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Dealing with insults and defamation: the ten pāramīs
September 21st, 2013

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

Dealing with insults and defamation: the ten pāramīs

The Pāḷi Canon lists 10 'Perfections' (pāramī)  which refer to the perfection —or culmination— of wholesome qualities. These qualities can be mobilised when dealing with insults and ill-intentioned allegations.

The 10 pāramīs are:
Dāna  (generosity, giving of oneself)
Śīla  (virtue, morality, proper conduct)
Nekkhamma  (renunciation)
Paññā  (transcendental wisdom, insight)
Vīriya  (energy, diligence, vigour, effort)
Khanti  (patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance)
Sacca  (truthfulness, honesty)
Adhiṭṭhāna  (determination, resolution)
Mettā  (loving-kindness)
Upekkhā  (equanimity, serenity)

Below is an elaboration on a few of the ten.

Equanimity is wholesome when dealing with insults, because this attitude is the restraint from adding fuel to fire.

Sometimes it might seem that the more equanimous you are, the more your opponents will get upset (from not getting you upset!) and the more they will push. Such a strategy will often compromise a lot on their part unfortunately, from logic to integrity, and will burn bridges. But equanimity often is the appropriate answer. If you love being insulted, you're encouraging people to insult you (and then others). If you hate being insulted, your pain will satisfy the opponents, who will then cling to such satisfaction and continue.

Equanimity is wholesome as it teaches by selectively giving the attention your opponents crave for to what's wholesome rather than what's not (cf. insults don't deserve emotional attention, neither attraction nor aversion.

Of course, the virtuous life is clearly indicated in Buddhism, an integral part of the eightfold path: "right speech," "right action," and "right livelihood."

Right speech clearly calls for responding, calmly, to attacks under one circumstance: when information is needed, information should be given.

This clearly rejects shouting insults back; moreover, it also  rejects wasting one's time when the conditions are not met for the information to reach its potential beneficiaries. This is renunciation to "being right", and to your 'saviour' role: you're not special and it's not your mission to save these particular people. Even if you vowed to save all beings, it can be done by helping some beings help the others… Don't cling to "I have to save these ones!"

Waste is unwholesome, and the world needs your creative engagement. Engaging with those who stubbornly want to cling to their deluded certainties and righteous claims is not only pointless, it is a waste of energy and willingness which could be put to good use, as the world isn't lacking in causes to address.

Loving-kindness is manifested when one keeps in mind that your opponents insult you out of ignorance. There's no point getting upset about your opponents: they are victims right now of major delusions! Whatever their point is, thinking that insults will get a point across is delusional! More often than not, they also have delusions of the "I'm right, you're wrong"  type, or even the conspiracist "nobody understands me, but I'm right"  type. You can condemn these tendencies, but there's little point in condemning their victims.

If you can continue to care for those who insult you, and continue to seek the best outcome (not some idealised outcome, but the best possibility given the circumstances),  you're manifesting the wholesome quality needed in the long run.

Of course, saying 'amen' to the insults is not a solution, because it provides satisfaction to the attackers who will likely create a tendency out of this, a rather unwholesome tendency turning them into bullies (righteous or just plain creepy, selfish, arrogant, etc.). A willingness to educate matters. Truthfulness is thus required, which echoes "right speech" again: it is extremely important not to plant unwholesome karmic seeds by lying, even if to allow someone to "save one's face". You don't need to "rub it in", once they withdraw, but you cannot engage deceitfully: not to get an easy 'peace', not to get revenge, not to cut them off from their support network… If you engage, you have to speak the truth, only the truth. This is harder to do than it seems, because "white lies" are easily justified.

If you stick to the truth (even while understanding that 'your' truth might prove indeed biased, but at least you give it your best shot for it not to be), you can approach the absence of flickering of the mind: determination, doubtlessness and fearlessness (

You have to keep in mind that "causality rules", and you shouldn't fear the consequences that bullies will happily 'forecast' for you: your 'dwindling' audience might actually show unabated growth, your 'disappearing' support network might strengthen because you manifest the Perfections and inspire people by your handling of the situation, their 'growing numbers' might mostly think the attackers lost it and are not exactly shining right now, etc. You have to trust what you know, not give to doubt, and what you know is: wholesome acts have wholesome consequences, unwholesome acts have unwholesome consequences!

Questioning causality when "under attack" is your worst strategy. You have to stay mindful of this hindrance, and refrain from doubt. You can understand that each person has a different perspective (do not confuse "no doubt" with "wrong views I feel I'm justified to cling to, e.g. 'everybody should agree with me on this-or-that'."), but this is not the same as saying you're wrong or that the ignorant views of those insulting you are as legitimate as "right views".

Wisdom naturally takes many forms in relation to such a situation, e.g. when deciding at which point further engagement becomes 'waste'… Non-verbal (or 'intuitive') 'ultimate' wisdom plays a major role here, and you shouldn't hesitate to tap into it: this makes the whole experience a gate to nirvāṇa. But 'conventional' wisdom is also of value.

If you're interested in buddhism, you're likely to recognise that the 14th Dalai Lama acts as a wholesome inspiration for millions (few of which know a lot about him, let alone know him directly… but this is irrelevant to the 'inspirational' role). At the end of the day, this didn't prevent him from being repeatedly labeled "a wolf in monk's robes" and other niceties by the Chinese government. A man who is a great teacher for some and a great example to many can also be a separatist 'danger' and a "cult leader" to others —regardless of what he says!

The ignorance of your attackers is about them, and their fears, their clinging, their 'self' they make the most righteous they can in an attempt to solidify and avert the fear of death or of destruction… They're ignorant enough to project their insecurities on you; don't be ignorant enough to appropriate their projections as 'objective'.

You can and should enquire into what they say, you can and should pursue answers to any question the experience raises, but believing them at face value would be a huge mistake: it would be appropriating their deluded karma and make it yours, like a candle can lit another candle up and two flames are born from one!

Wisdom requires to use enquiry, not appropriation: you can learn from any experience, but not by believing those who clearly manifest a desire to hurt (their intention is not 'teaching' right now: they're merely ignorant, and proving unable to practice mindfulness of their thoughts!).

Generosity is when you don't close the door on them, and (re-)include them (once they calmed down) into the benefits of what you give. Giving is generosity… and the culmination of this quality is when you're able to give to your attackers.

Giving is your karma. Whether they appreciate the gift, or start insulting again and need to be quarantined again, is their karma. 

Post scriptum:
If you're interested in Buddhism, the insults which will feel strongest to you will be those questioning your intention (because of the effort you've put in mindfully attending your intentions…). They might be associated with something along the line "if you have such a reaction, you're not a buddhist" (or a 'true' buddhist, or whatever else)… 

If it ever happens that you do say a word which sounded harsher or, simply, more to the point and that your bullies try to corner you into not reacting to their ignorant unwholesome tendencies, the Pāḷi Canon should be good enough to reassure you. Telling the truth is not limited to "being nice" (cf.

Wisdom requires to use enquiry, not appropriation: you can learn from any experience, but not by believing those who clearly manifest a desire to hurt (their intention is not 'teaching' right now: they're merely ignorant, and proving unable to practice mindfulness of their thoughts!).

Painting: detail from "Nichiren calms a storm with Buddhist text on his way into exile at Sado Island" by © Kokunimasa (1874–1944)

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