How does one keep one’s sanity in such situations? How does one sustain a feeling of humanity and self-worth?
One answer, of course, is to get out of the situation if one can. But whether one can or not, as a Buddhist, the answer lies in three parts. The first is that a Buddhist would never ask, as Job did, “Why me, God?” There is no God in Buddhism, no all-knowing, all-powerful being who acts in “mysterious ways” and to whom we pray for deliverance. We understand that things are the way they are because it’s just the way it is. We accept our life and the world as it is at this moment, and so nothing offends; the mind rests undisturbed.
As I’ve noted previously in my writings, I once asked a monk why, if we are all born perfect with the true Buddha nature inside us, we all suffer. His answer, “That’s just the way it is. It’s like the laws of thermodynamics.” The fact that we may have been purposefully singled out as an individual or as a group does not change that basic fact. In this view of the world, we are not victims.
The second answer is compassion. Regardless how horrible the acts are that are done to us, we have compassion for the perpetrator because of the overwhelming samsara that has caused him (or her) to do these monstrous things. We have compassion because of our knowledge that the perpetrator is spiritually in agony and, as a product of its learned experience, had in fact only a small window of free will in which to act. If we can, we forgive.
The third and most central is our belief in our own true Buddha nature. If we have absolute faith in our true Buddha nature and our dignity, then nothing that is done to us, nothing that we experience, can rob us of that dignity. It is the one thing in life that is not impermanent. We will be ok, safe, regardless what life throws our way. (See my post, “Safety Defined.”)
There is a children’s mantra, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Children say this in a defensive mode. But it really doesn’t help them … trust me, I know … because they do not have the awareness and sense of their true Buddha nature to protect themselves from the impact of the barbs that are thrown against them.
But for a Buddhist, this mantra, revised slightly to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words and actions will not rob me of my dignity and true Buddha nature,” has great significance. If we are free of ego, at one with all things, and experience all things directly without the intervention of thought, then no action of another can cause us psychic or spiritual harm. We radiate an energy, an aura, that creates a forcefield around us that negativity cannot break through.
What is critical here, as throughout the practice of incorporating the Buddha dharma into ones daily life, is having absolute faith in our true Buddha nature. If we lack that faith, then we cannot really take refuge in the Three Jewels because we do not believe this central element of the Buddha’s teaching. If we lack that faith we have nothing to surrender our ego to, nothing to counterbalance its force. If we lack that faith, the weight of our learned experience and our cultural environment will make it impossible for us to make progress on the path.
Please do not think I am being glib by dealing with this harrowing type of experience in such a straightforward, seemingly simplistic manner. I do not minimize the assault such experiences make on ones feelings of self-esteem and humanity … I experienced an instance of rather extreme human denigration as a child. I am just relating the rock that one’s belief in one’s true Buddha nature can be and the truly literal meaning of “taking refuge” in the Three Jewels against both the lesser and greater assaults that confront us.