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Metta, Boundaries, and Difficult/Toxic People

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  • Metta, Boundaries, and Difficult/Toxic People

    Hello again Venerable,

    I hope you are well as always.

    Many of us need be kinder and more compassionate. Understood. However, I feel sometimes that love and compassion is perhaps misunderstood to lead one to think that we should put up with all kinds of difficult people in life (e.g. bullies of all sorts, abusive relationships, etc) and keep coming back to them with more love and kindness.

    Sometimes people get into the Dhamma at a relatively young age and the youthful idealism and naivety of youth makes us misunderstand the purport or meaning of compassion. We think that no matter what someone does to us, we allow it and keep coming back to the person with love and compassion.

    However, with age comes a (perhaps) better understanding. We realize that it is appropriate to set boundaries with people and even avoid certain kinds of toxic people if necessary, all the while trying not to have ill-will in our hearts and still wishing them metta and karuna, although from a safe distance.

    So what do you think about this latter understanding? What does the Buddha's Dhamma and Suttas say about having boundaries with people and keeping a healthy, safe distance from especially toxic people (or cutting them out from our lives altogether if necessary), all the while not harboring ill-will and still having love and compassion for them as we progress on the Path? I feel that having boundaries with people and avoiding toxic people to safeguard oneself from their harassment and bullying is part of kindness to oneself.

    In addition to a Dhamma/Sutta-based perspective, your personal take on the matter is always appreciated as well.

    With metta.
    Last edited by Haca Ce; 6th-February-2020, 08:38 PM.

  • #2
    Dear Haca Ce,

    Our internet has been down once again! Extremely erratic. I read your post a week or so back, and typed out a response last night from what I REMEMBERED your question was. However, the internet has come back for a brief moment again and now that I re-read your question, I realize I have not answered it! Nontheless, I am posting what I typed put - just because the internet is working again, and I will compose a more appropriate response for another time!

    Hope it helps none-the-less!

    ----------------------------------------
    Hmmm, toxic people...I have been reading this lovely little book on metta meditation by Ven Wimalagnana, a totally unknown Sri Lankan monk who was recently in Perth.

    Imagine you were having to take care of a sick person, someone you love dearly, but who is gravely ill. You do whatever you can to look after them, clean up, stay up late putting aside your own needs, and are not concerned when they shout and get angry at you. You probably receive no thanks for all your efforts, but still you do it, because you know they are sick and suffering. They can't help themselves. You care for them even more. In the same way, the Buddha said that, except for an arahant's mind, there is no perfectly healthy state of mind, free of defilements. Defilements make us suffer greatly - as you know. And it is not sometimes, we have defilements all the time, which means ALL beings are suffering ALL the time. The things is we don't see defilements. Just like someone who has cancer might look well on the outside, someone with defilements may look happy on the outside.

    So it is crazy to expect so much from sick people. All beings are so ill!

    Therefore spread metta for ALL beings - cultivate a heart of metta. Going through the metta sutta line by line, there are many gems

    Na paro param nikubbetha
    natimannetha kattaci nam kanci
    byarosana
    patighasanna
    nannam-annassa dukkham icceyya

    May one not insult another!
    May one not compete with others!
    May one not use hurtful words and may one not have an aggressive nature!
    May one not wish any harm upon another! (I liked these translations by Ven Wimalagnana)

    So back to your question on whether to avoid toxic persons ... I find the moments(!) I truly realise the suffering of beings, there is no such thing as toxic people. There is only compassion. But the thing is that our own minds are not all that healthy so we fall into toxicity ourselves. The most important thing for me, is to constantly cultivate gentleness and forgiveness toward my own suffering mind. When I find myself feeling erk-ed, I hold my own mind like I would a suffering animal. At least I try to remember to!

    That said, I remember one of the most useful things I heard from Ajahn Brahm was first - 'love the tiger at a distance'! I'm not sure I answered your question, but these are just some things that have helped me.

    Wishing you well, Ven Upekkha

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    • #3
      Hello Venerable,

      So nice to hear from you! Thank you as always for your insightful comments. I have also contemplated how all beings suffer and are blown here and there by their defilements. Thus, they are ALL indeed worthy of our compassion. Still, Ajahn Brahm's quote you mentioned, to love the tiger at a distance, is right on the mark and resonates with me! Thanks for that!

      You mentioned you will "compose a more appropriate response for another time", so I'll eagerly be waiting for that as well.

      With metta.

      Comment


      • #4
        Dear Haca Ce,

        I was just asking one of the other nuns if they heard of a sutta where the Buddha specifically recommends 'keeping a healthy, safe distance from especially toxic people (or cutting them out from our lives altogether if necessary'...he often speaks of 'not associating with fools', but I thought that meant not hanging around with them long enough to be influenced by them. One should approach such people as Ajahn Brahmali often quotes from AN5.162, by taking the good bit off a rotten old rag. But in this sutta the Buddha really uses quite strong language!

        See AN3.27.

        With Metta,
        Ven Upekkha

        Comment


        • #5
          Hello Venerable,

          Thank you for the most insightful sutta references! They're exactly what I was looking for!

          AN 3.27 made me laugh quite a bit since the Buddha doesn't mince his words and is very straightforward using vivid imagery when describing the kinds of people to not associate with. It was a delight to read and exactly what I was looking for. I wish I had read similar advice when I was younger.

          I love the fact that the Buddha balances lofty ideals of love and compassion for ALL, with practical considerations and advice for acute situations/people when avoiding association would be advisable.

          Thank you again Venerable (and to the monastic Sisters who helped you) for the references and for taking time out from your schedule to kindly offer us some guidance. Pieces of advice from monastics like you on this forum are gems for me in my progress along the path of Dhamma and open doors for me in my practice.

          Warmest regards.

          Comment

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