Do I Irk You?
All of us gets irked when someone says or does something that we do not like… but have we ever thought deeper as to why it irks us? Why do certain comments immediately bother us? Why do some people get irked so easily… and everything that you say, they immediately take offense and get defensive?
I gave a short teaching to a few of my students in Kechara Forest Retreat. I told 4 of my students who were at the teaching, to do a short write up on what they understood. Their sharing comes from different perspectives… and I hope that you will benefit from it.
Do read what my students have understood about the subject of ‘being irked’… and share in the comments section what you have learnt.
When we irk someone, what are we “saying”?
by Andrew James Boon
Why is it that every time someone points out our faults, we automatically get all defensive? To me, being defensive is to consciously or subconsciously acknowledge that there is a fault and we want to hide or deflect it – basically, how much a person reacts or does not react depends on whether the person has an issue with what was said. This pointing out of our faults is irking. Hence this teaching is on what irks someone and when it is right to do so and when it is not.
Some variations in the reactions when one is irked can be summarized as follows:
- To be reflective and look into oneself, to see it as constructive criticism.
- To be indifferent or have no reaction.
- To be frustrated and walk away and to run from the situation.
- To be unbelieving to the point of being vindictive.
Very simply, to irk someone is to provoke a thought/reaction whether negative or positive to trigger what is actually bothering them, which inevitably “opens” up something for them to eventually heal. Of course the intentions of the giver are equally important to the reaction of the receiver.
How we recognize that we are trying to help the receiver and not just irk them for the sake of provocation depends on the motivation behind it. This we can easily check by seeing if we do it at the expense of our own personal expression and how the person would view us. For example, how we would point out another’s apparent fault knowing that we would not be viewed positively by that person after the fact, but we do it anyway because we sincerely want them to see the error in their ways or manner, and this is more important than how they view us.
Ultimately we all suffer and whether we want to irk or are constantly irked depends on the issues that are buried within us and why it hurts us.
If we are in a situation where we find ourselves irked constantly out of genuine care, look not at merely how it feels to be irked but the motivation behind it. Deal with the issues that have been kindly pointed out before you lose the people kind enough to bring it up to you at all, at the expense of them looking bad to you in your eyes.
At the end of the day, it has to be how consistent we are in our actions and that is a gauge to how consistent we are in whether or not people around us tend to have to remind us. And how we view that reminder is a clear indication of why we are inconsistent.
Hence always look within ourselves before we make any judgment or accusation and with that clarity then, only can we focus out.
DO I BOTHER YOU?
by Khong Jean Ai
From time to time, Rinpoche will join us in our writers’ meetings on Manjushri Hill at 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:–
- the person who openly and happily accepts the training,
- the person who has some doubts but ultimately accepts the training,
- the person who is overwhelmed with doubts and constantly entertains the thought of quitting, and
- 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).
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.
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.
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.
Irked Into Transformation
by Martin Chow
A while ago, Tsem Rinpoche gave us a very important teaching at Manjushri Hill. As usual Rinpoche’s Dharma talk is multi-dimensioned and covered quite a number of topics. But for me, I took the teaching to be quite relevant to an extremely important training for our spiritual path. It is one that many have struggled with because the training itself is counter-intuitive to our deeply samsarically self-centric mind and yet it is one that all practitioners need to master in order to progress. That puts us in a dilemma and this very dilemma is in fact (once we come to understand) necessary in order for us to grow.
Rinpoche’s talk, in essence, significantly touched on the 8 Verses Of Mind Transformation, and goes on to explain (i) why some people seem to go out of their way to irk us, (ii) why we can become irked by certain things and people, (iii) how we can deal with criticism and feedback, (iv) and why we are irked to begin with.
(i) The people who irk us – The Giver (of the criticism or feedback)
The Giver’s role is important because the Giver brings to the surface some of our issues that have managed to stay hidden due to the highly specialised ability of the self-centric mind to avoid blame, shame and any sort of discomfort, and instead seek fame and praise and cozy situations that do not challenge our fragile egos.
The Giver may be someone who cares for us genuinely and would risk our negative reaction to the giver’s feedback/criticisms. Givers can be our parents, spouse or true friends who see the need to intervene in a personal issue that is not doing us any good.
In the case of Dharma students, our Guru may assume the role of an active Giver so that we can expose and confront the state of our mind that is full of attachments. This is an act of kindness because the Guru knows that our attachments which has the Self as the reference, is what takes us deeper into our deluded states. If our deluded minds have built walls behind which we hide, then the Guru’s job is to remove the walls and pull us out of our comfort zones.
For example, if I have an attachment to the way I look, to certain insecurities and I am particularly sensitive to statements about my height, the Guru may consciously keep referring to how sensitive I am about my height and even constantly point out how short I am. Under normal circumstances I will avoid anyone who does that but because I cannot avoid my Guru, I am forced to deal with the issue. And the issue is not my height in fact, but the hang-ups that I have with my height which might be rooted into something more such as deep insecurities and such like that reinforces the ego.
The Guru may raise issues that upset and irk us knowing that we are being forced to confront our issues within an environment where there is support around so that we are better able to deal with it. However, sometimes the student may not even be able to take criticisms from the Guru and may run away. Even with the risk, the Guru will still assume the role of the Giver because at least the issue will be brought out into the open and may be dealt with in time. As long as the issue stays hidden, it cannot be dealt with. What drives the Guru is Compassion and the motivation of the Guru is that of a Bodhisattva and so the Guru’s objective is to open up the issue so that it may heal eventually.
And from that perspective, apart from the Guru, even we ourselves can assume the role of a Giver with a Bodhicitta mind and compassionately irk someone in order to help the person. At times, we hold back from saying something or giving a negative feedback to friends and colleagues because we are more concerned about keeping our good relations with them, than we are for their improvement and eventual liberation from their attachments. On this point, it should be clear that we make much more effort to correct and improve people we treasure more than others. On this we should train ourselves to have a Bodhicitta’s equilibrium and wish upon everyone around us, the same liberation from their attachments.
(ii) We become irked – The Receiver
Rinpoche pointed out that there are a few ways the Receiver can respond to feedback or criticisms:
(a) if the Receiver has faith in the Giver, e.g. if we have faith in Rinpoche and we trust in Rinpoche’s intentions and methods, we may act on the feedback and start addressing the hang-ups;
(b) the Receiver is affected by what the Giver said/did, but then decides to think about the objective of the Giver. Eventually the Receiver sees the Giver’s kindness and then begins to deal with the issue;
(c) the third possible response is a variation of (b) but after getting upset the Receiver fails to see the kind intentions behind the Giver’s feedback or the Receiver’s ego takes over and gets the better of him, and he decides to cut off any dealings with the Giver.
(d) The Receiver rejects the feedback and becomes antagonistic and begins to create dissension and chaos within the ranks of the Giver. This may be to throw attention away from the Receiver’s own failings and instead turn it into someone else’s misgivings.
How the Receiver reacts is a very good indication of his state of mind and also how deep the issue is, and how much he suffers from his attachment to self/delusion. However the Receiver reacts, the fact that he reacts means that there is an issue to begin with. To use the earlier example about a person’s sensitivity about his height, that a person has reacted to statements of his height is a sure sign that there is an issue. Whereas someone who does not suffer the same or similar insecurity would not have any reaction to statements made of his height.
There are cases where a Receiver displays no reaction whatsoever and this can be due to a number of reasons: it could be that the issue is the result of a trauma and the Receiver has been shocked into paralysis and has become numb to feedback or it could be the Receiver showing stubborn bravado or defiance. Even in such cases, the Giver must still exercise compassionate feedback and criticism and in that way the issue is brought out in the open for the Receiver to deal with. It is always better to expose the issue than to keep it hidden.
Then Rinpoche spoke about why we become irked when criticized, teased or given a negative feedback:
(iii) The problems were there in the first place
The reason we are irked is the very reason we need to practice Mind Transformation. In samsara, our thoughts and actions are driven by the three poisons and our attachment. As such, the basis of all our thoughts and actions, our dreams and hopes is the Self, our Self. Whatever we do has to benefit ourselves directly, indirectly, subtly or overtly. Similarly, we avoid anything that is adverse to us, and this includes criticisms or anything at all that has the danger of undermining our state of perceived confidence and happiness. In that way, a lot of issues that stop us from progressing stay hidden.
We learn to look after ourselves and in fact we even glorify those who have managed to look after themselves well, be it financially, physically, aesthetically, in their jobs, and more. Samsara glorifies those who glorify themselves. And with the “good” of Self being the primary focus we naturally get drawn to people and things which we perceive will be “good” for the Self and we avoid people and situations that are “bad” for the Self or makes the Self feel uncomfortable and insecure and less than it perceives itself to be. Therefore we avoid people whom we think do not like us. Their dislike of us is not conducive to a self that has to be looked after and feel good.
But the focus on the Self is more harmful that we can ever imagine. The more the focus, the stronger our attachments become. Attachments cannot exist if there is an absence of a realization and deep appreciation of the Self. And it is the attachments that take us away from Bodhicitta. The focus on the Self is an anti-thesis of the development of Bodhicitta, one of the two pre-requisites without which enlightenment cannot occur.
The 8 Verses of Mind Training tells us to prioritize others, regard ourselves as the lowest of everyone around us, accept defeat even in situations where we normally do not have to, take upon ourselves the sufferings of others and more instructions that are self-neglecting in character. The question is whether the average practitioner will have the discipline and wisdom to do what is extremely counter-intuitive and the answer is probably ‘No’. And this is where the Guru enters, to seize on the right opportunities for us to practice mind transformation or the Guru may even create a situation where we can practice. In the absence of the Guru we would normally avoid situations where we will have the opportunity to practice.
However, with the Guru’s training, we begin to identify our reaction to negative feedback as something to do with our ego and our attachments, and not the Giver.
(iv) Dealing with the Problem: Gratitude and Diluting
Firstly, we have to acknowledge that the problem/issue is with us to begin with. It is not the Giver who gave us the problem or issue, rather the Giver exposed the problem.
Regardless of the objective of the Giver, whether it is out of kindness or nastiness (some Givers criticize with the objective to hurt) we need to come to a few important realizations, namely it exposes an issue that is personal to us and nothing to do with the Giver. And therefore it would be wise for us to focus on the issue/problem rather than the Giver and our reaction to the Giver.
If the Giver is our Guru our someone close to us, we must realize that the feedback is done out of compassion, love and without any ill will. The immediate reaction should be Gratitude. And especially if the feedback is from our Guru and within the sphere of support of the Dharma family, then it is an opportunity to deal with an issue while we still have the support. Such an opportunity does not come by readily because out there most people do not care enough to want to see us transform and improve.
Having Gratitude prepares us to deal with our issues, with our strength being bolstered by the compassion of the Giver and support group rather than how upset and hurt we are by the feedback. Rinpoche specifically mentioned that some of the issues may be too difficult to deal with easily and the solution is to dilute it continuously and progressively. Rinpoche used an example of a barrel that is thick with dirt at the bottom such that we cannot get rid of the filth easily. The way to deal with this filth is to keep pouring in clean water, to continuously flush and thin-out the dirt and see them dislodge slowly but surely. Similarly if some of the issues, hang-ups and attachments that we suffer from are too deep-seated, then we have to dilute the problem by doing more Dharma work. By keeping up with our sadhanas diligently and by doing more and more Dharma work as it is these virtuous deeds that create the merits for us to have clarity of wisdom, strength of will and the kind support of others to deal with the various issues and transform the mind.
Do I Irk You?
by Sarah Yap
In some point in life, we have all been irked before. It could be by our parents, our teachers and even our friends. Society has taught us to put ourselves on a golden pedestal, to be adored and loved despite our shortcomings, but we were never taught to reflect, and take a good look at ourselves. Perhaps when someone actually irks us, it is due to the destruction of our self-created image in our mind. The ‘person’ in us that we feel is perfect and untarnished, is now in grave danger of being deflated that we react in anger, rejecting the ‘danger’ in a variety of ways.
To understand the very reason the receiver can be irked, we must establish the fact that the only reason why a person can be angered is because the very question that is put forward to them, is in actuality true, and they are in denial. They refuse to face the truth and they refuse to change. If the problem was not in us, it cannot anger us but merely fly past us as an irrelevant statement. Take for example, if I weigh 45 kgs and someone calls me fat, I would merely laugh at that statement for it is untrue. On the other hand, if I weigh 80 kgs, and people call me a fat person, it will be an issue to me because I know that is the fact, and if I cannot accept my weight; then I would turn bitter and angry.
Supposing that the problem is within us, and when a person questions us, and it brings about in us a feeling of anger as the receiver, we should observe the reaction we display towards the giver. The larger, the more aggressive and the more damaging our reaction is towards ourselves, reflects on how large the issue is within us, and with that the duration of time which we may need to overcome this problem. If you only have a small patch of mud to clear off from the road, it would obviously be quicker compared to a mountain of mud, similarly, the larger the issue is in us, the longer it will take to overcome it.
People can be irked in many levels. Some people may not be comfortable with it, but take it as advice. Some people may give you a funny face, think about it, and then place the possibility of the issue is indeed true in them. Some people may get angry, and dislike you for that statement. Some people may get so irked that they refuse to be in contact with you, change their telephone numbers and address, and never want to see you again. Depending on the level of their anger, the issue may take just hours or years to resolve. However, if one is so lucky to be irked by a person with a Bodhisattva motivation, it will eventually open up their mind to be more receptive and accepting as the motivation behind the ‘hurtful’ comments was for the receiver’s benefit, and not the giver. How do we know if the giver comes with a Bodhisattva’s motivation? When regardless of our reaction, the giver never deters as their action was void of the 8 worldly concerns.
However, regardless of the giver’s motivation, be it from a Bodhisattva’s motivation or from a samsaric motivation, what is most important is ‘Why are you so repulsed by the words that came out of their mouth?’ Ultimately it is not difficult to see that the issue is within us, and never the giver. Once again, take the example of me being 80 kgs. If I am repulsed by being told about my weight, it doesn’t matter if a person is telling me for my good health or if the person is trying to make fun of me, I would be equally irked by both despite their motivation.
So, having understood the reason of why we are irked and that the issues we have presently in us is doing no good for us, how do we ride on the path of healing and happiness?
The fail proof way to overcome our issues is to have gratitude. It is not easy to tell off or say something bad about a person we love or care for; it truly is difficult. Think of the times when you have so hesitantly and with the deepest heartache, told off your family member on their poor conduct. Be grateful that you have someone who would point out the truth to you.
Why must we deal with our issues instead of staying in our comfort zone? Most importantly, we should express gratitude towards the person who has shown us the truth, and we appreciate them enough to deal with our issues so we do not lose them. Our comfort zone is not permanent, and it can be taken away from us unexpectedly at any time. At that time, we may have to face our issues under more difficult conditions, so it’s better if we deal with our issues while we can have so much more meaning to do it.
There some cases however, when dealing with the issue would be too complicated, or we lack the wisdom to move forward. In the event of such issues, we can dilute the problems by being extremely consistent with our sadhana, dharma work, and always stay silent. We should not talk about our issues and try to find the non-existing loophole to get out of it falsely as it would damage us further. After all, if talking can resolve all our problems, we would all talk ourselves to enlightenment!
As a last piece of advice, be fearless in making yourself a better person. Do not fear change. Change is inevitable and fear is an illusion, you can’t be afraid for something that may or may not come to pass. In short, if you’re unhappy about something, then change it. If you can’t change it, then change your attitude. Don’t complain.
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