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Compassion with Ven. Sangye Khadro and Scott Snibbe

Compassion with Venerable Sangye Khadro and Scott Snibbe

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Last year I had the privilege to participate in a dialogue on compassion with my teacher, Venerable Sangye Khadro who is also well known by her Western name Venerable Kathleen McDonald. Venerable Sangye Khadro is the author of How to Meditate and Awakening the Kind Heart. She’s a very active Buddhist teacher and a fully ordained nun, which is the highest level of ordination for a Buddhist monastic.

It was wonderful to hear her share wisdom on this topic, touching on many practical ways to deal with everyday pain and conflict in our lives using this universal antidote of compassion. This talk was organized by the Foundation for Developing Compassion and Wisdom, which shares similar goals to A Skeptic’s Path to Enlightenment in offering non-religious ways for anyone to benefit from Buddhist wisdom.

Make sure to stay tuned until the end of the episode for a short but moving meditation on compassion led by Venerable Sangye Khadro.

What is the purpose of meditation?

what is the purpose of meditation from the buddhist perspective? woman sitting on mountain

[00:01:19] Victoria Coleman: So perhaps we can just dive in with the first question. Turning first to you, Venerable Sangye Khadro, what would you say is the purpose of meditation? Why should we do it?

[00:01:33] Ven. Sangye Khadro: First of all, thank you very much for inviting me, I’m very happy to be a part of this discussion.

So, that’s kind of a big question because there’s many different kinds of meditation, different reasons that people have for practicing meditation. I’m knowledgeable about Buddhism, so within the context of Buddhism, the real purpose of meditation is to get in touch with our pure nature. We have within us a lot of positive energy and positive potential, and it’s possible to get in touch with that, develop it, make it grow, make it more part of our life, so that we’re happier, more peaceful, and better able to help others.

So that’s kind of putting it in a nutshell but there’s a lot more that could be said.

[00:02:28] Victoria Coleman: Thank you. Scott, why do you meditate? What’s it brought into your life?

[00:02:32] Scott Snibbe: Thanks, so first of all, thanks for inviting me to this. Second of all, I do want everyone to know that Venerable Sangye Khadro is my teacher and hero, so much of what I’ll say I learned from her. I just put it into simpler terms for people who might never become Buddhist but would like to benefit from these same techniques.

So, the question is why do you meditate? I think that’s a really important question. The definition of meditation—in one Buddhist form of meditation—is familiarizing the mind with virtue. I think that’s very important because a lot of people today may think meditation is only about focus but it is possible to focus on non-virtue or something quite bad.

A lot of people today think meditation is only about focus but it is possible to focus on non-virtue or something quite bad.

They actually even use mindfulness techniques to train soldiers so that they don’t shake when they’re trying to shoot somebody. So, I think that aspect is very important to meditation, that it’s focusing on virtue and also the outcomes. I remember asking Venerable Sangye Khadro once, how do you tell if your meditation practice is working? She said, Your relationships get better. And I really like that answer because we can think that meditation is a very inward, solitary experience; it is on the cushion. But the result of it should be something you actually can notice outside as your connection to others strengthens.

Inwardly, you can see that you’ve become more peaceful and open and present but outwardly your connections with others become stronger. Also, you make the world a better place; your actions start to do good in the world, in whatever ways that you can. 

[00:04:16] Ven. Sangye Khadro: Can I just add that that actually came from Lama Yeshe. I once asked, How do you know if you’re meditating properly and that your meditation is going in the right direction? And he said, You should see there’s more kindness, more compassion, and better relationships with others. I really loved that answer and wanted to share it as much as possible.

Societal challenges, karma, and conflict

societal challenges, war, karma, conflict, destruction of city

[00:04:40] Victoria Coleman: Yeah, and that kinda leads us neatly onto my next question. We may see that there’s so many problems and challenges in the world right now; it can seem overwhelming what’s going on around us. A Buddhist view is that these problems come from our mind and my reaction would be, Well, hey, not my mind!

So, how do we understand that relationship with what we see outside of us—these challenges—and what’s going on within our own mind? Where’s that connection? How do we find the courage to start addressing some of these challenges? Scott, how do you feel about that?

[00:05:18] Scott Snibbe: I would tend to defer to let Venerable Sangye Khadro answer first. Let Venerable answer all the questions first and I can add a few jokes afterwards. 

[00:05:32] Ven. Sangye Khadro: Yeah, well that’s a really, again, complex question. There’s two ways we can look at it. One is in terms of karma; that’s a really big part of Buddhism. That what we experience is the result of our own karma. So, for having a bad experience that’s bad karma we created in the past, good experiences are the result of good karma.

But karma itself is such a complex topic, there’s many permutations and many different factors that go into that. So you really need to study karma to make sense of how the karma in our mind brings about experiences we have in the outer world. Another way of understanding this question is the way our mind perceives things, and this is something we can see in our own experience.

For example, you go to a movie with a friend or a group of friends and you’re sitting there watching the movie together, then you come out and discuss it. Some people say, Oh, that was a great movie, the best movie I’ve ever seen. And somebody else will say, Oh, that was horrible, I couldn’t bear it; I wanted to get up and walk out.

So, the way we experience things—whether it’s movies or music or food, looking at the world around us—depends on our own mind, what’s going on in our own mind, our thoughts, our emotions, and so on. That’s another way we can understand the role that our mind plays in how things appear to us.

The wonderful thing is we can change our mind. We can change the way we perceive things. We don’t have to see things as bad problems. Buddhism says problems and difficult experiences can actually become part of the practice, part of spiritual development, to increase our compassion, our wisdom, and so on. 

Buddhism says problems and difficult experiences can actually become part of the practice, part of spiritual development, to increase our compassion and wisdom.

There’s lots of tools we can use to transform our mind. And when our mind transforms the way we see the world and our experiences, things that happen to us will transform as well. There’s lots and lots of tools for doing this in Buddhism, especially under the topic called thought transformation, lojong, in Tibetan.

So, look into that if you’re interested in seeing the world in a better way.

[00:07:54] Victoria Coleman: Yeah, it’s reminding me of something His Holiness wrote in Beyond Religion. He said with karma there are so many causes and conditions that you can’t possibly know what is going to be the result of one particular action, because there are so many factors in play. He said, What you can control is your intention, your motivation. So, you’re really clear on that then you can almost let go of the result because you’re not going to be able to control that.

Beyond Religion, Dalai Lama

Do you think that’s true, Scott?

[00:08:24] Scott Snibbe: I liked how you asked your question because it’s kind of asking, Are the world’s problems coming from my own mind?

His Holiness has written all these wonderful books now with Venerable Thubten Chodron going into great depth about every topic. And the simpler way to look at it is that all human actions come from our mind. Every single thing anybody does comes from a mental decision. So, if you slightly change your question and ask, What if all solutions come from the mind? Then that doesn’t that seem a lot harder to disagree with. Because of course, the solution to every problem is going to come from a decision that an individual person makes, because karma is so mysterious.

What if all solutions come from the mind?

But essentially, it says so many causes and conditions come together and result in someone making a decision and doing something. So, to say that all our problems come from people making decisions and doing things and all our solutions too, I think is quite understandable.

When I’ve seen His Holiness in person, people have asked him many times, How do I end war? And His Holiness—at least when I was there—said the same thing every time. He said, Make up with the people you have conflicts with because that is the greatest cause for ending war on the planet. We have one in Ukraine right now, and of course we should do other things and protests and donate and so on.

But he said the strongest cause is actually in your own minds because conflicts come from individuals disagreeing and fighting and getting angry with each other. I think that’s the essence of the Buddhist view, that this is the place to start. If you find that you are in conflict with the people around you, especially the people closest to you, then you’re probably not going to be a cause for harmony in the greater world.

If you find that you are in conflict with the people around you, then you’re probably not going to be a cause for harmony in the greater world.

How do you address shame or guilt around meditation?

[00:10:23] Victoria Coleman: It kind of speaks to the topic of this webinar: meditate with compassion. When you’re meditating, it’s with a compassionate focus. When you’re meditating, how important is it to forgive yourself and let go of guilt?

Venerable Sangye Khadro, do you have any experience with people who start to meditate and they start to feel too much shame or guilt or anxiety? And what’s your advice around that?

[00:10:53] Ven. Sangye Khadro: Well, I have that experience myself, I’ve had to struggle a lot with being hard on myself and not forgiving myself. What I came to realize is that if I can’t forgive myself for my imperfections, my faults, my mistakes, then it’s very hard to forgive others. That’s something I did want to do.

I realized pretty early on that hanging on to anger and hatred and resentment and those kind of negative feelings towards others—even if they do awful things—that that’s just making yourself suffer. It’s like the analogy of holding hot coals in your hands. Holding onto anger or hatred is like holding hot coals in your hands and saying, Ouch, this hurts. Well, you can drop them. You don’t have to hold them. You can let them go. So that’s a wonderful realization to come to; if we hold on to anger and don’t forgive, then we are making ourselves suffer. It’s painful. 

Holding onto anger or hatred is like holding hot coals in your hands and saying, Ouch, this hurts. Well, you can drop them.

hand reaching into the fire, metaphor for holding onto anger

Anger and hatred are painful states of mind but the good news is we don’t have to hold on to them. We don’t have to continue dwelling in those kinds of thoughts and emotions. There’s ways we can stop being angry. Again, Buddhism is just full of methods. There’s whole books about how to deal with anger, how to overcome anger. So, there’s lots of these methods but we have to use them, of course. They’re not gonna do any good if they’re just sitting on the shelf. We have to bring them into our mind, into our heart, and work on them. And it takes time. It’s not easy. 

Sometimes it can take years, sometimes even one’s whole life, to let go of anger or grudges towards others. But anyway, a big part of that is also learning to forgive ourselves. Letting go of anger and hatred and resentment towards our own self, our own mistakes. Sometimes it’s easier to forgive others than to forgive ourselves. Sometimes we’re more kind to others than we are to ourselves.

[00:13:12] Victoria Coleman: We’ve had other speakers talk about how hard we are on ourselves. I myself find that when I try to meditate, I’ll think, Oh, I’m feeling not very positive about myself right now; I’m gonna send myself some love.

But it’s just so hard. It’s like there’s almost a block there, that “I’m not supposed to do that,” “you can’t direct it towards yourself.” “It should be directed towards other.” But then if you don’t have that sense of forgiveness and love for yourself, how can you then give that to others? How can you be a source of comfort and happiness to others? 

What do you think about that, Scott?

[00:13:46] Scott Snibbe: I agree. Yeah, I think it’s very difficult to treat anybody else better than you treat yourself. You really have to cultivate that kind of love for yourself. And it’s mostly by accident that you hurt other people, but it happens like every day—at different times—all day long.

I think cultivating that real love for yourself and a tenderness is so important. I was doing it last night because I was leading a meditation on compassion at a local Buddhist center. And one way that can be a really effective for me, and other people, is to see yourself as if you’re another person. Imagine an image of yourself in front of you and all your problems and think, what would you say if that was my friend?

It’s really surprising how different it is, what you’d say. So, if you keep practicing that way, you start treating yourself more nicely, like, You have so many good qualities and every day you do like 99% good and 1% bad. And look at your whole life, all the good things you’ve done, even by just not doing bad things each day, you do so much good. So that’s really important.

[00:14:50] Victoria Coleman: It’s such an important point. Do we spend enough time rejoicing the things we’re doing right? Do we spend enough time doing that or are we just constantly beating ourselves up?

[00:14:59] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, that’s not helpful. There’s a purification practice that we Buddhists do at least once a day, sometimes twice, and then also just whenever something goes wrong.

I think to combine that with rejoicing is really important. Because even if it’s always purification, it can become a little negative because you’re only thinking of your negativity. So, to first rejoice all the good that you did during the day and then to let go of the negative. I don’t know how people do it without some kind of meditation, like a purification practice. Because you need some way to let go and process and forgive yourself every day.

You need some way to let go and process and forgive yourself every day.

[00:15:37] Victoria Coleman: Well, I’ve heard for some people running is their form of meditation for the day. And people doing so some form of exercises.

[00:15:42] Scott Snibbe: Art also, surfing. Yeah, there are different ways to meditate besides on cushion.

The importance of compassion

[00:15:50] Victoria Coleman: Let’s talk more about compassion now.

What role do you think compassion has in healing ourselves and our world? How important is it to meditate on compassion right now? 

[00:16:06] Ven. Sangye Khadro: Well, definitely, it’s just so core to Buddhism to have an attitude of kindness and compassion for all living beings, including ourselves. We are living beings too, we shouldn’t leave ourselves out of that. In all forms of Buddhism, that’s very much emphasized. In fact, it’s the basis of ethics.

Ethics is a very important practice in Buddhism; and it’s not so explicitly mentioned but to me it seems that the basis of ethics is compassion. Recognizing that nobody wants to suffer, even this little insect crawling on the table or the floor. It just wants to stay alive. It doesn’t wanna suffer. And if we do something harmful or destructive that causes suffering to another being, that’s the worst thing we can do. So, when we harm others, we also harm ourself.

When we harm others, we also harm ourself.

That’s something we need to look at; we’re going against our own true nature. We can’t feel really good about ourselves if we are engaging in harmful actions, causing suffering to others. So, kindness and compassion are super important. And again, like Lama Yeshe said, That’s the way to tell if your meditation is going well, if you are becoming more kind and more compassionate.

And he said, on the other hand, if you’re becoming more impatient, more bad tempered, your relationships with others are getting worse, then there’s something wrong. You’re doing something wrong in your practice. I thought that’s a really great line. Also, I want to put in a plug for one of Pema Chödrön‘s books, which is called How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends With Your Mind.

How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind by Pema Chodron

I really love that subtitle, “Making Friends with Your Mind.” Think about that. Can you imagine what that would be like to be friends with yourself? It’s like Scott was saying, it’s really helpful to imagine yourself as if you were another person, a friend, and how you would treat that person.

Can you imagine what that would be like to be friends with yourself?

Would you constantly disparage that person, pointing out their faults? “Oh, you’re so bad.” “You’re so awful.” Is that a good way to be friends with somebody? Yet, this is what we do to ourself. Although, I don’t think it’s something we do deliberately and consciously. It’s just a habit that we get into.

So, it’s good to recognize when we are being self-critical and self-hating, and say, No, this isn’t the way I want to be. I want to change this. Again, there’s ways of doing that, lots of ways within Buddhism. Also, Kristen Neff, American psychologist and meditator, has researched self-compassion, wrote a book about self-compassion, and has a website about self-compassion. You can find a lot of resources there in case you’re having difficulty being compassionate with yourself.

[00:19:10] Victoria Coleman: Yeah, I have heard of her. She’s got some great resources and I think she really understands this need to start with ourselves and that that’s okay to do and to just have this attitude of compassion for ourselves. Because that’s a good starting point. I think often when we join a spiritual path, we kind of jump over that bit and try to focus on other people; sort of skipping that part about looking at our own pain and issues that we need to deal with first.

Scott, do you have a view on compassion in that way?

[00:19:46] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, well, His Holiness says, If you want to be happy, cherish others. It’s such a bumper sticker but it’s so deep and difficult to understand actually, because it’s not the way we’re raised. In our culture, I think we’re raised to think you need many, many things from outside to be happy.

If you want to be happy, cherish others.

His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama

And all those things obviously do contribute to happiness but not to the deepest happiness. There’s a quote from Shanti Deva that says something like, All happiness comes from serving others and all pain comes from selfishness. But do we really believe that? You want to really think about it, I did when I first read this thing; I went and really thought about it and I found it to be true. I looked at the things I felt best about in my whole life, those few moments where you did something totally selfless to help somebody else. And I still think back to those few things and it gives me a really good feeling. 

In our Declaration of Independence, in the US, it says you have the right to happiness but doesn’t explain how. So, this is the way to get there. There are many seeming paradoxes in Buddhism; the way to be blissfully happy is to dedicate your life to others, helping others, to whatever extent you can, maybe even 5% or 10%. Still that has an extraordinary impact on your life.

How to find balance while practicing compassion

[00:21:19] Victoria Coleman: But there has to be a balance as well, right? When you start losing your joy or feeling taken advantage of, then you need to readdress that balance, right?

What would you say about that, Venerable Sangye Khadro, if you were actually feeling depleted? Are you getting into sort of “idiot compassion” there where you’re just giving in to everybody and not standing up for yourself? How do you deal with that? 

[00:21:42] Ven. Sangye Khadro: Yeah, there definitely needs to be a balance and in fact, I once heard a Western psychologist talk about how people who come from dysfunctional families—where there’s codependence—may have this compulsion to help others all the time and not take care of themselves. This is kind of a particular mode of being.

And he said when that kind of person gets into Buddhism and they hear about the bodhisattva’s path, they think, Oh yeah, that’s what I have to do. I have to help all sentient beings; I have to become enlightened to help all sentient beings. But if they never learn how to take care of themselves, then they can end up going wrong and burning out. Or their underlying motivation for helping others isn’t a hundred percent correct; it’s somewhat out of balance.

So, yes, it’s definitely very important, especially as Westerners. I think that we keep that balance of taking care of ourselves, our own needs, and also taking care of others, not neglecting ourself.

[00:22:53] Victoria Coleman: Yeah, what about you, Scott, do you strike a balance? Is that easy for you?

[00:22:57] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, my teacher Venerable René Feusi—who’s a contemporary of Venerable Sangye Khadro and another student of Lama Yeshe—once told me that if you’re going to do a one-week retreat, you should take a one-week vacation before. Which I don’t think a lot of people do, but I think that’s very important.

If you’re going to do a one-week retreat, you should take a one-week vacation before.

Venerable René Feusi

You know, I’m here in California, so I think we can teach people a lot about relaxing and having a good time. It’s very important to enjoy your life and to enjoy everything about life.

What’s so beautiful about Mahayana Buddhism is it teaches you how to do those things without guilt. If you’re enjoying a walk on the beach or a nice piece of cake, you can do what’s called “universalizing,” so as you enjoy things in life, you imagine others enjoying the same thing. That’s the way not to feel guilty about enjoying the incredible privilege a lot of us have; to think, “I wish everyone had a nice house like this” or “I wish everybody had a nice meal like this.”

man looking up at night starry sky, universalizing, buddhist practice

As you enjoy things in life, imagine others enjoying the same thing. That’s the way not to feel guilty about enjoying the incredible privilege a lot of us have.

Obviously, you don’t want to do it in a narcissistic way where you just kick back the whole time and enjoy. You have to actually go out and make some efforts to get other people to also be able to enjoy those things too. But to guiltlessly enjoy your life and use the techniques of Mahayana Buddhism in particular, which can be done in a secular form. To see everything in life as a source of joy and happiness and even connecting with others—even when others aren’t around—to imagine that you could benefit others.

Healing an anxious mind

[00:24:27] Victoria Coleman: I really love what you said there about offering or sharing or universalizing. I love that. It’s almost like it liberates you. You’re not holding onto something. It’s about opening, like a heart opening. That’s really great.

Turning to something else now, sometimes when I wake up in the morning I’ve got an anxious or heavy mindset. So if you wake up like that, what steps do you take to start dealing with that kind of mindset?

[00:25:02] Ven. Sangye Khadro: Well, actually right at the beginning of the lamrim—there’s a meditation on the preciousness of the human life and that’s followed by meditation on death.

Those two together are very, very powerful because if you meditate on them and you get an understanding of them, then that means we’re really fortunate just to be alive, just to have this life. Often, we take that for granted. I once attended a talk by Thich Nhat Hanh where he spoke about how fortunate we are just to have our arms and our legs and our hands and our feet. There are people who don’t have those or who are disabled and are unable to use them.

It’s just such a simple thing but I thought it’s really profound; I have hands that I can use. How difficult would it be if I couldn’t use one or both of my hands? My eyes are still working. I can still see. How difficult would it be if I couldn’t see or hear? So, just to look at what we do have in our life, just with this body, just with this life is amazing. Also, Buddhism says the real purpose of having a human life, a precious human life with the chance to practice dharma, is to do just that: practice dharma, follow the spiritual path as much as we can, develop our potential for enlightenment, and use our life to benefit others.

Buddhism says that the purpose of our human life is to practice dharma, follow the spiritual path as much as we can, develop our potential for enlightenment, and use our life to benefit others.

It’s really good to kind of get into the habit of doing that kind of consultation first thing in the morning thinking, Wow, look at this, I’m still alive. Not everybody wakes up in the morning. There are people who die during the night; even if they’re not sick. I know a couple of people that happened too. Just waking up in the morning, still having this body, this life, the opportunities that we have, is incredible. Just focusing on the good in our life, counting our blessings.

Then, also having this awareness that we don’t know how long we have. This life is going to end at some point. We don’t know when it’s gonna end. And that shouldn’t make us feel anxious or frightened but just to realize life is precious. Each day, each hour, each minute is precious. Let’s make the best of it. Let’s really use it well for our own benefit and for the benefit of others. So, making a habit of having thoughts like that first thing in the morning is very helpful to clear away any anxiety or negative feelings that we might have.

woman waking up in bed grateful, healing anxious mind

[00:27:49] Victoria Coleman: That’s incredibly helpful. Thank you so much. I’m just wondering if I can bring in some audience members, if anybody has a question on what we’ve been discussing so far.

What are some simple practices to help with destructive or unconscious habits?

[00:28:14] Rose: Hi, thank you very much. That’s wonderful, useful stuff. I’m concerned about what is unconscious to me and how it manifests in all kinds of ways. The process of becoming more conscious is part of the practice. But for some of us, the unconscious stuff is pretty profound and can lead to very destructive stuff.

So how do you—other than signing up to be a nun or the full lamrim experience—navigate this?

[00:28:58] Victoria Coleman: That’s a great question, Rose, thank you. Venerable Sangye Khadro, do you have any thoughts on that question?

[00:29:04] Ven. Sangye Khadro: Well, that’s a really good question. In my experience—I’ve been in Buddhism almost 50 years now—there’s often new material coming up in my mind that may have been there before but I just didn’t notice it. Or it was deeply buried and it’s now coming to the surface. 

It can be quite upsetting sometimes to see this stuff in yourself. Like, Oh, I didn’t know I was like that. You kind of want to get rid of it, push it away, but that doesn’t help.

A couple of things that I’ve found really helpful is the book Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. She a psychologist, but also Buddhist meditator and teacher, and it’s all about accepting whatever you notice in yourself, which is quite hard to do. And yet we have to do it because if we can’t accept those things in ourself, then when it comes to seeing them in others, we will have difficulty accepting that as well. We’ll feel anger, hatred, hostility, or fear, and so on. 

So we have to learn to accept everything in ourselves, although it’s not easy. So that’s one resource that’s very helpful. Another book that I really love is by Thich Nhat Hanh it’s called, No Mud, No Lotus: the Art of Transforming Suffering. That’s full of useful advice in very simple terms about how to deal with difficulties, whether it’s difficulties coming from outside or sickness or internal things within our own mind. He gives a lot of very helpful advice on how to deal with those things.

[00:30:51] Victoria Coleman: Thank you, and Scott, do you have any advice on this topic?

[00:30:56] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, it’s similar advice. Tara Brach is fantastic—she has the audio course, Radical Self-Acceptance, which is very good to go through—and I’ve done my own personal retreats on that a few times.

But sometimes in my meditation I’ve noticed my mind going over some problems from yesterday, like how I was mad at my wife about something. I’ve noticed it’s good to not ruminate on that but also to not just bury it; just watch those feelings and try to just accept them without clinging to them or exaggerating and growing them.

Looking for the feelings underneath what I’m feeling, and it’s very tender. It kind of makes you cry sometimes. Like, I want to be loved, I want to be loved by my wife. I want her to pay attention to me; there’s something tender. That’s what Tara Brach says. There’s something really tender beneath all of our pain and conflict. That’s a very simple meditation technique. And if you have some elaborate meditation practice, I’ve found it’s sometimes good to let go of that when you have all these things going on and just spend an hour doing that until it kind of winds itself out.

There’s something really tender beneath all of our pain and conflict.

What I find is there’s not necessarily any catharsis in that moment. But I notice when I come downstairs to my wife, when I see her, I just feel love. Somehow, it does process. It’s a bit of an alchemical experience. It’s a little weird the way meditation works because it’s not totally obvious that it would work that way. But you can just let the things move by without exaggerating them and without burying them and try to find the feelings underneath.

The other thing that some people do that is really helpful is to focus on the body. Problems will manifest as pains in the body. So to really see that it’s not just a pain in your knee. It actually might be trauma from something that happened with your father. Many people have said this to me and I think I’ve found it to be true that looking at your body sometimes and just relaxing into that pain or knot or whatever. Sometimes that will have a kind of alchemical release too. 

[00:33:11] Victoria Coleman: Thank you. There’s a question from one of the Spanish speakers, Rafa.

How to accept our loved one’s decisions when we don’t agree with them

man and woman sitting on bed upset, fighting, buddhist relationship advice

[00:33:18] Danny: I’m just going to translate it into English. So, he’s asking how can we accept the decisions that the people that we love make, when we disagree with these decisions. How can we accept that?

[00:33:41] Ven. Sangye Khadro: What I heard, just to check, is if there are people we love, we care about, and they make decisions that we don’t agree with?

[00:33:51] Danny: That’s right. How can we sort of work with that and let them make that decision, without agreeing with them, but sort of accepting them. How can we work with that?

[00:34:03] Ven. Sangye Khadro: That’s kind of a complex question. What comes to my mind is that we have to see if this decision is going to affect us or not. If it’s something related to ourselves, if it’s going affect our own life, then I think we should communicate with the other person and explain our feelings and the problems we may have if we had to go along with that decision. Do this in a non-angry, non-threatening way, just communicate to the other person how this decision will affect us and see if we can work out a solution that we’re both agreeable to.

On the other hand, if the decision is nothing to do with us, they’ve just decided to do something and it’s not going to impact and affect us then well . . . is it going to harm them? Yeah, we might be concerned that if they follow this decision, it’s going to bring harm onto them. So again, I think we might try to communicate our concern. And it could be they’ve made a very rash, impetuous decision without thinking carefully about the consequences. We might try to point out the consequences that this decision may have on them and see if maybe they’ll think about it more carefully.

On the other hand, if it’s something that isn’t going to be harmful to them or to anybody else, it’s just something they feel like doing but we might not like. We might disagree with it but maybe it’s better to keep quiet. To me, it seems like there’s just a lot of different possibilities. It’s a very open-ended question and I think we have to look at what that decision is, who it’s going to impact, and whether it’s harmful.

I think it’s difficult to give a black and white answer to that kind of question. We just have to bring in as much compassion and wisdom as we can to deal with that situation.

[00:36:16] Victoria Coleman: Scott, do you want to add anything to that?

[00:36:18] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, if you read a very insightful novel, you often love all the characters, even the bad guys, because you understand their motivation. You understand why they did what they did. Going beyond things like direct trauma or something very dangerous—but in terms of just understanding why someone voted for someone you didn’t and things like that—to really understand that everyone acts on their own internal logic and causes and conditions and their decisions make sense to them.

If you find yourself saying, I don’t understand why my mom voted for Trump or something like that, work to understand that. Because there is a reason, there’s a logic to it. And yeah, maybe they’re mentally ill, it’s possible that’s the reason, but even so that is still a reason. But probably there’s a more subtle logic to why the person did that.

I think you have to look at causes and conditions because they say if you really understood the life that every person led, there’s no way you could get mad at anybody because you’d see how their actions—however awful and harmful—made sense to them. It wouldn’t mean you wouldn’t work hard against them or to stop it or anything like that. It doesn’t mean that you let them do something harmful but you would understand why they did it. And that understanding would help you counteract it better to say the right things, do the right things, to perhaps set that straight if it really is something wrong.

If you really understood the life that every person led, there’s no way you could get mad at anybody because you’d see how their actions—however awful and harmful—made sense to them.

[00:37:42] Victoria Coleman: Yeah, that’s really helpful Scott. It’s reminding me of something I read in His Holiness’ book, Beyond Religion. When he is being faced with a difficult decision, he says he tries to look at it from all different angles. Sometimes we’re very focused on “this is the right thing to do.” And we don’t actually consider it from another point of view.

I love what you just said there but you can’t really walk in someone else’s shoes. You can try. You can try to see where they’re coming from and what’s going on in their mind to try to make your own view a little bit more broad and less narrow in its focus.

Can I turn now to Sheila? I believe she has a question.

Handling rejection and conflict

sad woman talking on phone, handling rejection and conflict

[00:38:25] Sheila: Thank you. Scott mentioned that His Holiness—and I’m paraphrasing—said to make up with people you have conflict with. And I just wonder if you have any suggestions for people that don’t want to make up, that you approach them, you extend the olive branch and they reject it, how to deal with that kind of situation?

[00:39:20] Ven. Sangye Khadro: Well, I think in that situation we just have to accept that. I’ve been in a few situations like that and I really try to work on my own attitude, my own motivation, my own intention.

I try to clear away anger and negative feelings and also expectations. You might have this strong expectation, I want to have a good relationship with that person, I want them to forgive me, I want everything to be okay. So if you have that kind of expectation, that might be dangerous because it may not work out that way. Then you could get disappointed and get angry all over again.

So it’s best to try to clear away any expectations of what the outcome will be, and just really make sure that you have this sincere wish for the other person to be happy. Then have an open mind that they might not want to make up with you; they don’t want to reconcile, they want to continue being angry at you.

Just have that awareness, that expectation, because that’s where their mind is at. Then just reach out and try your best to communicate with the other person. Apologize for mistakes that you’ve made and say that you would like to resolve the situation, reconcile with them, and so on.

But then just be prepared for how they’re going to respond. It’s also helpful to understand that impermanence, they may respond in a certain way at this moment, but later on they might come around and change their mind and be willing to communicate more openly with you. That kind of thing can take time. 

[00:41:16] Victoria Coleman: Thank you, Scott, is there anything you want to add to that?

[00:41:20] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, I’ll share a personal story that is in line with advice I’ve received from my teachers. So, I had a conflict with my mother, and it was mostly due to mental illness; she wasn’t talking to me for a very long time, like four years. And I tried many, many things. What eventually worked was just consistently sending—at a little bit of a distance—nice notes and sending things that showed I care. Like things that I know she cared about, she likes French pop music from the 1970s, things like that, funny things.

Eventually—and it is not guaranteed to work—but I was surprised, it did work. I do think kindness, love, generosity, and patience, can be solutions. And it’s very hard because often you have to do it when someone has been very rude and mean to you.

I could tell 25 stories and I’m sure Venerable Sangye Khadro could too, where this does actually work. It doesn’t always work, but if you can do it—and it’s not a situation of serious trauma or abuse and and so on—I do think that kindness, generosity, patience, and thoughtfulness in a measured way can work.

But it was actually only after giving up any thought that it would ever work, that it did eventually work it. It required letting go because then you can do it in a light way, without the expectation. Like, I’m actually genuinely doing this because I think my mom will like it. Whether or not she ever talks to me again is okay. And then eventually it did work.

[00:43:01] Victoria Coleman: Thank you for sharing that, Scott.

[00:43:03] Ven. Sangye Khadro: I just want to add something. What he said reminded me once, a woman who came to one of my courses said that for years and years she’d been trying to change her father. She didn’t like him the way he was and thought he needed to change. She was constantly trying to get him to change and nothing worked. Finally, she gave up. And from then on he changed.

[00:43:27] Scott Snibbe: That’s how it happens.

[00:43:35] Victoria Coleman: Thank you. So we only have a few more minutes left. And Venerable Sangye Khadro has very kindly agreed to lead a meditation. I just wanted to say a few closing words, thank you so much to our amazing presenters today, Scott and Venerable Sangye Khadro, for sharing such practical advice, help, and inspiration. I’ve been really inspired by what I’ve heard today and so practical in ways that we can work with our minds and be more compassionate to ourselves and others. So thank you both from my heart. 

I’d like to close out the session by requesting Venerable Sangye Khadro to lead us in a meditation for the remaining minutes. Thank you.

Meditation on compassion

[00:44:16] Ven. Sangye Khadro: Thank you. So yeah, we’ve come together today because we are interested in this topic of compassion.

We all have compassion, compassion is a natural quality in our minds, in everybody’s mind, in fact.

See if you can recall a time when you did feel compassion for another person, another being, or even a group of people, try to get in touch with that state of mind, that feeling, that attitude of compassion, being moved, being touched by someone else’s suffering. You see somebody in trouble, in need, and you just feel moved to help them. Bring to mind a situation like that.

Research shows that compassion is good for us, good for our health, helps relieve stress, helps us to be happier, and to get along better with others. It’s good for us if we can have more compassion.

It’s also good for others because when we can treat others with compassion they feel happier, they feel safer, and it’s good for the world.

The world would be much worse off if nobody had compassion, but in fact, people do have compassion. People do reach out and try to help others who are in need. So compassion is really, really important.

Feel the wish to increase your own feeling of compassion and to make it more and more a part of your life, a part of your interactions with others. A simple way of doing that is to just contemplate, just like me, everybody wants to be happy and nobody wants to suffer.

Just like me, everybody wants to be happy and nobody wants to suffer.

Every person and every living being—including animals, birds, insects—are all just trying to live their life and keep themselves alive, take care of their families, and they don’t wanna suffer. They want to be happy.

Then see if you can generate this strong, heartfelt wish or aspiration that in the way you live your life today and every day of your life, that you’ll act towards others in ways that at least tries to bring happiness to them.

Try to relieve their suffering if you can, and at the very least to not give them more suffering.

The Dalai Lama often says, Try to help others as much as you can, even if you can’t help them, at least try not to harm them.

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama

So we’re at the end of our time together, and traditionally in Buddhism, we dedicate the positive energy or merit that we create, when we do a practice or listen to teachings, to bring benefit, peace, and happiness to all living beings.

Let’s take a moment to do that mentally by the positive energy created during this hour of discussing compassion and meditation. 

May this positive energy spread out throughout the world, throughout the universe, reaching all living beings, relieving their suffering and their confusion.

Bringing them genuine peace and happiness, helping them get in touch with their positive nature, positive potential, so that they can grow, bringing greater and greater peace and happiness into their lives.

[00:49:35] Victoria Coleman: Thank you so much, Venerable. Beautiful way to close our webinar. Thank you everyone for joining today.

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Hosted by Scott Snibbe
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