People We Don’t Like

Eventually we will encounter people we don’t like. It’s important we handle those moments well. Sometimes these people are coworkers, classmates, neighbors, or family. Sometimes they’re people we see on TV or in articles on the Internet. The main point remains the same: Don’t develop hatred toward anyone. The Buddha never gave you permission to hate someone because they’re acting poorly. Hate is not a Buddhist concept. It’s not noble. It doesn’t become noble when it has an ignoble object. Normal people hate easily. We’re not supposed to act normally. We’re supposed to act exceptionally well. Do I act exceptionally well all the time? Not exactly, no. Believe me when I say I have a long way to go on the Path. But I strive to be more than a vessel for unwholesome mental factors. I’m proud of the work I’ve done to attack hatred and delusion in my life. And why do I take hate so seriously? Becoming hateful is like setting ourselves on fire to feel cooler. The Dhammapada’s fifth verse clearly explains why:

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

One thing we find in life is that hate doesn’t work. We might have a boss who acts very shamefully. Our hate toward this individual doesn’t change the reality of working there; in fact, our hate surely ends up creating a bigger monster. There’s a truth that most people don’t want to see about difficult people: They didn’t come out of the womb with moral and spiritual ugliness. It’s what happened after birth (in almost every case) that led to their depravity. They might have been raised in a cold and harsh manner, only to be thrown into a cold and harsh world, where people treated them in a cold and harsh way even in meaningful relationships. Would you seem happy-go-lucky if your life was cold and harsh? In too many cases we don’t accept the fact that monsters grew out of a society that let them grow up to be monsters. In too many cases, and at critical moments, we don’t do what’s necessary at a basic level to prevent unwelcome results. I often wonder if moments of compassion and uprightness could have dramatically changed the course of a person’s life. I suspect that they can, and they do. Truly monstrous beings deserve our understanding, and ultimately our compassion. Terrible conduct never deserves your approval. It’s terrible. We have to fight against its effects and decry it. But when we lose compassion for those we regard as wretched, we also lose our ability to truly make a truly positive impact:

[Shamefully] I have not saved the frightened from their fear;
The wretched I have not consoled.
(Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara [Way of the Bodhisattva], Book 7, verse 38, trans. Padmakara Group)

Take others—lower, higher, equal—as yourself,
Identify yourself as “other.”
(Book 8, verse 140)

May beings everywhere who suffer
Torment in their minds and bodies
Have, by virtue of my merit,
Joy and happiness in boundless measure.
(Book 10, verse 2)

Much of what we see as wretchedness is the product of suffering. As Buddhists, we need to view this suffering with analytical equanimity. Otherwise, we end up harming what we’re trying to improve.

One Reply to “People We Don’t Like”

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