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  • Ajahn Brahm: So in a few minutes, I'll try and materialize a talk. Those of you who want

  • to go out, go out. Make a run for it quickly before I start my jokes. Those of you who

  • have got more tolerance of bad humor, please stay.

  • Okay, somebody, again this evening, gave me a great suggestion for a talk, which is concerning

  • how we put these teachings into practice in life. The talk this evening is on how to deal

  • with difficult people. [laughs] I'm sure that's relevant to your life. I don't know why there's

  • so many difficult people in the world, but I'm sure you've met many of them and even today.

  • The reason I give talks like this is to show just how we can apply these great insights

  • for meditation in Buddhism to help solve many of the problems in this world. The whole point

  • of Buddhist teachings is to lessen suffering, to give more freedom as we grow closer and

  • closer and closer to the pure freedom and bliss and ease of enlightenment.

  • I know, just this afternoon, giving a talk at Curtin University, I was reminded of something

  • I said last Monday night where some people who had never heard of Buddhism before, were

  • asking the old question, "Is Buddhism a way of life or is it a religion"? You should know

  • the answer to that question. It is a religion, for tax purposes.

  • [laughter]

  • Ajahn: You have to be practical about these things. You just ask our treasurer.

  • It's also a way of life. It's a way of dealing with the problems of life. It's many, many things.

  • I usually focus on the practical aspects of Buddhism in these Friday night talks and today,

  • how to deal with the difficult people you see from time to time in your life when you meet with them.

  • Don't think that just because I'm a Monk and you live in nice monasteries you don't have

  • your share of difficult people. I don't know what it is like, but sometimes as a Monk you

  • attract difficult people. I'm not saying you're difficult. [laughter]

  • Ajahn: ...because people have got nowhere else to go, and, sometimes, a monk's kindness

  • and compassion means that you accept everybody.

  • First of all, how you deal with difficult people, to know that difficult people are

  • par for the course. When we understand that, we understand it's not unusual to have difficult

  • people. No matter what you do, where you go, and how you behave, you're always going to

  • meet them.

  • So first of all, there's nothing wrong with having difficult people. In fact, we can look upon

  • difficult people...as my teacher Ajahn Chah says, they're a great blessing to our life.

  • They teach us patience. They teach us compassion. They actually lead to so much wisdom.

  • Really, you don't learn so much from the nice guys and the nice girls of life, do you?

  • You have a good time with them, but where you really learn your lessons is with the difficult

  • ones, which is why I learn from my teacher in Thailand, Ajahn Chah.

  • Ajahn means "teacher." He said that anything which is irritating you, anything which is

  • troubling you, that is your teacher. Being in Northeast Thailand, we'd always call the

  • mosquitoes "Ajahn mosquito"... [laughter]

  • Ajahn: ...because I learned so much from those damned mosquitoes. [laughs] That's what I

  • thought at the time, those mosquitoes. Because even when we just do loving kindness.

  • For those of you who are Buddhists, you know that we spread love and kindness to all people,

  • all beings, all genders, no matter what you are or who you are.

  • May all beings be happy and well. However, as a young man being a monk in Thailand, I

  • just could not do that. It's impossible. I did the best I can. I used to chant, "May

  • all beings be happy and well, except mosquitoes." [laughter]

  • Ajahn: "May all beings be free from suffering, but not those mosquitoes. They don't deserve,

  • what they've done to me." [laughs] I'm sure that if ever you spread loving kindness,

  • you've also got exceptions. [laughs] But it didn't work well when I had exceptions, so

  • I learned how to learn from those mosquitoes to be kind to them.

  • Sometimes, I was so kind to those mosquitoes I let them bite me. They would land on my

  • hand. I said, "Come on, mosquito, you can bite me. The door of my heart is open to you.

  • It's only a little bit of blood. I know that you need this to have your dinner.

  • And I like my dinner as well, especially as a monk. I know this is your dinner, so have something to eat.

  • Do you know what those mosquitoes did? Sometimes difficult people and difficult beings are

  • like this. They take advantage of you. They put their nose into the skin, and it's irritating.

  • So you just endure that. It's only a few seconds. But these mosquitoes, that was just an exploratory

  • drill. They took their nose out, walked a few steps, and tried somewhere else. [laughter]

  • Ajahn: They were fussy. You have three or four bites for one mosquito. They were taking

  • advantage of my kindness. [chuckles] That's just the nature of mosquitoes. It doesn't matter.

  • I have plenty of blood, and I learned a lot from that.

  • Number one, first of all, know that the difficult people and difficult beings and difficult

  • situations in life, that's common. There's nothing wrong. You never find any place where

  • you can run away and hide and escape from difficult people or difficult mosquitoes or

  • difficult experiences.

  • So number one, you have to accept that, and you have to learn how to deal with them.

  • One is learn that they're part of life and you can learn so much from them. Number two is to

  • realize that most of the difficulty of difficult people is actually coming from you, the way

  • we react to them.

  • Someone once said, "If ever you see a difficult person, remember, you only have to endure

  • them for maybe a few minutes, a few hours at most." Even if you live with them, it's

  • your husband or your wife, I don't know why you chose that person anyway. That's your

  • karma. [laughter] But anyway once you chose them....

  • Ajahn: Even if they're that close to you, you only have to live with them for a short

  • period of time, but they have to live with themselves all day. Sometimes when you think

  • how irritating they are for you, they'll be equally irritating towards themselves. Those

  • poor people have to live with that mind 24 hours a day.

  • It's a wonderful reflection when you see difficult people. You know if they're that difficult

  • for you to live with, they're also difficult to live with themselves. That gives you so

  • much compassion. It takes away the hurt which you feel, and you notice the hurt that they

  • feel, that they're so difficult to you.

  • It's actually empathizing with the other person, taking the pain away from yourself.

  • Why do I have to deal with this person? Get an idea of what they are going through in their head,

  • in their mind, in their life. Some of these people, if they're that difficult to you and

  • you're an ordinary person they've probably got no friends, no one they can really relate

  • to, because they're such an incredibly difficult character to live with. They're so lonely.

  • That actually arouses a bit of compassion to such people. When you have compassion to

  • such people, your endurance levels go up enormously. You can actually bear dealing with such people

  • because you know they're not going to be around for long.

  • They're going to walk out of your office, or you're going to go home to somebody else.

  • If you can't escape from it, you can always come on a retreat in my monastery or in

  • Dhammasara monastery. There's always some place you can get away. That's one thing you can do

  • It's also to know that the difficult people in life, you can actually change them. It's

  • a wonderful thing to know the difficulties which you face in life or difficulties which

  • they experience, they are impermanent. They're not always there. It's a phase which people

  • go through in their life, being difficult. Of course, that phase may last from birth

  • until death, but it ends eventually. [laughter]

  • Ajahn: It's not forever, but it's nice to know you can actually change people. You can

  • actually see them grow. How you change people is a wonderful psychology which I've learned

  • as a teacher, how you can interact with people and take the cause of them being difficult

  • to themselves and others and actually just move that, nudge that, in a sense of learning

  • to be more kind, more sensitive, less demanding, and less of a pain to live with.

  • It's wonderful. You can do that. How is that done? I was mentioning it in a talk this afternoon

  • at Curtin University. I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago. This was a powerful little experience

  • which I had about a month ago, maybe even longer, six weeks ago, in Singapore.

  • I was invited to give a talk at a conference at the Institute of Mental Health. It was

  • one big anniversary of their hospital. They invited me over with all these other psychologists,

  • psychiatrists, doctors and professors, as a monk, to give a talk on how to deal with

  • mental health.

  • What I was talking about there was the things which you heard here before. What I was really

  • impressed with was afterwards there was a devout Christian who was head of one of the

  • wards...departmental head. He invited me to his ward to do some Buddhist chanting.

  • but he told me actually not to tell anybody. Now I've blown it. [laughter]

  • Ajahn: I said, "Why do you say that?" He said, "Because what you said just makes so much

  • sense." He said, "I really respect that wisdom."

  • He said, "What I respect most of all is you're telling us something which you've only recently

  • been practicing. Where we don't focus on the times of the day where our patients are

  • sick and difficult, the times when they experience delusions or psychosis, and are dysfunctional.

  • We just put that aside. The times that they are apparently healthy, where they're relating

  • to themselves and their environment in a sensible way."

  • Because when a person has a mental dysfunction, it's not 24 hours a day. They have periods,

  • times when they're sort of in some sort of delusional state and times when they come out afterwards.

  • He said, "They were focusing on the times when they weren't delusional," and he said,

  • "By focusing on the times when they were healthy." He said, "A healing was happening." The times

  • when they were healthy were extending and the times when they were dysfunctional were decreasing.

  • I'd been teaching that for years. It's wonderful to see that has gotten into a modern health

  • system, in the only sort of mental hospital, which they have in that city state.

  • I know that's the same with difficult people. If you focus on their difficulties and make

  • a big deal about that, you're actually encouraging those difficulties. You're feeding them and

  • eventually they'll get worse and worse and worse.

  • There's a classic story, and I've used this so many times. If you haven't heard this before,

  • it's a very good one to hear. If you have heard it before, you're learning how to be

  • patient with a difficult monk who keeps on repeating the stories. [laughter]

  • Ajahn: Either way, it works. It's a great story of the demon who came into the emperor's

  • palace. Demon coming into an emperor's palace, and emperor was away. Because he was away

  • there was a monster, a big, ugly terrifying demon came and strolled right into the palace.

  • He was so frightening, so terrifying. Everybody froze in horror at this ugly, disgusting,

  • slimy demon. Allowing the demon to go right through, into the heart of the palace and

  • sit on the emperor's throne. As soon as he sat on the emperor's throne, that was just

  • too much for the guards and the ministers. They came to their senses.

  • They said, "Get out of here! Who do you think you are? This is our emperor's seat, not yours!!

  • Get out, or else!" At those harsh words, the demon grew an inch bigger, more ugly, more

  • smelly and the language got far worse.

  • That made the soldiers and ministers even more upset. They got out their swords. They

  • got out clubs. They clenched their fists. But at every unkind word, every angry deed, even

  • every unkind thought, the monster just grew an inch bigger. More ugly, more terrifying,

  • more smelly, and the language from the monster got worse and worse and worse.

  • This had been going on for quite some time before the emperor came back. At this time

  • that demon was so huge he took up half the throne room. He was massive and talk about

  • ugly and frightening.

  • I've never seen "Alien," the movie, but people said the alien is pretty terrifying. Imagine

  • the alien, multiplied by a thousand. This was so terrifying, not even

  • DreamWorks could manufacturer such a terrifying, horrible spectacle as this ugly demon

  • According to the story, the smell, the stench coming off this demon's body would make maggots

  • throw up. [laughter]

  • Ajahn: It takes a lot to make a maggot sick. [laughter]

  • Ajahn: The language coming from this demon was worse! Was worse than you'd hear in Northbridge

  • after both the Eagles and the Dockers lose. [laughter]

  • Ajahn: This was a problem, a real difficult being coming into the palace. When the emperor

  • came back...the reason he was emperor was he'd been to Nollamara, heard the talks and was wise.[laughter]

  • Ajahn: I always change these stories every time. Embellish them this way and that way,

  • so you could always hear a new angle.

  • The emperor had also read "Opening the Door of Your Heart," which is available at the "Book Shelf" for $25.00. [laughter]

  • Ajahn: I've also learned marketing. I was at an entrepreneurship business conference

  • this afternoon. But anyway, the emperor said, "Welcome. A monster, thank you so much for coming to

  • visit me. Why have you waited such a long time to come and pay me a call?'

  • At those few kind words, the monster grew an inch smaller, less angry, less smelly,

  • less offensive. All the people in the palace realized their mistake. Instead of saying,

  • "Get out of here, you don't belong! What are you doing here? You don't belong in here!"

  • they started to say, "Welcome."

  • One of them said, "Actually, do you want something to drink? We've got some orange juice, freshly

  • squozen." Squeezed...squozen? I don't know, who cares? [laughter]

  • Ajahn: "Would you like something to eat? We've got some nice curry puffs." They're available

  • this evening. I don't know what, I didn't see what's other. "They got some curry puffs.

  • We got some sandwiches." Someone said, "Would you like a pizza? I can ring up.

  • Monster size of course for someone like you." [laughter]

  • Ajahn: Someone gave the monster a foot massage. Have you ever had a foot massage? Imagine

  • a monster, with such big feet. It took about 10 of them to give each foot a massage.

  • Someone else, "Do you want a cup of tea?"? We have English tea. We have peppermint.

  • It's good for your health. Or a cup of coffee? Latte, cappuccino, or Brazilian?" I don't

  • really know what I'm talking about with coffee. I am just saying... [laughter]

  • Ajahn: Anyway, at every kind word or kind deed or kind thought the demon grew an inch smaller.

  • less ugly, less offensive, less smelly. It wasn't such a long time even before the monster's pizza

  • arrived he was back down to the size when he first began, when he first came in. They kept laying

  • on the kindness until that demon got so tiny one more act of kindness and that demon vanished

  • completely away.

  • The Buddha told that story in the Udana, but there was no mention of pizzas and peppermint tea.

  • I made that up. Buddha told that story in Udana. He said, "We call those things anger-eating

  • demons. When you give them anger, they get bigger, less ugly, less offensive, less smelly,

  • their language gets worse." He said, "The only way we can overcome the anger-eating demons

  • in life is with kindness. Welcome. Thank you for visiting for me."

  • Many difficult people you meet in life are anger-eating demons. You give them anger, you say, "Get

  • out of here, you don't belong in here," it actually does get worse. So instead of saying,

  • "Get out of here, you don't belong," some of the difficult people you say, "Welcome.

  • Thank you for coming to bother me." [laughs] You don't actually say that. You say, "Thank

  • you for coming to visit me," and give them kindness.

  • Sometimes people say, "That doesn't work. It might be OK for you as a monk. Maybe Ajahn

  • Brahm's got psychic powers. You can actually get into their head and their mind and rearrange

  • their neural pathways so they're not difficult with you." No, it does work.

  • One of the first time, 20 years ago, when I told this story it was when I as teaching

  • in prison, in Karnet Prison Farm, just down the road from my ministry. We still go there most Fridays.

  • When I was teaching that at Karnet Prison Farm one of the prisoners complained and he

  • said, "That is just new age rubbish. It doesn't work in the real world, especially in a prison.

  • Prisons are tough places. If you've got a difficult person you've got to stand up for

  • yourself. That's the only language they understand."

  • Of course, I wasn't having any of that. I said, "I don't believe you." He said, "You

  • don't live in prison." I said, "Monastery we have cells, we have wall around." Actually,

  • they don't have a wall around Karnet but we have a wall around our monastery. Sometimes

  • people, in the early years, they used to drive to Karnet Prison Farm and ask where are the

  • monks. It was very embarrassing. Luckily, there weren't any monks in it.

  • Anyway, I challenged this guy and said, "In this prison, who is the most difficult person

  • you have to deal with?" The prisoner I challenged was with a number of other prisoners. He said,

  • "The chief officer. The chief officer, my job is to serve him tea and coffee every day.

  • That's my job in prison. I hate that guy. He's always really nasty."

  • He told me a story which happened a week before. One of the prisoners in Karnet, he had hardly

  • ever had a visit from his family because it's such a hard place to get to. There's no public

  • transport and if you're poor and haven't got a car you have to find a friend who can actually

  • take you all that way. It's a difficult place to get to.

  • He said this man's wife had managed to get a lift to come and see him, but before you

  • can go and see your relations in prison you have to check in, say your name, go through