I am sure we have all come across people who feel they have a superior spiritual or intellectual edge over others. We often recognize these types of people instantly as they animatedly express their “holier-than-thou” perspectives in harsh, mocking, and condescending ways.
I personally find it disheartening that so many people are intolerant of others, particularly in what are supposed to be diverse and spiritually aware communities.
The “spiritual elite” seek to be considered as better and more powerful than others, in the same way that bullies might. They march along like pied pipers, leading their cult of followers, exclaiming loudly and proudly that if someone thinks differently than them, they risk being publicly shamed for their views or lifestyle.
Bullying is primarily an attempt to break someone else’s spirit and, unfortunately, in the spiritual community, bullying is rife.
Bullies basically inflate themselves to appear to be on a much higher level than others, so that the people they target appear lowly, small, and insignificant.
The main reasons people get away with bullying in spirituality is that they do it in subtle ways that are hidden behind intellect, spiritual beliefs, ancient practices, or strict disciplines.
We instantly recognize physical abuse, but spiritual or emotional abuse can be far harder to identify—especially because we’re also attempting to practice compassion, kindness, and so on.
Those who walk the spiritual path with compassion may refrain from engaging in difficult conversations, which involve calling someone out for condescending and bullying behavior, and instead choose to remain silent about abuse. Unfortunately, this results in the bully getting away with poor behavior time and again—and going on to bully others.
In certain spiritual cliques or inner circles, individuals need to conform, think, believe, talk, walk, and act in the same way as all the others there to be considered as worthy and valuable.
Spiritual bullies try to control through high expectations and exhaustive lists of unwritten rules detailing the types of behavior or ideology that is permitted and what is not.
These kind of bullies are so determined that their way is right, that they have no qualms in sacrificing others to satisfy their own egotistical needs and desires.
The Buddha taught interdependence—no one is really separate from anyone else. Reminding ourselves that we are all interconnected assists us in cultivating empathy, wisdom, and compassion.
Buddhism also teaches about being introspective so that we can witness suffering, use right speech to express compassion and kindness, and practice self-discipline. This allows us an opportunity to gain insight into our situations, to strengthen our minds, to understand one another, and to remove ourselves from the dynamics that are causing harm.
Practicing these profound steps can also help us to deal with aggression and bullying simply by remaining in the moment so that we are aware of what is going on around us, while we cultivate empathy and compassion.
The first quality in the Six Ways of Rulings, benevolence, is related to remaining open, empathetic, and compassionate. Resting in this state allows us to hold a safe space so that external aggression can exhaust itself.
The second quality is to be true to oneself by stepping back from our situations, remaining grounded, and humbly standing in a place of rationality, rather than be untethered emotionally.
The next point, genuine, is related to remaining logical, rather than defensive, reactive, or attempting to blame others. This allows us to communicate in ways that are far more authentic and helps us get our point across clearly without trying to prove that one is right and the other is wrong.
The fourth step, fearless, is to approach our difficulties with courage. When we are hesitant, we can come across as though there is no conviction in what we are thinking, saying, or doing. However, having faith in how we express ourselves helps us deliver our thoughts and feelings in a concise and confident manner.
Being artful in our approach is the fifth way of ruling. This can mean patiently waiting until we see a clear pattern emerging before we jump in with knee-jerk reactions and emotional responses. This may involve temporarily stepping back from our situations so that we can see the bigger picture as it develops.
Rejoicing in our lives, who we are, and all that surrounds us is the final step in cultivating the qualities of this practice. When we are content, we will be less concerned or affected by the detrimental behaviors of those around us. We can learn to have appreciation for life on a moment-to-moment basis.
Tulku Ugyen Rinpoche explains, “Being aggressive, you can accomplish some things, but with gentleness, you can accomplish all things.”
Meditation is a tool that can be used to help dissolve our attachment to our ego, so that we are less likely to feel shame or fear if others attempt to put us down and embarrass us publicly, and instead hold our seat and respond skillfully.
Our ego has a variety of needs, and one of those is to work hard to keep us feeling safe in the world. Therefore, when someone tries to tarnish our character, our ego jumps in to defend us, but often overreacts causing more pain and carnage.
Therefore, if we can soothe our ego’s demands by being grounded and rational—and by remembering that we do not need to take the views of other people personally, and that we can quell rage and pain just by gently bringing ourselves back to the present moment—we will settle into the eye of any storm and peacefully allow those moments to pass us by without becoming irate and reactionary.
When we talk about the ego, we often mistake the meaning of it, and believe that it is our ego that causes our suffering. However, our ego is not the root problem. Our desire to fill our ego’s needs is what causes our suffering—because it’s impossible. Simply recognizing that we do not need to bow down to our ego’s demands releases much of the anguish and turmoil we feel internally.
Mindfulness allows us to exist in the present moment so that we are aware of our emotions and how they can quickly gain control over us, if we allow them to become overwhelming.
When we are calm and balanced, we will be in a position to listen carefully to those around us so that we can see their suffering and the reasons they behave the way they do.
If we choose to respond habitually or become aggressive in our reactions to bullying, we will only cause ourselves more suffering and feel powerless—sadly, this is often what the bully hoped for. Therefore, we will feel injured twice, first by the bully and then by our own emotionally fueled responses.
Rather than interacting angrily with the person we feel is patronizing, disrespecting, or mistreating us, we can instead offer kindness, compassion, and understanding. We can try to see past diminishing words so that we can come to grips with what caused that person to believe they have the right to judge and publicly condemn us.
We are all mirrors for one another, however, this does not mean that what other people say or do is in any way a reflection of who we are as a person.
It just means that people offer us the opportunity to reflect on a deeper level so that we can see why we feel emotionally affected by how people express themselves. We can then develop a greater understanding of one another, which is essential for humanity as a whole.
Buddhism teaches maitri (loving-kindness) and karuna (compassion). We practice cultivating it within ourselves and then extend it to all sentient beings.
Just because someone judges us, it does not mean they know what they’re talking about particularly, or that their conclusions in any way reflect who we are. They are looking through their own eyes, through their own lens of perception, and, perhaps, with a complete lack of empathy.
The easiest way to question judgment is to consider if it is happening through compassion or fear. Is their judgment done with love and understanding? Or is it because they are afraid, and the way we live threatens their own beliefs and lifestyle in some way?
Some people just don’t like the way others shine, so they sadly try to dim their light, shut them down, and silence them.
When other people insult, criticize, shame, or judge us through pessimistic eyes, they are attempting to project their own unresolved thoughts, feelings, emotions, or beliefs onto us.
Other people’s condemnations belong to them alone; we have the choice as to whether or not we are willing to accept them.
Author: Alex Myles
Image: “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm“
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina