This teaching is extracted from the Q&A section of a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Brahmali at Buddhist Society of Western Australia on “Buddhist attitudes towards worldly problems”. View the full talk here.
The following is a transcript of the above video with edits.
There is no way that the disappearance of Buddhism can be stopped by war. War will make it disappear even faster. Buddhism is the expression of how we live. Defending Buddhism through violence is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. Buddhism should be defended through how we live our lives. Our lives should be an inspiration to other people. This is how we are most likely to support Buddhism for the future.
So, there is absolutely no grounds at all for violence. Sometimes, you hear arguments like, “we have to get rid of all these people such as the Muslims because they are invading our country, they are degrading us.”. This is the wrong way to think. Acting on such thoughts is the fastest way to destroy the good name of Buddhism in the world.
Muslims are human-beings too. They have feelings like everyone else. They just have a different religion.
Is there anytime when violence is approved by the Buddha?
The answer is ‘yes’.
The Buddha said, “I allow you to kill one thing, monks. What is that one thing? Anger.”
If we eliminate anger in our lives, that is that one thing we are allowed to kill. Apart from that, stay away from killing, stay away from violence. Violence does not work.
If you read the discourses of the Buddha, one of the things that is prevalent is the integrity they have. There is nothing in those suttas that can be construed in any way as supporting violence. Nothing. The early Buddhist suttas are absolutely devoid of it. There is the integrity to the teaching that is absolutely astonishing.
That sense of integrity, which is so strong is one of the reasons why I have such incredible faith in the Buddhist path.
There’s a famous monk in Burma who said to the army that violence is okay according to certain scriptures. The scripture that he had to cite, to be able to say that, was a history book. It was the history of Sri Lanka.
It’s called the Mahavamsa.
And he pointed, “well, in the Mahavamsa, there was an ancient King in Sri Lanka, and he killed all of these people.”. Then he asked the monks and the monks said something in the lines of, “yeah, they aren’t really people. Because they aren’t Buddhists”. What a really awful story!
Then he (Burmese monk) said that that is the precedent and it (killing) is okay. It’s a crazy thing!
But these are not the words of the Buddha. It has got nothing to do with Buddhist doctrine. It’s a history book about what happened in ancient Sri Lanka.
It is not something we can use to justify these things. And still, that’s how desperate they become. Because there’s nothing else to use in Buddhism.
Buddhist teaching has incredible integrity when it comes to not oppressing anyone. Not harming anyone.
This is an interesting idea in Buddhism – not to be harmful. It means you should be considerate. You should not be ruthless.
You should be ruthful. Full of ruth, full of compassion. You should not be inconsiderate. Because being inconsiderate basically means that you prioritise your greed and your desires over the consequences of that those greed have for other people.
Do good. Avoid evil. Purify the mind. This is the teaching of all Buddhas.
The Buddha only encouraged us to kill one thing – anger. This is reflected in the Ghatva Sutta, SN 1.71:
As she was standing to one side, a devata recited this verse to the Blessed One:
Having killed what, do you sleep in ease?
Having killed, what do you not grieve?
Of the slaying of what one thing does Gotama approve?
[The Buddha:] Having killed anger, you sleep in ease.
Having killed anger, you do not grieve.
The noble ones praise the slaying of anger — with its honeyed crest & poison root
— for having killed it, you do not grieve.
Strive to destroy the anger within you instead of letting anger destroy you.
Learn to be considerate and compassionate towards others, recognising that all beings desire happiness.
Inspire others to practise the teachings of the Buddha through your wholesome conduct instead of brute force.
TLDR: When we are at the height of our career success and plummet into failure overnight, what do we do? Gather our courage to see things from a different perspective.
The Highs Could Only Go Higher Right?
2019 was an amazing year for my career. I achieved the coveted promotion by securing large revenues for my company, the bosses had only praise for my hard work, and I earned nearly 1-year worth of bonus.
Times were good, and when January of 2020 approached, I had only big plans for the year. This was going to be the zenith, I knew that I would achieve my second promotion, earn even more money and shine ever bigger.
In a natural turn of events, I knew nothing.
The moment COVID began impacting Malaysia, my career nosedived in a single day. All the deals I had lined up were halted, and the tumultuous journey began.
Long were the days of tough talk with the bosses; it felt almost like a consistent interrogation revolving around my presence in the company despite my lack of revenue. It was apparent how the company now saw me as a burden.
The Crash Of Change
I was entangled in a mass and mess of emotions; my mind alike to the sea that I so love, unpredictable. Fury, jealousy, melancholy, had a wonderful time consuming my waking thoughts.
Thoughts of “Why can’t they understand my difficult situation?” and “Why are they making things difficult for me?” only oiled further anger within.
To soothe this heat, I began plotting to create reputation damage to the company. Sharing this with a good friend, he merely asked “What is the point of harming others and oneself?”
Building Courage Again
That phrase gave my mind a sudden epiphany. For years I have heard the phrase ‘embrace change’, but now I am behaving like a temperamental child robbed of desires.
It is odd how I welcome change with a big hug only if it is in my favour yet loathe the tide’s natural turn when my desires are unmet. What I needed, was quite simply courage.
Courage to admit that success and failure are betrothed, there is nothing shameful about failing. Courage to refrain from blaming an external party for the source of my negative emotions, and instead to realise that I am still a lot of work in progress. Courage to embrace change, both positive and negative with grace.
I found the Dhamma quote on being unshakeable when the winds of life blow inspiring:
TLDR: Burying our friends and ourselves with positive quotes when we are down can hurt. Active listening is one way to avoid toxic positivity
Heard Or Said Something Similar?
“Everything will be fine.”
“This too shall pass.”
“Good vibes only. Stay strong, jia you*!”
Social media rewards us for positively curated stories. This has created new challenges in how we manage the emotions of others and ourselves.
Toxic positivity: The forced blanket positive response to all difficult situations. The firm belief that keeping positive is the sole way you and others should live your life.
Though being positive is important. It is also important to let yourself experience difficult feelings. Here’s why toxic positivity is an issue and how we can be part of the solution.
Positivity Is Great.. So How Does Toxic Positivity Harm Us?
Positivity is important to keep us going in life. No doubt. ‘Focusing on what is good, will bring good’ we are taught. But like all things, e.g. Pandan Cake 🍰 , too much of something is not desirable.
Positivity becomes toxic when one rejects anything that triggers negative emotions and replaces it with positive motivational quotesor ‘vibes’. This habitual response to negativity has been found to create anxiety, depression or physical illness.
Ever tried to tell a panicking person to ‘stay calm’? I hope you didn’t!
Toxic positivity is not just an issue for your mind and body. It is an issue for others. Pushing it on others also makes you seem tone death.
The receiver of your ‘positive vibes’ comments may even start to feel bad about feeling bad. The last thing they need.
When we deny unpleasant emotions, we tend to make them bigger. Avoiding all negativity also reinforces the idea that we need not pay attention to it. This leaves it unprocessed in our psyche.
We slowly forget that emotions are not inherently good or bad but rather a guide in how we should make sense of things.
Signs of Toxic Positivity
These are some common experiences of toxic positivity to help recognise them in yourself and others.
Trying to ‘snap back to reality’ by saying (e.g., “it could be worse”) instead of validating their/ your emotional experience
Telling someone off for expressing frustration or anything non-positive
Hiding your true feelings and wanting it to be ‘over asap’
Attempting to “just get on with it” by dismissing strong emotions
Feeling guilty/ angry for feeling down.
Responding to people’s experiences with “feel good” quotes or statements about positivity
Detoxing The Toxic Within Us
“To stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge — that is the path of true awakening.” Pema Chodron
It is easy to accept the pleasant people and situations of life. However, being able to accept the difficult people and situations is the path of spiritual growth. We find a place for deep healing and peace within ourselves.
Here’s what we can do for ourselves.
Give yourself permission to feel negative and positive emotions.
Journal about the emotion or sit with the emotion (if you can!).
Slowly uncover the cause and see what can you do to support yourself better in the future.
Talk to friends about it unreservedly.
Take a walk in nature to breathe in the fresh air
Detoxing the Toxic Towards Others
Being a lover of excel tables, this is a cheat sheet to help improve the ways we talk to others having a bad time. Being an “ex-serial toxic positivity promoter”, this table saved me dozens of time!
No one can be a bursting ray of sunshine every day and every hour. Accepting that it is only human will help you acknowledge the setbacks faced by yourself and others. Paying attention and processing negativity will help you better understand yourself and those around you.
*A popular Singapore term for encouraging others in difficulty
Memorise the chart of toxic positivity and avoid the traps you might fall into
Do not be afraid to acknowledge the negative emotions within you!