Summary: A meditator recounts an uncomfortable conversation where another person declares that everyone else, except her does meditation incorrectly. How should a mindful person respond to a situation like this?
Sathi replies by introducing the Sanskrit word, muni. Remaining silent.
He also explores why arguments are not worth their effort or result. This follows into a valuable discussion about where ego fits in and Sathi talks a little about our common sense of belonging to a group such as our family, our school, our state, our favorite team.
The meditators talk about debate vs discussion.
Then, Sathi closes talking about being mindful of the person we are talking with as well as the right time and the right place.
[A meditator] Okay, this is my question. We had a wonderful ceremony last Sunday. That was very fun, thank you. But, I have to tell you about something that happened and I need to know how a Buddhist would respond to this.
Dale and I were sitting there chatting with somebody that was visiting from a different place and was telling us, we were discussing meditation and how helpful it is, and she started talking about how she meditates better than other people. That she sees other people meditating and they don’t do it right. She does it right. And she kind of gets into this trans or whatever.
So, I thought, I have three options. One is I can just listen and just think about what she is saying. That is probably what you are supposed to do. And then, the other thing is to say, “Well, I don’t really agree with that.” Or, the third thing you can do is try to cut the conversation short, I mean, right! [Laughter]
What do you think the best way to respond if there is somebody you kind of think you don’t like the conversation?[Sathi] Thank you for bringing that up. Let me answer the question from the angle of the meditator. And how the meditator is supposed to answer this type of question, or such a situation.
In most Indian languages there is a word, muni. In Sanskrit and many other languages this describes a person who does not speak is named as muni. The base of the word definitely comes from meditators. Even people called the Buddha, muni. This word means, there is a certain wisdom. Now, let me describe the wisdom we should have. With this wisdom you would remain silent.
There are a few ways you can remain silent. You can remain silent in anger. Therefore you are at a loss for words and you can’t say anything. Because you are really angry.
Another person will remain silent out of compassion. Because there is no matter what you say, this [other] person does not have the capacity to understand. Therefore, you remain silent.
Let me describe the wisdom part that I just mentioned. Think about all of us as well as you as an individual. You think you are right. No matter what you do, you think you are right. That is why we get into arguments. Two parties think they are right, but they are believing on opposite sides. That is why they say “I am right, you are wrong.”
When you are in the argument, you want to be satisfied with your rightness. Also, you want others to perceive that you are right. And, sometimes, you want to say [to the other person] “You are wrong.” That is also giving you the feeling of winning, by proving they are wrong.
Now, this sense of “I am right.” always either gives you satisfaction. That is why you find friends who will agree with you and who will give value to what you are doing. You call them your friends and you find some comfort being with them because they are giving approval of what you are doing.
This is the approach of an unmindful person. The unmindful person looks for friends who will give approval to what you think.
The mindful person will not seek such a comfort because if you know something is right, you don’t have a desire to prove it. If you know that you know, then you don’t have to have approval. But, if you don’t know, then only you need approval.
Doubt gives you comfort by having approval [from others – outside]. Without a doubt, you don’t care what others know or don’t know. You don’t need approval.
So, let’s come back to us. When you hear somebody say, “You are wrong.” for something that you are exactly you know [something you are sure about]. Why do we argue? Why do we get threatened? Only you know, “This person cannot see what I can see.” That is okay.
But, if you think it is not okay. That is why you might fight or struggle. When people make absolute statements, “This is the right way, all other ways are wrong.” You can see that there is some kind of blindness there. If something is right why do we argue? Why do we fight?
There are absolute truths in the world like, the sun rises from the East. Now, if a kid says, “No, it comes from the North.” What, are you going to argue with this kid? No. Why? Because that gives you an idea that this kid is being a kid. You don’t argue.
But, if an adult says, “Oh, this is East, but the sun is not there.” Then you might try to prove that you are right because you also have doubts. When there are doubts, we get into arguments. When you cannot prove something you will get into arguments.
As a mindful person, you will see what makes something controversial, which makes for doubts. Why do we get involved with it? What am I expecting? If you prove you are right, on many occasions by proving you are right or wrong, you don’t get anything. But, we are fighting to prove that. That is how unmindful people act.
I mentioned this word, muni. As a meditator, you have trained to only speak something useful to yourself or to others. If it is not useful, you will not get involved in arguments. You will have friendly conversations. But, not the arguments. You will share information. But, you will not get into arguments. Because when you get into an argument. Before you make an enemy, you will make an uncomfortable environment.
It doesn’t matter if you are sharing something right or wrong. The first experience will be that you are in an uncomfortable environment. How many times have you been in an uncomfortable environment [situation] but there is no result? The only result is being in an uncomfortable environment as you try to prove something is right. Or another person is trying to prove something is right. What do you gain in the end? In certain situations, you will only gain unhappiness or discomfort or an enemy. Sometimes we turn friends into enemies for useless conversations. We don’t gain anything in the end.
This mistake will not happen with a mindful person.
There are certain things we cannot describe. Such as your meditation practice, your meditation experience. Maybe sometimes you have experience beyond the words. You cannot really express that. What is the point of expressing it?
There is a common argument in the world, are there any enlightened beings, or not? This is a statement made about meditators. But, according to meditators, this is not an argument you should be involved with. Because it is a personal experience. If someone is enlightened, that is good for that person. It may be good for the family because that person will not bring any pain to the family.
Nobody can see your mind. Nobody can see your experience. It is only yours. There is no point in describing it. It is just like you happen to describe the food you have eaten, others cannot eat it by hearing it.
If you really want to share with them, bring that food and share, just like Phaedra did.[Phaedra] Every day? [Sathi] Ahh, just on Sunday. You can come every day too! [laughter]
This [your meditation] is a personal experience. As a meditator, we really have to come back and recognize, “What can I gain by proving I’m right?” Most of the time you don’t gain anything. Therefore, as a mindful person, practice to not engage with this type of conversation.
But, if you happen to be in the middle of this type of conversation, that is the moment you can practice compassion. “Oh, thank you for thinking that way and sharing with me. [But,] I’m not going to bother with that.” Just be there for that person, hear them out. Because that person is trying to say, “I am right. You are wrong.” So, that’s okay. It’s okay for anyone to think that they are right and you are wrong. Because you don’t lose anything.
You don’t gain or lose anything by proving you are right and they are wrong. But, the only thing you will gain is a friend instead of an enemy. By being there and listening as a mindful person. Being a pleasant person. You have proven that you are more mindful than this person. But, if this person opens up their eyes they may think, “Oh, this person also has a meditation and I cannot pull their buttons. I can’t push their buttons. I can’t pull their legs. They remain calm no matter what I say.”
That’s the action of the meditator. You can see sometimes, even at your dinner table, sometimes you get into arguments. These are useless arguments but we don’t realize that this is useless while we are in it. You will see how useless it is once you are out of it. “Oh, they are fighting for nothing. That is the action of an unmindful person.”
What is happening with us? With our meditation, with our way of life, we keep reshaping ourselves. We are rebuilding ourselves. We are becoming somebody who you will love more. Not only yourself but others will love more. Because your weapon, your tools will be a friendliness.
I hope I answered your question.
Any thoughts or any challenges?[meditator] Can you explain a little bit about the ego part in this dynamic? [Sathi] When you talk about the ego part in this dynamic I would say it is mainly that the negative ego is what wants to prove that “I am right.” But being myself, we don’t want to lose or minimize what we are doing.
One of the common experiences you will see. The tournaments between your school and another school. When your school plays with another school, even you don’t speak up that you are secretly supporting your school to win. What’s behind this?
When your state plays with another state, you are secretly supporting your state. But, if you don’t have a connection maybe if it is your brother’s school, still you are supporting it because of that connection.
That same sense is here, wanting to prove, my way is right. That is the ego part. As a meditator, we have to know we are not free from this. We just notice it. It is there. Even the Buddha said when he comes to his childhood village, after twenty years. When he approached his village he said even the wind coming from this direction gives me comfort. This comes from the Buddha who has overcome all the desires, all the weaknesses. And he was saying, this is a comfort. We have to simply recognize that it [the ego] is there.
It is not something that you have to say right or wrong. It is there. But this is there for everybody. Everybody likes their school, their mother, their parents, their family. Their sense of that [belonging]. If there is something against the person’s family, they don’t like it. It doesn’t matter how unpleasant your experience is in the family while you are in the family. Still, you don’t want anyone to talk negatively about your family. That’s common. About your country, your village, about your school, about your teachers. Maybe you will have a personal unpleasant experience with your teacher, but you don’t want others to talk about it. That’s the ego part. It is there. It exists. Nobody is free from it.
The most important thing as a meditator, [it] is not only you, but others have the same weakness or same attitude toward their things. Just notice it. That is why we have to be very careful when we are attacking somebody’s comfort zone. Or, sharing something negative.
If I go back to the original question, if somebody says, “Your meditation is bad compared to my meditation.” Then, what happened. First, you don’t know what that person’s meditation is, whatever that person is saying. Second, that person doesn’t know what your meditation is like. Then, we are getting into arguments over something neither of us knows. Plus, we are differencing [arguing] over something that only I know and the other person doesn’t have any idea about.
That’s how ignorance is playing in this dynamic. The meditator will recognize this ignorance and will not get involved or lose themselves in this ignorance. Ignorance is there because of the ego.[Meditator] As you were talking, I’m thinking of a conversation I had with a colleague a few weeks ago. We were talking about politics. But, he was also talking about how, when he was in high school he was in Listening and Discussion Club. [chuckle] Which is called Debate. “Yeah, I was in Listening and Discussion Club and when I got to college it was Debate.” And he noticed that there is a big difference there. Right? And, it kind of made me think, as a society, we’ve been brought up to believe that we need to convince other people, that we need to debate. Versus just trying to listen and facilitate a discussion.
When he said that to me, it made me think that “Yeah, just the simple fact of having debate.” That’s a pretty typical part of every high school has a debate club. As a society, we are making a decision like that is something we want. And, how does that carry into how we converse or how politics carry out.
Another thought I had was when you were talking about just listening and letting somebody say. In the Midwest, we call that Minnesota Nice. [laughing] But, a lot of people call that passive/aggressiveness. I choose to call it Minnesota Nice. [more laughter].[Another meditator] Debate is not bad. Because you do want to have conversation as to what the other part is. A conversation, not an argument maybe is different. But then, the passive/aggressive to me is not good. [laughter] [First meditator] No, I would say [the passive/aggressive] is not good either. But, I was saying it should be like, “Oh, that’s really great for you that you think that way.” I can understand how somebody might take that as being passive/aggressive. Yeah.
I understand that having a healthy debate is a good thing, being able to [inaudible] ideas. But, what I was saying when I was talking with my colleague. He was saying he was in Listening and Discussion. Because we are framing this context that this is a club activity. And, with debate you score points when you prove that your side is right. So, that is kind of what I’m saying.[Another meditator] So, tying in with what you were saying, how is debate different, or is it right vs. passive/aggressive questions? Maybe you don’t find the truth, but you get to exchange your ideas. [Sathi] One of the good things of debate is if you are open yourself, you may hear the opposite ideas of something, maybe [as an ] opening for you. The bad side of [debate] is you are just blind, outside of your views and just trying to prove that your way is the only way.
Arguments and conversations are two different ends of this debate. Conversations can turn into a debate. Conversations can turn into arguments or more professional and agreeable way, we call debate. But, if you are not open to hearing the opposition’s points, then that debate is useless. Debate should be an opening. To be able to hear or see what you don’t [already] you don’t know.[Another meditator] I’m thinking of that [inaudible] hearing the conversation as a mindful person, I’m thinking of it as Right Effort. Knowing what my intent is, what is my action? And, what is my result do I hope to get? If I’m at gathering and that happens, and I’m sorry that happened to you, [First meditator] But, that gave me an opportunity to become a better person. Even me saying, “I’m sorry for that.” so I’ll go away. I see it as like “Oh, how uncomfortable in a place where like you know.” But, that talks about my intent. So, what do I want to do in that situation? Because I don’t know if that person is debating the idea of meditation, or we are going to have a conversation about what is meditation and make that successful or not. What makes a practitioner a skillful practitioner or not? Or, is the conversation about my experience and how I see it? So there are so many different ways and I think the point of this is that there are so many perspectives and at that moment, what is my intent? How do I want to act? And, what is the result? And, if I have no idea, and can’t answer any of those with any kind of clarity or time to “Oh, let’s talk more about this.”
Then, as a mindful person, I can make that evaluation. And, it may come up anyway, because I can’ t control that. But, I know, until I think that as a mindful person, by knowing. By knowing I don’t have control. By knowing that “ewe, that kind of stuck me.” By knowing that this is just a quick interaction. Or, by knowing, “Hey, I want to talk and explore this further.” At least I’m doing it by knowing. And that is sometimes as much as I can get as a mindful person. To kinda to see like “Whoa, this interaction here could be really big” or is it tiny? But, as a mindful person, I know. Those are my thoughts.[Sathi] Thank you. Also, the other thing we should always think about, is this the right place to discuss something? Even about meditation, if you are mindful enough, you will know with whom you are discussing this, and is it the right time? If we bring the right topic at the wrong time, the wrong place, it is not a mindful discussion. That’s not the action of a mindful person. And we need to understand the place and where am I discussing this? With whom? If you want to talk about your medical issue with the lawyer, that’s not going to work. Unless that lawyer is a medical doctor. [laughing]
With the right person, we have to choose. If you talk about meditation with somebody who doesn’t practice meditation, there is no point. Then, you are not mindful of choosing that topic. Even if you talk about meditation with a meditator, in the wrong place, That is not a mindful conversation. We have to be concerned and always, always we can only correct ourselves, not others. Therefore, we have to be very responsible for ourself and what we are doing. That is the only responsibility we can take.
As a mindful person always learn to get back to yourself. Just see is it right for me? Is it the right time for me? The right place for me? If something is leading to unhappiness, it is better not to do it. If something is leading to unhappiness for others, better not to do it as a mindful one. Even if it is unhappiness for you and happiness for others, it is still better not to do it, because that makes you unhappy.
If it is just making others unhappy, and it doesn’t matter how much it is right, and it only makes you happy. You would be better to do it at a different time. Because with the right thing you will make somebody uncomfortable. That is how you find the right place. We have to be mindful enough to recognize it.
Okay, let’s continue this over tea and a special treat. Thank you very much for being here today.
Recorded on November 18, 2019, at the Meditation Center in Chaska, Minnesota.
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