you. You only make life
difficult for yourself. No one else does.
There is no such thing as a difficult person, basically, except yourself. You get yourself
right, make peace with yourself, and you'll find that everything in life will then also
be at peace. All the difficult people will just be people that's all, human beings just
being human beings, mosquitoes being mosquitoes, donkeys being donkeys, farmers being farmers.
How to deal with difficult people. Thank you for listening.
Audience: Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu.
Ajahn Brahm: So, who is going to be the first difficult person and ask a question? Any questions or comments
tonight? That's a great way of stopping questions, associating that with a difficult person.
No? Got a question?
Participant: What about children that[?...?]
it's getting away with it and will do it again?
Ajahn: Okay, children who become difficult if you don't pay attention to them, the attention
seekers in life. How do you deal with them? That's just children being children. They're
not being difficult children. Try and find time with them. If you haven't got time with them,
you can't find time with them. It's not a difficulty. It's just the nature of children.
If they want attention from other people and they haven't got attention from their parents,
sometimes they try it with their teachers, you just do what you can. You can't please
everybody. Where's the difficulty there?
The only difficulty is if you think that children shouldn't be like that or you think that you
shouldn't be like that. That's part of life, and you do what you can. You can't do more
than that. Then the difficulty finishes. Embracing the reality that children want and seek attention.
I reckon, is that an answer we can come to accept, or am I sort of skirting around it?
Participant: I think that he's [inaudible 61:42] .
Ajahn: [laughs] Very good.
Participant: I think they see a responsibility. There is a demon, you still see them actually
point out that that's a demon.
Ajahn: You have to point out there's a demon in them in the sense that you point out that
they're causing trouble to other people and difficulty to other people. It has to be pointed out.
How you point it out is the interesting way. Sometimes we haven't got the resources
to point it out in this particular time. We're tired. We've got other kids to look after
in a classroom. Sometimes you can find time to take them aside later on.
It reminds me of the late Abbot Placid. Talking about him, he was the abbot of New Norcia
who died recently. He was a good friend. I went to his funeral service.
I remember at a conference at UWA it was actually Father Frank Brennan was there, the Jesuit priest.
He asked this question, he said, "I do work in universities." "I so easily get on with
Buddhists, with Hindus, with Jewish, all religions." The only difficulty he has is with the born-again,
the fundamentalists, the sort-of Charismatic Christians.
He asked Abbot Placid, not me, he said "What would you be your advice to deal with the Charismatic
Christians, the real troublemakers?" Abbot Placid said, "Take them out one by one." An outrageous this for an abbot to say. [laughter]
Ajahn: He had a great sense of humor. But then he said afterwards, "Deal with them later
on, singly, one by one." That's actually a very beautiful piece of advice because in
the case of a bit of a troublemaker, sometimes take them aside, by themselves. It's much
easier to deal with. The social context sometimes exacerbates their difficulty.
Pull them aside later on. Just talk to them one by one. Find out what's going on.
Participant: What would you say to them?
Ajahn: Sorry?
Participant: What would you say to them?
Ajahn: "What would you say to them?" That you can never predict, what you're going to say.
In no way can I predict what I'm going to say on a Friday night. Or if somebody actually
comes up to me, they've got a problem, what I'm going to say to them. Your job is never
plan what you're going to say. If you do, then you're not reacting to the moment. You're
not being intuitive. You're not listening to the other person. Your job is bring
them in and see what happens. Listen, be kind, connect, and see what comes next.
That's why you should always, as I say, always follow your gut feeling except when you've got irritable bowel syndrome. [laughter]
Ajahn: Your intuition is actually very strong and very smart if you can only tap into that
by taking away all these plans. Okay, I think that's all you're going to get.
Another question. Wow, they're being very difficult in that corner. I'll just take you
out afterwards, one by one. [laughter]
Ajahn: Yeah, come on. What have you got?
Participant: What exactly did the mosquitoes teach you? [?] did they?
Ajahn: What the mosquitoes taught me was how wonderful it is to be in Australia where there aren't so many. [laughter]
Ajahn: No, the lesson they taught me is actually not to react so much because when I just
let them be, actually there weren't so many mosquitoes on me. The more I reacted, the more the mosquitoes came.
I found out afterwards that mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide coming from
your pores. The higher the metabolism, the more you've got a neon sign to mosquitoes,
"Ajahn Brahm's Diner. Please come in and take a meal."
But when I really relaxed and I didn't bother about them, because you weren't worrying your
metabolism went down. You were more calm and peaceful, which meant not so much carbon dioxide
was coming out from your pores, which means, eventually, they couldn't find you.
They actually taught me a great lesson. The more you worry about these things, the more
you bring them to you. The more you leave them alone and be at peace,
the more invisible you are to mosquitoes. They taught me how to just not worry about things, even if they're irritating.
Understanding life sometimes is irritating, and the only thing you can do is let it be.
Don't fight it and the irritation disappears, literally. That's what I learned from mosquitoes.
They're great teachers. The more you fought them, the more they came.
Okay, so that's enough for this evening. Thanks again for coming. We have now a couple of announcements.
If you'd like to hand over to Ann, who's our events manager in our committee, giving the
announcements this evening in Rachel's absence.
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Dealing With Difficult People | by Ajahn Brahm

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Buddhima Xue published on August 25, 2015
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