Thoughts. Experiences. Inspiration.

Do I bother you?

September 15, 2013 8

I know I have not blogged in a while, and this post was originally intended for Rinpoche’s blog but before it goes up there (alongside a number of other commentaries and reflections), I thought it might be something interesting to blog here because there are plenty of people in our everyday lives who really get on our nerves. What that really means is that there are plenty of opportunities for us to develop our spiritual practice by practising patience and tolerance, every single day. So the next time someone really (I mean, REALLY) bugs you, remember – according to the 8 Verses of Mind Transformation, you are looking at your greatest teacher.

Can't you see the anger brewing between Shin and me?

Can’t you see the anger brewing between Shin and me?

Do I bother you?: On the benefits of being irked

From time to time, Rinpoche will join us in our writers’ meetings in Kechara Forest Retreat. Like every time you see your lama, it is always a special event as wherever Rinpoche goes, Rinpoche always gives Dharma teachings. On this occasion, it was no exception and Rinpoche spoke about the benefits of being irked.

One of the verses in the Nine Attitudes of Guru Devotion reads: “That of a domestic dog. Like a loyal dog, even when the Guru ridicules, irritates or ignores you, one never responds with anger” and there is a very good reason why that verse was included.

Rinpoche spoke about irking from the point-of-view of the provoker and the receiver. On the part of the provoker, Rinpoche said that lamas care for their students so much, that they will do anything to train their students, even at the risk of their own reputations. After all, if we seek to protect our own reputation, then our Dharma work is no longer spiritual practice, but an action stained by the eight worldly concerns.

That lamas train their students arises from their Bodhisattva practice, whereby they vow to disregard how people view them or do to them. Our lamas take the risk that their actions may, in the short term, lead their students to dislike them but in the long term, have something fruition in their students’ minds which might not otherwise have.

Oftentimes this training is misunderstood by the laity as being overly wrathful, callous or even dangerous. From the side of the lama however, the action is always to help the student. This recalls teachings that Rinpoche has previously given about how we can identify a real, authentic lama. Rinpoche said that if a lama is out to benefit themselves, then they wouldn’t train their students and wouldn’t push their buttons at the risk of driving them away. In fact, fake lamas will be ‘yes’ men, always agreeing with their students and boosting their egos so that their students never leave and they (the lama) can continue to benefit from the student-teacher relationship.

Rinpoche also spoke about the topic of being irked from the perspective of the receiver. Rinpoche said that there are four types of reaction:–

  1. the person who openly and happily accepts the training,
  2. the person who has some doubts but ultimately accepts the training,
  3. the person who is overwhelmed with doubts and constantly entertains the thought of quitting, and
  4. the person who actually quits. This also includes people who are ambivalent and have no reaction at all.

Rinpoche said that ultimately, a person cannot be irked on anything if they do not already have the issue in them. To be irked is to have a reaction, and to have a reaction is to be emotionally engaged in the issue. Therefore, Rinpoche said, how much an issue bothers us is how much of a guilt trip we have about it. So perhaps our lama is always pointing out that we are too focused on relationships, and kindly advises us on equanimity and the benefits of not being attached. Different people will react to the same advice differently. Perhaps for some people, the teaching strikes a chord and leads them to develop some kind of realisation of emptiness (Person #1).


Most of the time, I just want to make like Michelle Obama but Rinpoche showed me there is a more productive way of dealing with that feeling of being annoyed

In others however, perhaps the teaching leads them to react negatively and assume that the lama is attacking them and what they want (Person #3 or #4). So then they hide what they are doing, because they know it is wrong but they still want it anyway. They label the lama as cruel, controlling or not understanding of how they feel.

Rinpoche said that such a reaction (to label the lama) is really the person’s attempts to make themselves feel better, so they do not have to deal with the issue at the moment. However, eventually they will have to deal with the issue and sometimes, when the “pressure” becomes too great because they cannot accept the reality of their situation, they quit to prove that the world is wrong, instead of proving that they are wrong.

This kind of avoidance, Rinpoche explained, can lead one to become bitter over the years. When we avoid good advice because we don’t want our buttons to be pushed, it is because we know what is wrong with ourselves but we don’t want people to talk about it or expose it. After many years of avoidance, naturally we will end up alone, bitter and angry at ourselves for not having done anything about our negative habits sooner.

Rinpoche said that we should deal with our issues before we run away or lose the people who are kind enough to uncover it inside of us, because they give up since their words fall on deaf ears. For now, we might avoid our issues by focusing on our wealth, beauty, power, etc. However, those qualities are impermanent and subject to our karma to acquire and maintain them. One day, when they leave us (beauty definitely will, with age!), we will be left with nothing but regrets for not having focused on the right things when we were younger. Rinpoche put this very succinctly in saying, “Don’t use the present comforts to shelter your environment and what you need to deal with inside of you.”

Rinpoche also used weight as an example of how we may react negatively to people’s good intentions. Perhaps we are always being told that we are fat and at risk of many medical problems. Instead of doing something about it (Person #1), we choose to ignore the giver’s good intentions and get annoyed with them instead (Person #3 or #4). We label the giver a “sizeist”, “misinformed” or perhaps even delude ourselves into thinking we are healthy. How much can we avoid though, by running away or labelling people? The problem of our weight does not go away simply because we ignore our loved ones’ advice and in the future, a doctor may tell us the same and we will have to deal with the issue then.


Yes, protect yourself from people’s bad intentions but not like this…this is probably taking it a little too far…

Acknowledging that not everyone has good intentions, Rinpoche said sometimes people do have a bad motivation, and will attempt to irk us just for the fun of it (or whatever their reasons are). However, as receivers, we should apply this teaching to ourselves so that we recognise when people are being kind to us and advising us. Instead of running or emotionally avoiding people who love us, we should take a step back and examine the content of their advice, rather than the tone.

Rinpoche also advised us not to focus on those people’s motivations, but instead focus on why their advice irks us. Why are we irked by their advice? Is there truth in what they say? Then regardless of how the advice was given to us, we still have a problem within us and since we are the one who suffers, why would we not want to do something about it and change ourselves?

When we accept advice from those with bad intentions, Rinpoche said that there’s every possibility we may get hurt. However, if we do not have any issues, then whatever people say will not irk us. Therefore Rinpoche advised us to objectively examine any advice we are given, regardless of its motivation, and then to work on ourselves. Doing so is only to our benefit – if the advice is valid (regardless of its motivation), then as we work on ourselves we become better people. In becoming better people, we will gradually have fewer issues with which people can irk us with.

To accept advice, Rinpoche said, would be to practise mind training and the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, especially the verse which reads:-

Whenever I am with others,
I will practise seeing myself as the lowest of all,
And from the very depths of my heart
I will respectfully hold others as supreme

Rinpoche acknowledged that sometimes the giver can also be irked. Therefore, we should examine the reasons why we are giving the advice. Are we giving the advice for the benefit of the other person? Or to look kindly and good? If the receiver is being blasé about the advice and it bothers us, it means we have an issue – our issue is that people do not take our advice! Therefore Rinpoche advised we should work on that issue first, until it does not bother us anymore, before we try to help others.

Or perhaps sometimes we are the kind of people who irks others as soon as they see us. Perhaps we are busybodies, the do-gooders who stick our noses into every situation to see where we can lend our two cents’ worth…or so people claim we are! Or perhaps – more realistically! – we are the kind of people who have so many issues, that the mere sight of us compels other people to have to say something. If our presence irks people in this way, we must therefore contemplate why it does that and change those elements of our minds. As Rinpoche has previously taught, it cannot be that everybody is wrong about us, and only we are right about ourselves!

We should also recognise that not everyone may be intellectually, emotionally or karmically ready to receive our advice. Sometimes people will shut off and not have a reaction. On our part, we interpret their non-reaction as being blasé or ambivalent about our kindness towards them. Rinpoche explained that their non-reaction (i.e. not being irked) is actually still a reaction. It is a psychological reaction for them to ignore the advice because they are not ready for it.

Understanding that, instead of becoming irked because people are blasé about the help we give them, we should learn to practise yet another of the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation:-

When someone I have benefited and in whom
I have placed great trust hurts me very badly,
I will practise seeing that person
As my supreme teacher.

As the giver and receiver therefore, we can always learn from how we react and how others react to us. Rinpoche pointed out that as we grow up, the people who irk us the most are our parents, our teachers and our partners. However, although they irk us by pointing out what we should improve on, we know that if we do choose to improve ourselves, they will always be there to catch and support us if we fail. Using Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) as an example of a support group, Rinpoche asked us to consider whether alcoholism is easier to deal with as an individual, or with the support of the AA group? If we fail to remain teetotal whilst in the AA programme, we will more than likely find it impossible to abstain from alcohol when we are not in the programme.

Don't want to hear the advice you're being given, because the truth bothers you too much? It may just be your loss...

Don’t want to hear the advice you’re being given, because the truth bothers you too much? It may just be your loss…

In the same way, our Guru irks us to enlightenment, and pushes our buttons towards self-improvement. However, he also provides the support we need should we stumble. This part of the teaching led me to recall something else Rinpoche had talked about many years ago. Rinpoche at the time had said if what he taught was striking a nerve in us, and making us feel uncomfortable, then we had a problem with that particular issue. The discomfort was a manifestation of our guilt, and indicated that there was an issue that we needed to deal with. However, Rinpoche created a Dharma centre so that we had somewhere safe to go to, to deal with our problems.

Rinpoche said what he was talking about – opening up oneself to the training of the lama – is not unusual. Even with Western psychiatric and psychological treatments, a patient will trust in their doctor’s degree, let their guard down, take refuge in their doctor’s methods and open themselves up to the treatment. However, whilst Western treatments only deal with the symptom of the problem, Dharma has the advantage of allowing us to create merit so that we experience that causes in future lifetimes to continue treating our own minds. Dharma also attacks the root causes of why we have issues that irk others, thereby removing the symptoms of our behaviour which irks others.

How do we practise Dharma so that we are no longer irked by others, and others no longer irk us? With consistency and practice. Rinpoche said not being consistent will hold us back in our practice, because we can never develop and move on from the same point. To check how consistent we are, we look at how many times people remind us about things. If people are consistently reminding us that we are sloppy, lazy, angersome, envious, etc., then we must seriously consider that they are telling us the truth and that we have to do something about it. Furthermore, how we view our reminders is indicative of how big the issue continues to be for us. If we continue to react negatively, then we have not yet dealt with our issues effectively.

Reflections and Teachings

8 Comments → “Do I bother you?”

  1. Han 10 years ago   Reply

    Great Sharing, Thanks!

  2. adelinewoon 10 years ago   Reply

    Whatever emotions we feel when thing goes wrong or words we dislike are being said, it is definitely time to reflect on what we have inside. Nothing on the outside can create so much pain in us if we do not first have the tendencies inside. Most times, it is not the situation or the person that causes our negative emotions to arise, it is the long time feelings that we have been boiling and we do not take the initiative to solve it until it burst. No one is here to hurt anyone, but we allow others to do so to us by not transforming our perspective and thoughts. It is our choice to be angry!

    • Elena 10 years ago   Reply

      Good point Adeline! I also want to add, no one can upset us unless we let them. “Letting them” can come in a couple of forms. You can “let them” if you’re hyper-sensitive to criticism, and view feedback as an attack rather than points which you can improve upon. “Letting them” can also be taken to mean your refusal to change those points, therefore continuing to give others cause to advise you to improve in those areas.


  3. Hah TK 10 years ago   Reply

    Just stumble on this thru fb. My apologies but somehow this appears so right yet so wrong, wise yet with little wisdom. It almost feels as if some critical piece of it is misplaced. Just a hunch or insight …

    • Elena 10 years ago   Reply

      Hi Hah TK, thanks for stopping by and leaving your opinion! Can you please explain what you mean, or anything that you feel is missing or not well explained so that I can elaborate for you? x

  4. Jim Yeh 10 years ago   Reply

    This is a very well written post Elena. When our mind is not trained, we will see only bile foaming from people’s mouth when they offer us advice. However, we have grasped the logic and fundamental teachings of mind-training, we chillax a bit, heed the advice and go flex our minds so more.

    Having said the above, I have to admit that it’s not that easy sometimes, especially when we’re in the heat of the moment and are caught off guard, coz that’s how it usually is, nobody’s gonna go “Excuse me, I would like to give you some sound advice which may pretty much ruin your day, Do you accept or decline?”

    Once again, Nice post yo.

    • Elena 10 years ago   Reply

      It works both ways Jim. Some people get upset even when they’re the advisors, simply because their advice wasn’t followed! So it goes back to the motivation – why did you give the advice? To receive validation that you care, you’re right, to make yourself look wise and good? Or to help the other person? On both the part of the giver and receiver, both must check what their motivations are…it works best if both parties in that particular interaction are in it to achieve a common goal regardless of personal preference, or just to make their individual lives better.


  5. michele marie 9 years ago   Reply

    Such a precious blog, thank you so much for sharing with us the teaching,

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