Thoughts from Annie
The Practice of Never Disparaging
While reading about the Lotus Sutra, I came across a figure who I find to be one of the most inspiring in all of Buddhism– the Bodhisattva Sadaparibhuta, whose name can be translated to “Never Despising” or “Never Disparaging”.
The story of Sadaparibhuta is that he was the one person who could see that each and every one of us has Buddha Nature. And since each of us is really a Buddha, underneath our sometimes shabby exteriors, Sadaparibhuta realized that it wouldn’t make sense to disparage or despise anyone.
If you’ve read my writing before, you know that a big part of my personal conditioning was learning to judge and critique others. In my younger days, that might have taken the form of sugary sarcasm at home, workplace gossip, or rudeness to store clerks. These days my disparaging shows up less often and it usually happens inside my head. I have learned through practice and time that despising and disparaging don’t usually have a beneficial effect in the long run.
PRACTICING LIKE SADAPARIBHUTA
Thinking about the life of Sadaparibhuta, however, inspires my practice to a new level. If I can recognize the Buddha in every single person, including myself, then my world becomes so much more tenable and, in fact, beautiful. Maybe it’s not just a bad idea to disparage others, maybe it’s actually a mistaken view of the way things really are.
Even during the time that Sadaparibhuta lived (some period after Shakyamuni Buddha), the Buddhist monastics didn’t really get what he was saying. They thought that Sadaparibhuta was a crackpot, and they basically tried to beat some sense into him. You might think that would change his mind, but it didn’t. He just stayed out of their way and continued to tell anyone who would listen that he would not despise them because they would be a Buddha someday. His practice was solid.
The practice or Sadaparibhuta seems like a useful one for our times when the world is uncertain and we are so politically divided. Despising and disparaging ourselves or other people feels like a huge waste of time and energy that could better be used to change our situation.
WE ARE BUDDHA TOO
When we take on this practice, we see ourselves as just as worthy of not disparaging as anyone else. We too will be a Buddha someday. We too are Buddha underneath our externalities. Knowing this helps us let go of wondering whether we are enough. We already are Buddha. We are simply hiding inside our old habits and ways of reacting.
“NEVER DESPISING IS VERY SINCERE AND HAS GREAT EQUANIMITY. HE NEVER GIVES UP ON US. THE MEANING OF HIS LIFE, THE FRUITION OF HIS PRACTICE, IS TO BRING THIS MESSAGE OF CONFIDENCE AND HOPE TO EVERYONE. THIS IS THE ACTION OF THIS GREAT BODHISATTVA. WE HAVE TO LEARN AND PRACTICE THIS ACTION IF WE WANT TO FOLLOW THE PATH OF THE BODHISATTVAS.” – THICH NHAT HANH, MINDFULNESS BELL, 2004.
Just as an experiment, for the next 24 hours consider each person you meet on Zoom, on the street, or on the news as a Buddha-to-be. Commit to not despising or disparaging anyone, including yourself. Visualize the Buddha deep (sometimes very deep) inside. At the end of 24 hours, evaluate. Did you feel better? Did you have more energy to focus on transforming difficult situations? What challenged you the most?
Dharma teacher Lama Rod Owens talks about how to conceive of other people, in his talk Teaching Meditation and Finding Peace in a Troubled World. Like Sadaparibhuta, he suggests that we separate what a person does from who they are:
“There are always going to be people in our lives who are not nice people,” he said. “It’s important to understand that no one starts out to be a horrible person. There are causes and effects.
“If we can separate those things in our thinking from the person themselves, it’s easier to find room for them. As we succeed in making this space within ourselves, there’s room for people like that, so they can still be in our lives, but not right in our face.”
It’s protective and self-aware to choose to avoid the people whose conditioning causes harm to us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t also remember that they have Buddha nature.
Alan Seunake offers a wonderful song about Sadaparibhuta and the Lotus Sutra that might make you smile.
The practice of Sadaparibuhta is really the essence of the entire Lotus Sutra: Everyone can and will become a Buddha.
Be well, my dear Buddha.