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When I moved back to New Jersey in the spring, I spent a lot of time trying out meditation and reading about Buddhism. I am not one for religion, but I admired the ethics Buddhism taught.

There was one story in particular that really stuck with me:

“The Buddha was sitting under a tree talking to his disciples when a man came and spit on his face. He wiped it off, and he asked the man, “What next? What do you want to say next?” The man was a little puzzled because he himself never expected that when you spit on somebody’s face, he will ask, “What next?” He had no such experience in his past. He had insulted people and they had become angry and they had reacted. Or if they were cowards and weaklings, they had smiled, trying to bribe the man. But Buddha was like neither, he was not angry nor in any way offended, nor in any way cowardly. But just matter-of-factly he said, “What next?” There was no reaction on his part.

“If you think on it deeply,” Buddha said to his companions, “he has spit on his own mind. I am not part of it, and I can see that this poor man must have something else to say because this is a way of saying something. Spitting is a way of saying something. There are moments when you feel that language is impotent: in deep love, in intense anger, in hate, in prayer. There are intense moments when language is impotent. Then you have to do something. When you are angry, intensely angry, you hit the person, you spit on him, you are saying something. I can understand him. He must have something more to say, that’s why I’m asking, “What next?” ”

This story resonated with me more than any story I was taught in all my years at Catholic school. Simply put, it means: What others say to you and about you has everything to do with them and nothing to do with you. Of course, this lesson isn’t anything new. But anytime someone says something horrible to me online or in person or through the grapevine, I now react with a sense of calm that I haven’t before. Because now instead of taking things personally, I think “Okay, what next?”

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