Sutra 1.33: Ah, Now There’s Advice I Can Follow

I have written a lot about the high (impossible?) standard the Dalai Lama sets when he expects compassion for our enemies. I understand that harboring anger toward our enemies, even only within ourselves, hidden from public view, is only damaging to ourselves and others. Revenge isn’t even a question. But why do I owe compassion to someone who actively seeks to harm me?

Who’s to say that just because the Dalai Lama writes it, it is correct? Certainly the Buddhist framework is not the only one. It seems to me one of the most compelling in terms of how to move through the world on a daily basis. It teaches a consistent and kind practice, and if everyone lived like this, it would be a wonderful world to live in. But taken to its logical extreme, it seems problematic. It seems to me that justice takes a back seat and that how to protect oneself and have compassion for an enemy is a mental exercise with dubious practical application.

There are other models out there. Aristotle says there are criteria for compassion, and my enemy may not meet those. This doesn’t mean you seek to eradicate them, but I am allowed to put my emotional goodwill elsewhere. Do I gravitate towards this because it’s easier than the Dalai Lama’s demand, or because it just makes sense?

Sutra 1.33 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s says this: Be friendly and compassionate toward those who suffer, offer goodwill toward the virtuous, and cultivate indifference toward those who are wicked. 

There are wicked people in this world. The Dalai Lama is an amazing optimist, but there are people for whom no amount of compassion, grace, and second chances will create any change in their heart. They are just mean. Yes, they are suffering, but that suffering, that willingness to continue to suffer, is of their own making. The idea of cultivating indifference seems doable. I don’t hate the wicked. I don’t think of them at all. Sounds a bit like Rand’s Howard Roark. The emphasis is on my integrity and extending grace to those who deserve it (this is not Rand), but not wasting energy on those who demonstrate time and time again that they are wicked. Then I can get on with my life, instead of circling back around, trying to figure out how to be compassionate to those who intentionally harm me.

Claudia Azula Altucher writes, “I find it enlightening that this sutra is so down to earth when it comes to those people who try to suck the life out of you. What about them? The sutras use just one word: ignore.” (MANTRA, Issue 3, p. 59).

Cultivating indifference, ready, set, go.




  1. PhiloPsycho says:

    Interestingly, this took me back in time to high school, to when I instinctively cultivated the ability to walk past a particular Mean Girl in the halls and stare straight past her head, pretending she didn’t affect me or even exist for me. Of course, initially, I was faking it, and she tried all the more to elicit an attack. In time, she really did cease to exist for me, and eventually, I for her. It’s a tool that I have relied on ever since (sometimes to my own detriment, when used with people I actually care about).

    I’m not saying that it’s right or even effective for us to always ignore our bullies. Victims are allowed to respond to a bully in any way they choose. I’m not saying that when we see bullying or some wrongdoing against others that we ought to ignore it, be indifferent, or encourage the victim to be indifferent. Too, we should probably avoid indifference and apathy when it comes to (especially political) issues that affect people in general.

    However, when we are dealing with those whom we don’t want to have relationships, I think self preservation is important. This woman clearly uses finances and defamation as ways to get revenge and feel in control. She’s probably motivated by the power of status and power. I think that the institutional punishment (the courts say he owes me!) works nicely with her wish to indulge her deluded sense of victim status (via revenge).

    I doubt there are Afterlife points for needless suffering. There don’t seem to be many this-life points, either.

    • Wanda says:

      Your comments point to a concern I see as well–you have to be careful the indifference doesn’t spill over into other parts of your life. I do believe compassion is required in all kinds of difficult situations and that we have to cultivate compassion. But the ever-present enemy, we don’t owe them that.

      The example you mentioned in high school reminds me of a similar experience I had in high school. It involved letting a group of kids hit me in the face with an ice ball instead of walking all the way around the building to avoid them like all the rest of the kids on the bus did every day that winter. They never bothered me again. That works when you can demonstrate (even if, as you point out, you might not really feel that way at first) that the other person can’t hurt you. In our case, she knows she is hurting us. So I guess the indifference here needs to be a feeling I internalize first and foremost. Also, it would help immensely if the law (in the person of a judge with poor judgment) would’t take up for her.

      • PhiloPsycho says:

        I am thinking about the tension in the Bible between the OT “eye for an eye” and the NT “turn the other cheek” commands. There is a story in the NT that is set in a court of law, in which someone who is as poor as one can possibly be is sued for his outer garment (all he has left, so it’s also his undergarment). Jesus counseled him to hand over his garment, and in doing so was also asking him to break Jewish law against nakedness. Interestingly, the command causes the plaintiff to break the law, because viewing nakedness was illegal. It’s kind of a humorous story, really, because the act of civil disobedience makes a mockery of the court.

        I’m not suggesting that you hold a de-robing demonstration in court and get arrested (lol), but I entertained the thought of what I would be tempted to do at this juncture to surface the injustice and unmask her for the cruel person she seems to be: publicly hand her a set of undergarments, keys to my car, and paycheck in court. Why drag it out in small increments for years? Hand it all over at once. Force her and the court to recognize the injustice and cruelty.

        Maybe I should take my own advice and head over to the Student Loan building wearing only a coat, then hand over my paycheck, coat, and a copy of my first born child’s birth certificate. :/

        • Wanda says:

          LOL. Debt sucks. We do manage to have some good laughs about what she would take if she could. I’m already working for her, but I could be selling organs. .

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