Have you ever been in an embarrassing situation and not know what to do in the moment?
Recently, I was at a lunch event with one of my teachers, Venerable Chengde, and someone did something quite embarrassing. I was really impressed by the way my teacher handled the situation.
Basically, lots of people were talking with my teacher and inviting him to give lectures at different places. He said, "I appreciate the invitations, but I really need to settle down and improve my own abilities first. Otherwise, I don't have much to help others with. Also, this year has been extremely busy for me. As you can see, I'm becoming more and more skinny. This is setting a bad example for people. If I don't make some adjustments, I'll end up heroically sacrificing myself."
Then the person beside my teacher started clapping with a big smile.
Immediately after, the person beside that person said, "What are you doing?! You can't clap!" He probably misunderstood Venerable Chengde's words, and when he realized that no one wants Venerable Chengde to die from exhaustion, he felt really embarrassed.
I was thinking, "Well, this is quite awkward…"
Then, Venerable Chengde said: "It's okay. We need to see the intention behind his action."
Then he shared a couple stories:
When I was studying under Venerable Jing Kong in Australia, there was a special guest who requested to sit near Venerable Jing Kong. That night at dinner, she found out her seat was right beside Venerable Jing Kong. She was quite startled and told the organizer 'I said closer, but not this close!' She was probably nervous because Venerable Jing Kong has such high prestige. Anyway, as they were eating, she suddenly said, 'Venerable Jing Kong, you truly have natural radiance!' Immediately, the person beside her said, "This isn't natural radiance! This is the magnificent image of Buddhism!"
Suddenly, the atmosphere got really awkward, and no one knew what to say. Then, Venerable Jing Kong said, "Natural radiance is good." Immediately, she signed a breath of relief.
You see, Venerable Jing Kong saw the intention behind her actions. To her, 'natural radiance' is already the biggest compliment she could come up with. She doesn't have 'magnificent image of Buddhism' in her vocabulary bank. The person who criticized her only saw her action, but not the intention behind her actions.
A similar situation happened to the Buddha. One day, he went out to beg for food as usual. There was a little girl playing happily with some mud. When she saw the magnificent image of the Buddha, she felt extremely moved, and she rushed over to give him the mud she was playing with. When she put the mud in the Buddha's bowl, the student beside the Buddha got really angry and said, "What are you doing?! You can't put mud in the Buddha's bowl!"
The Buddha immediately stopped his student and his, "It's okay. Today, I received treasure. Thank you." You see, the student was overly focused on the girl's actions, so he got angry. But the Buddha saw the intention behind the action. To that little girl, the mud was her favorite thing in the world, and she was willing to give it to the Buddha. That is precious.
Likewise, we need to see the intention behind this person when he clapped for me. My feeling is that he has a strong sense of heroism, and he is willing to sacrifice himself for others, and that is very precious."
After my teacher finished speaking, everyone's look towards that man changed from awkwardness to smiles. He himself felt relieved.
Oftentimes, people have positive or neutral intentions, but we misinterpret their intentions as negative, or we just overly focus on their actions. As a result, we create awkwardness, or even worse, conflict, when we really didn't need to.
For example, one time my neighbor brought over a lot of pears from his pear tree to my house. I said to my mother, "Wow, that's a lot of pears." Shortly after, another neighbor came over, so I gave some of the pears to that neighbor. Later, my mother later said, "Why did you give so many pears to them? You should've consulted with me first! I had other plans for those pears."
I felt upset because I thought I was doing a good thing to share the pears with others. My mother was logically correct that I should have checked with her first, but I would have felt better if she could affirm my intentions first by saying, "It's great that you like to share good things with others, but next time you should check with me first. After all, the neighbor gave it to us, not you, and I might have other plans for those pears."
But anyway, we cannot demand others to change, we can only change ourselves. Therefore, I can cultivate my humility and remind myself to never assume negative intentions. Instead, either assume positive intentions from others, or check their intentions.
I heard another example where a student was really tired and overslept past breakfast. When she woke up, she was angry at her roommate for not waking her up to go eat breakfast. Her roommate got upset too because she thought it would be better to let her sleep more since she was so tired. It would have been much better if the person said, "Hey I just wanted to ask why you did not wake me up for breakfast? Oh thank you for being considerate and letting me sleep more. Sorry for making you worry. By the way, next time, could you wake me up and ask me if I want to go to breakfast? That way I can decide myself. Thank you."
To give one last example, one time I was chatting with some teachers, students, and parents. Everyone was sitting except for another teacher, myself, and a student. After a while, that student went to grab a chair. After the student sat on the chair for a few minutes, his mother suddenly said, "What are you doing? You should get chairs for the teachers!"
The student probably had neutral intentions; he simply didn't think to get chairs for the teachers, but he was not purposely trying to be disrespectful. The parent was overly focused on the action and didn't consider her son's intentions, nor did she consider how her words would make her son and the people there feel very awkward. Then the other teacher said, "Oh thank you for warming up the seat for me!" Everyone laughed, and the student did not feel so awkward afterwards.
Don't overly focus on people's actions. Instead, see the intention behind their actions. Even better, always assume positive intentions; it can only make the situation better.
Weekly Wisdom #238