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Friday, January 26, 2007

Help Over Punishment

When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That's the message he is sending.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

PHOTO: Thich Nhat Hanh's humble abode at Plum Village Monastery in France

His insight is like a bright sunbeam that beats back the shadows and illuminates the pathway for us to see and avoid the rocks that might trip us up along our journey. It takes a great understanding of emptiness and no-self to realize a person making us suffer deserves our help and not our wrath.

I grew up on the edge of the "accepted group." I was your classic outsider. I was constantly shunned, insulted and laughed at for my sensitivity, non-conformist nature, crooked teeth and long neck. I was labeled, "E.T." because of my long neck and bulging, large head. Kids can be so cruel as you know. Then came the pain, suffering and struggles with mental illness. So I grew up with and nourished a "chip on my shoulder" (this means defensive, easily angered and ready to fight for my non American friends).

For a long time I have taken things personally. When someone makes me suffer it has instantly watered the seed of anger and revenge within me and before I knew it I would lash out in relatiation without even thinking. It seemed that my seed for fighting and inflicting anger and suffering upon others for the injustices heaped upon me growing up had grown into a large stinging, thorny plant that didn't need much water to grow.

This was all before I found the Dharma and I have come a long way since. That is not to say I still don't struggle with it because I do. Everyday I struggle with my anger, selfishness and my judgements. Especially in regarads to politics, mental illness and whenever I see injustice. So this quote/teaching is always timely for me.

Wow, what wisdom from this great master. It's like, I've been looking at anger in one angle and this quote is Thich Nhat Hanh's way of making a subtle shift in insight and right view that makes all the difference in the world. Sometimes all we need is someone to say, "See, if you look at the diamond from this angle you see a rainbow of color. Pretty neat huh?" I will be meditating upon this quote often. I am so grateful for all the beautiful, wise teachers whose wisdom has been passed down throughout the ages to us today to benefit from.

I sometimes think that a name for Thay should be "the archer" because his way of conveying the teachings is like shooting an accurate arrow right into the heart of the target.

~Peace to all beings~

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renée said... marvellous to be able to see the real nature of life! how wonderful your blog whom i discovered not long ago - a real buddhist blog! thank you!

Greenwoman said...

Yeah! The comments worked this time....

I was struck by your story about feeling angry and easily provoked. I am often defensive when others are angry...It is my self protection arising.

I also find myself thinking in blaming ways when I"m frustrated with something....even though it's not anyone's fault that things are frustrating or that i"m feeling frustrated.

I try to just listen and love when I"m feeling like that. I like Hanh's pointed messages about self nourishment and love. It helps me a lot.

Kay said...

I, too, am dealing with the issue of being easily offended. If I have a situation arise, one of the first questions I ask myself is "Am I projecting?" It's helped me quite a bit.

Kathy said...

Thank you for this. I too struggle with anger and mental illness. I too am getting better with the anger part...i try so hard. Anger scares me. It truly is the worse emotion.

I too am grateful for all the beautiful, wise teachers whose wisdom has been passed down throughout the ages to us today to benefit from.


Avusa said...

Hi James, thanks for your comment.
It's a honour…


trinitystar said...

And what is anger James ... but fear ... within fear many illusions arise.
To see things from a different angle is good ... people usually act the way they do because of their conditioning. Because basically people are not bad ... they just get sucked in.
When anger arises ... give way to forgiveness ... in Christs words ... Forgive them father for they know not what they do.
hugs for you James.

"James" said...


I am happy to see that you have found our little online sangha. You are welcome with open arms.


I tend to lash out too when I'm frustrated. Meditation has helped me immensely in developing a habit of remembering to breath in times like those.


Am I projecting is an excellent way to cut through the cloud of emotion in the moment and get to the root of the matter. Thank-you for sharing that gem with us.


Anger scares me too. It is fear run amok as Trinity so wisely reminds us in her comment. It is like a wild fire. It can be so destructive.


You're most welcome. I bow to the Buddha within you.


So well put. Thank-you for sharing this. I have a lot of fear when I see and feel people being angry around me. I grew up in a household that was full of anger so I learned to fear anger and do anything to prevent and stop it. Including being overly care-taking.

Tim said...

There is nothing greater than compassion. Compassion has created more positive social change than the number of all the wars combined.
Effective change within ourselves begins with compassion. Acceptance and non judging awareness, first towards ourselves (experienced through meditation, grown and cultivated) begins to extend outward.
A Practice that I try to maintain every day. When I "feel" that I have "fallen short" of my expectations, which are always too high, meditation allows me to be compassionate with myself.

Angela said...

Hey James!
Great writings as always... it’s so difficult to be compassionate when someone is hurting us… but its so worth to just try it!
I am writing this comment because of what I felt in meditation tonight.
Every time I have been meditation before I had some anxiety of letting go. It’s like if I was afraid of opening some doors of my deepest mind.
Tonight I felt confidence and I have opened all the doors and gave myself all in… and in the final stage of mediation I had the most amazing experience of warm, fulfilment, love, ecstasy I ever felt before. It was like by body was filled with endless light coming from all directions of time and space.
It lasted a few seconds and again I shut it down and got back to myself, to this reality… I enjoy it so much but I am still so afraid of it!
I am so confused, what do you think this would be?

Ariadne said...

Thank you! I needed to hear that, as well.

So much of my 30's was spent in personal suffering, but always working so hard to and (usually but not always succeeding in) never blaming others for their cruelty, deliberate or in accidental, forgiving without being asked no matter how much it hurt me personally. It was a HUGE challenge, at the time (now it's a habit) but I see now how it has let me now walk in this world unencumbered by bitterness or resentment. Is this happiness?

At least it is a kind of freedom, I think. (Well, working on it anyway!)

"James" said...


Yes, compassion and love are the greatest lessons that we can learn I believe.

When I "feel" that I have "fallen short" of my expectations, which are always too high, meditation allows me to be compassionate with myself.

I love the way that you said this. I often forget to be compassionate with myself. Meditation is a beautiful, grounding time to extend loving energy toward ourselves. It is the time to do "surgery" and come back to the moment of pure being. Medicine to relieve our suffering.

I am going to emphasize that more in my practice. Thank-you for the reminder friend. :)



It IS so worth it to try it as you say. As with anything else, practice makes perfect.

I think that what you experienced was a moment of merging with the Higher Self. Pure Being. What a beautiful moment!! Namaste.


Proud of you for your diligence. You have watered and continue to water the seeds of compassion in your store consciousness as Thich Nhat Hanh says. You are experiencing the natural liberation that ensues. Keep up the practice!!

It is our ego that thinks we will die, be taken advantage of or be abused if we let down our guard. However, the opposite is true as your experience shows. Happy practice to you!!

Kuan Gung said...

Very nice...powerful images

"James" said...

Kuan Gung:


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