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Buddhists/Selectively choosing what to suffer for and how to get rid of bad feelings against someone

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QUESTION: Hello, I've been wondering about this a while and this is sort of a two part question in a way. Technically in Buddhism you can see and test things out to see what is right, correct? I do know desire and expectations can lead to pain but what if there is something that feels worthy of suffering for? Is it fine to choose to hold onto something when it makes you feel bad because that same thing can also make you feel good and feel worthy of sacrificing some happiness for? I do understand its probably best not to but realistically most people would have a lot of trouble with that so I see finding value in suffering by making sure its worth it. Does this sound reasonable at all? Or is there a better way along those lines?

I have someone whom I care very much for they are a friend I love very much but they are hurting me in their actions of neglect and doing other things that I feel hurt by and its not directly intended to hurt me but it feels like it is. Its hard to kknow if they even say anything that is true or not anymore and I care very much for them. It just feel a lot of negative feelings toward them because of how they make me hurt deeply and I do not want to feel that way about them. I really am starting to hate them almost and its making me hate myself for hating them because I want to just be able to completely love them still eve though they are giving me so much grief and I don't want to just abandon them either. I have people telling me bad things about this person all the time and I do not want to believe they are true but I dont know how to test their character and know for myself even. I used to feel like I knew them well but with all this absence of their presence and everyone telling me these things that go against what I believe about them its leaving me incredibly lost. Its not just a mater of forgiveness its my own needs being deprived by them and that brings me so much hurt.

ANSWER: Dear M,

Thank you for the opportunity to answer your question.

"Technically in Buddhism you can see and test things out to see what is right, correct?"

Yes, in Buddhism, we are encouraged to see and test things out in order to see what is right.

"I do know desire and expectations can lead to pain but what if there is something that feels worthy of suffering for?"

There a lot of things that people believe are worthy of suffering for. In fact, often we overlook the suffering and instead we see it as happiness. Some people like exercise. Some people like work. Some people like extreme sports/games/activities. These things could be seen as suffering. But people who see it as worth it often choose to see it as happiness. However, this doesn't mean that the suffering is not there. It is okay for us to choose to take a path of suffering, as long as we are aware of what we are getting ourselves into. This way, we are knowingly approaching a risky situation with the expectation and acceptance of the suffering involved. So when the suffering occurs, it is not as extreme as it could have been since we were aware of it to begin with.

"Is it fine to choose to hold onto something when it makes you feel bad because that same thing can also make you feel good and feel worthy of sacrificing some happiness for?"

At the stage when you see suffering as worth it, it is a scary stage. At this stage, we take risks and put ourselves in dangerous situations. Then, at a later time, we look back and feel regrets. It really depends on what it is that we are deciding to do. If it is something dangerous or risky like yelling at someone because you feel like it (seems worth it at the time) or driving really fast just to feel the rush (seems worth it), they can lead to very scary and dangerous outcomes. However, some other things, like eating vegetables (can be suffering for some people) can cause some degrees of suffering, but also lead to positive results.

The whole point of contemplating Buddhism is to truly become aware of the suffering involved. This comes from Impermanence. Everything will turn out both positively and negatively. Some negatives outweigh the positive. Some positives outweigh the negative. Mostly we drift through life seeing things as just positive or just negative. We don't see the entire picture. So by you identifying that the thing you WANT to do, also has negative aspects (suffering), you are already learning to see it for what it is. This is the first step.

The place you are in, is because you still see it as worth it. However, it is highly likely that at some point you will not see that it was as worth it as you might have thought in the past.

In the case that you presented, it might feel like you would rather be with a "bad" person in order to combat loneliness or to help fill imposed shortcomings. As long as we need other people to fill voids in our life or our persona, we will be subject to this. Not everyone is purely good, or purely evil. Therefore, you will constantly be put in situations like this. It comes down to a weighing of the scales. Is the happiness that you get from being in this relationship worth the pain and suffering it is also bringing to you? Is the pain and suffering real? Or merely the result of anxiety, self-doubt and worry? Are there actual cases and evidence of the bad and evil? Is it possible for you to fill the voids in your life by yourself? (ie find new finds, take up hobbies, experiment with new things) These are all questions that must be asked before you decide to conclude whether this relationship is worth fighting for or worth scrapping.

I hope I have answered your questions, if not please feel free to ask a followup and I will explain anything you feel needs explaining.



---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Okay I think I understand what you mean. However, how does one figure out the value of something as being a positive thing or a negative thing from ones own perspective? I know good and bad vary by opinion or course and I know the lines between the two are not always clear even then because of the difficulties of seeing the big picture and how everything comes into play so its hard to gauge the risks and values of things. There must be some way? What about when it comes to a person. How does one even test a persons character especially if you only get to speak with them but do not often have time to spend time with them in person leaving you with mostly just their words and the words of others. How do you know that being in some kind of relation to them is too risky or too harmful versus the good? This is made even more difficult when a person displays inconsistent ways of acting or acting different than their own words.

How do I separate my own anxieties and self doubts and worries along with the thoughts of others from what is really going on?

How can I practice forgiveness for pain someone brings me? Is gratitude one of the ways to help with that?

Also considering how everyone can be so interconnected how much of an impact can I as one person have over someone. Can my own thoughts and feelings and obviously actions have any major effect on someone to where we become more alike or they can more easily see my view point of situations beyond just the limitations of the labels of words?

Answer
Dear M,

Thank you for your questions and the opportunity to answer them.

One does not figure out the absolute value of whether something is positive or negative, because EVERYTHING is both positive and negative at every given moment. The key is that we are aware of the negative and are not ignorant of them.

At that point, the mind itself will prevent you from doing it, once you know how dangerous it is. For example, not many people will want to jump in front of a car or kiss a snake. Why? They are aware of the danger and it is not worth it to them. The danger, to them, is not worth it. However, for people in need of attention or desiring to end their life, this danger is actually what they want. For them, the danger is worth it. This is a personal choice. However, the consequences are real and personal. Each person has to accept and handle the consequences of their decision. This is easier if we are aware of the danger before we jump into it.

When it comes to a person, the rule is that you use a moving average. As each thing comes up, you add that to who they are. You cannot merely remember someone based on who they USED to be or might have been. You must take the past, and present and combine it into who they are to you. In the future, if they act differently, we must know this is actually part of them. Not a new part, but a part of the old that we just haven't seen or that just hasn't had the opportunity to show itself.

The only advice I can give you in this situation (of which details are vital in giving a valid answer, but I will do with what you have given me) is to tell you to find the source of the suffering within you. Not the source that is outside of you. It is easy to see the other people as the source of our pain and suffering. But we made choices. We played a major role in this epic tragedy we call our life. For example, just wanting things to be good and healthy and nice is not enough to get it to that way. We must see our actions - were we needy? demanding? selfish? overbearing? or even mean? These things can greatly lead us to see why things turned out a certain way.

Or in another angle, what need do we have that needs to be filled? Can we fill it through other means? That is, what fear? what longing? what paranoia? what annoyance are we experiencing? How can we fix it on our side? As long as we are waiting for other people to fix it for us, we are a slave to them and have to wait for their mercy. It does not have to be this way. We can fix it on ourselves.

In an example, there was a girl who was mad at her husband for always being vulgar. He always said bad words to her and she was afraid that would teach bad words to their younger daughter. She originally wanted to leave him, but asked for advice first. After investigation, it turned out that she liked to talk back and he hated that. So, after she stopped talking back and just answered different situations with more care, suddenly the husband stopped being rude and vulgar. He started treating her nicely and appropriately. Why is this? Because the husband had two side, his nice side and his bad side. By doing the things that he didn't like, she was virtually summoning his evil side to come out and play. But by yielding and giving him what he liked (a wife who didn't talk back), she in turn got what she wanted (a husband who didn't speak to her vulgarly).

In another example, a person felt that their employees did not respect them. That the employees talked about them behind their backs. This bothered them and even after many many meetings, it didn't stop. The employer was getting really angry and upset. But after investigation, it turned out that they didn't respect him because he didn't know his job. He was a new boss who hadn't gone up the ranks. So, instead of forcing his employees to respect him, instead, the boss injected himself into the business and learned every aspect. As he did that, the employees saw his dedication and began to respect him.

In both these cases, the person suffering was able to make personal adjustments that helped lead to new outcomes. As long as me are still acting the same, the results will probably be the same.

As for separating anxieties and self doubt, we must contemplate impermanence. We must learn that what we believe and think is not always true nor accurate. We believe what we think is true and allow it to create anxiety. But by seeing that our thoughts are impermanent and subject to many outcomes and variations, we learn to not give too much credence to our assumptions and guesses. This lowers our anxiety and self doubt.

As for self-doubt, we should not doubt ourselves, but SHOULD doubt our thoughts. What good we have done should tell us what kind of person we are. Other people's thoughts will not influence someone who is sure of their quality as a person. Therefore, if we lack that sureness, we must develop a stronger sense of person. We must do more good, we must learn more about ourselves. This will lead to self-awareness and self-awakeness.

Forgiveness is overrated and unnecessary. Forgiveness for someone else usually comes with a catch and comes from a place of ego that does not end well. We usually think we are better than them, that is why we forgive them. What we must do instead to learn why the problem bothers us in the first place. Once we understand why it bothers us, then we can take steps to alleviate that problem without having to deal with them. Forgiveness then becomes unnecessary, since you now have understanding.

Whether we can influence someone or not depends on many things. Having the quest to influence others is usually polluted by our desire to change others. This usually poisons our actions and speech and leads to more problems. It is best to learn to know and understand other people for who they are. For if we strive to change others, we will never stop. It is a desire that will never be fulfilled. Because once they change, you will think you have power over them and whenever they do what you do not like, you will strive to change them again and again and again. It is a never-ending task.  

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Anandapanyo Bhikkhu

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I can answer questions about Buddhist practice, Buddhist understanding and how to apply Buddhism to daily life. I can help analyze Buddhist sayings and teachings. In addition, I can help with questions Buddhism stories, fables and Vinaya(rules). I have meditated for over 10 years and can help you start with meditation. In addition, I can help provide insight into what to do when you feel that you have hit a wall with your meditation. My main area of expertise is how to think in accordance with Sammaditthi (the right view - and number 1 in the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path. If I cannot answer your question, I have many able teachers with over 20 years experience to help me, so chances are I will be able to find an answer for you.

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I have been practicing Buddhism since I was born, but as a serious practice since 2003. I started studying under various famous Thai Theravada masters. Finally, I met and studied under Phra Acariya Thoon Khippapanyo who has recently passed away on Nov 11, 2008 and is widely accepted as a great Arahant (fully enlightened) teacher of our time. In addition, I have personally read and studied much of the Buddhist scriptures and popular literature available. I have recently undertaken the ordination vows and have become a Buddhist monk in the theravada forest monk tradition. I reside at a temple with many dedicated practitioners and great teachers. I have been practicing training my mind to be aligned with right view (sammaditthi) for over 10 years. I have also been meditating for over 10 years. In my time spent with Acariya Thoon, I learned many things and was able to incorporate them into my life. In addition to practicing Buddhism within temples and my home, I used to own two restaurants and managed commercial real estate. I had to deal with many different and problems. I learned how to use Buddhism to fix my problems, both externally (my environment) and internally (within me).

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Electrical Engineering Degree from the University of California Santa Barbara MBA from San Francisco State

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