How can a buddhist deal with bullies without giving up practice?
September 20, 2007 1:32 PM   Subscribe

What is a buddhist to do about bullies?

I don't want to get too into the personal drama, but I'm looking for a more general answer to when I'm being bullied and taken advantage of. For the most part, I can let the suffering go and ignore, but it is consistent. My niceness is only being taken advantage of. The bullying hasn't stopped after 2 years or so of no response from me. And now people are starting to believe it. How can I deal with this or stop it without giving up my practices? I feel just sitting by and watching my reputation be ruined is not okay.
How do other people deal with this?
posted by rubberkey to Religion & Philosophy (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The best approach(es) to this will depend, I think, on the type of bullying we're talking about here.

So: beatings? Insults? Something else?
posted by aramaic at 1:41 PM on September 20, 2007

I'm not a Buddhist myself, but I know a little about it. What kind of Buddhist are you? I'm not familliar with any prohibition against speaking up for oneself. Some Buddhists even kick a little ass when they feel they need to. Some more background would be helpful.
posted by lekvar at 1:44 PM on September 20, 2007

Why would anyone stop bullying you if you offer no response? Buddhists don't have be doormats, I don't think.
posted by xmutex at 1:49 PM on September 20, 2007

Buddhism =! Pacifism

The bottom six of the Eightfold Path speak to right speech, right action, right effort and so forth. From Wikipedia:

By making right effort, a Buddhist practitioner is considered to be engaging in an effort that is wholesome in terms of karma; that is, in terms of that effort's ultimate consequences to the practitioner.

The four phases of Right Effort:(in simple English)
(1) make effort to prevent the unwholesome that has not yet come.
(2) make effort to destroy the unwholesome that has come.
(3) make effort to produce the wholesome that has not yet come.
(4) make effort to cultivate the wholesome that has come.

You should move toward truthfulness in all things. And sometimes that truthfulness means speaking up for oneself, so that all can live better.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:49 PM on September 20, 2007 [6 favorites]

Are there any older buddhists with whom you could consult? Do you belong to any sort of organized group or temple?

In any case (my ignorance of buddhism notwithstanding), I've heard a story about the Dalai Lama and dealing with mosquitoes that may (or may not) be of interest.
posted by jquinby at 1:51 PM on September 20, 2007

You're a person also. Buddhism is not generally regarded as requiring anarchism or pacifism. If someone slanders you, he is telling untruths and deceiving others. If you approach that problem, of removing deceptions, then you're acting well. You can also let the bully know that you do not regard his threats or slander as important, and do not let them influence you.

You also don't get more specific. Do you follow a particular tradition?
posted by a robot made out of meat at 2:09 PM on September 20, 2007

The Dalai Lama was once quoted as saying something like this:

Q: What would you do if a robber broke into your house?

DL: I would shoot him in the leg. Then I would go and take care of him.
posted by cookie googleman at 2:11 PM on September 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

Correct me if I'm off base here, but aren't there buddhist monks who are also incredible martial artists?
posted by Pollomacho at 2:19 PM on September 20, 2007

aren't there buddhist monks who are also incredible martial artists?

There's at least one Buddhist who is pretty good at martial arts. Ask yourself WWSSD?
posted by GuyZero at 2:35 PM on September 20, 2007

Okay here's the western Alan Watts version of what a Buddhist does in a situation like this. Look, there are jerks everywhere in the world. I've spoken with cranky old holy men in northern Nepal who had some serious insight to give and still were more concerned with the health of their pet dog than talking with me. They were people. Just like you and me.

You are responsible for your Path. Only you. You're not going to get there by being timid, either with yourself or others. To risk a Western axiom, "To thine own self be true, and as the night follows day, thou canst not then be false to any man." As true in the time of the Bard as it was with the Buddha.

If a bully threatens your calm, you have a responsibility to deal with it. That doesnt mean violence necessarily (hopefully), it means accepting it. Maybe you fight back, maybe you ignore it, maybe something else. Be true to yourself. Be true to your beliefs. Dont let the bully define who you are. You choose.
posted by elendil71 at 2:36 PM on September 20, 2007

This guy is a Buddhist too. He's electrifying just sitting in a chair. However I have no doubt the Abbot could kick my butt 87 ways (assuming I can get past the half dozen monks within a few yards of him). WWTAD?

Right Speech and Right Action do not merely refer to that which does not harm. It refers to that which is truthful. It refers to that which corrects harm. If these bullies were ruining the reputation of someone else, would you act? Are you less valuable than another person? For that matter, what makes you think they are not harming other people than you?

To paraphrase the Abbot, "Upgrade your thinking."
posted by ilsa at 3:00 PM on September 20, 2007

Wouldn't the most skillful of Buddhists manipulate the situation verbally?

I think the trick is to get your opponent to walk away feeling proud somehow. With the right words one might be able to accomplish this. Humility without fear may hold some power in the art of manipulation perhaps?

Now only if I can get it to work! (ouch)
posted by albatross5000 at 3:10 PM on September 20, 2007

By stopping his bullying through direct action, you stop him from incurring the negative karma of hurting you. From this perspective, it is essential that you stop him from bullying you, not for your sake but his.

If your gentle attempts at getting him to stop have failed, you have no choice but to teach him the error of his ways through more skillful (forceful) means.
posted by milarepa at 3:23 PM on September 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

Remember the basic insight of non-Self.
If you can set aside your sense of yourself as a victim of bullying and the bully as a doer of wrong and address the situation as an opportunity to intervene for less harm, it may help in deciding a course of action.
posted by Abiezer at 4:05 PM on September 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I didn't tell you not to hiss.

Nowhere does Buddhism advise you to be a victim. It warns you that if your response is to hate, you will suffer (I paraphrase.)

Don't hate, but act. And act mindfully.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 4:21 PM on September 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Of course, perhaps eHarmony just doesn't like Jessamyn or me. I'm married, but I tried it out just to test the atheist thing.

Clearly a Koan.

To answer your question, a bunch of western Buddhists were living in a house and were studying under Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. The house was infested with bugs and mice and they didn't know what to do. They asked him for advice and he told them to set traps and get an exterminator.

You're not helping anyone by rolling over. Stand up to them!
posted by Ironmouth at 5:27 PM on September 20, 2007

Well, what do you think the right action is? You have some obvious choices:

1. Allow this to happen.
2. Disallow this to happen.

As a lay buddhist you should know that you are under no obligation to pacifism, especially if it leads to wrong action. Consider this passsage:
May I have no enmity
may I have no hurtfulness
may I have no troubles of mind and body
may I be able to protect my own happiness
Whatever beings there are —
may they have no enmity
whatever beings there are —
may they have no hurtfulness
whatever beings there are —
may they have no troubles of mind and body
whatever beings there are —
may they be able to protect their own happiness.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:48 PM on September 20, 2007

A lot depends on what kind of Buddhist you are. Most of my reading has been in the Zen/Chan tradition and they are the ones I have the greatest affinity with. So my take on it is that your practices are about maintaining mental hygiene. This just means being aware of your thoughts and noticing whatever physical sensations happen to be present. Charlotte Joko Beck (leader of a Zen community in San Diego) calls those two actions the whole of the practice. The ten precepts are a useful ethical framework but they are not the core. They help support the practice by suggesting a course that eliminates many of the ways we choose to distract ourselves from being present. None of this promotes some sort of moral imperative to offer oneself up as a willing victim for the belligerent.

Do what you have to do to protect yourself and your reputation. Avoid dwelling on it afterwards or using the story to validate yourself. If you can forgive the bullies and yourself for what happened in the past and perhaps treat them without resentment after you have taken care of yourself, then you're doing pretty good. Accepting the realities of your life as they are does not mean complete passivity. Part of your life is the desire to respond. This isn't just an impulsive lashing out. Notice the difference between protecting yourself and revenge. And the difference might only be one of attitude. So act, and then let it go. Pacifism is not a workable approach. Many give a lot of lip service to non-violence but they neglect the context that allowed it to work. Without 20th century media and an egalitarian Christianity in Britain and the U.S., Gandhi and MLK would not have been success stories. That approach wouldn't work with the Zulus or the Huns or the Nazis. And Gandhi for one, knew it (MLLK?). If the use of force concerns you (and I don't just mean physical, we can treat people like objects in our speech as well), read Simone Weil's 'The Poem of Force'. She was an ardent pacifist for a number of years who had to reassess its feasibility at the outbreak of WWII.

Also consider that by denying these bullies appropriate feedback, you aren't doing them any favors.
posted by BigSky at 7:40 AM on September 21, 2007

Thanks for all the feedback. The problem I'm having is disallowing it to happen. I'd do whatever it took, I just don't know what that is. Because they never seem to stop no matter how many times I stand up for myself. I can't be there every time they say something about me, and because they are dedicating their lives to it, I can't figure out a way to stop it.

As a side note, I do train is martial arts. I feel being able to kick someones ass if I have to is great but it doesn't make it an okay thing to do, my life would probably have to be threatened for me to feel okay with that.
posted by rubberkey at 1:35 PM on September 24, 2007

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