If you’ve spent any time on the Internet, you’ve probably encountered a hater or two. Trolls are everywhere it seems.
But what’s the best way to respond them?
Seung Sahn Soen-sa, a Korean-born Zen Master, encountered a some harsh language directed towards him in 1975.
Seung Sahn Soen-sa’s book “Dropping Ashes on the Buddha: The Teachings of Zen Master Seung Sahn Soen-sa” contained many illuminating and sympathetic letters. The letters were his remarkable response to – what in modern times can be called – hate mail.
It’s a known fact that the act of hate reflect the actions of the hater and not their victim. This cynical urge to force our inner pain to take a form of aggression attracts absurd targets. And one of them was Seung Sahn Soen-sa.
Here is the first letter from the student in regards to not understanding the “don’t know mind”:
“Please answer me soon, but you probably won’t, huh? Anyway, I’d like to tell you to go fuck yourself.
Respectfully, and hope to see you soon,
“You say that you are confused. If you keep a complete don’t-know mind, how can confusion appear? Complete don’t-know mind means cutting off all thinking. Cutting off all thinking means true emptiness. In true emptiness, there is no I to be confused and nothing to be confused about.
A kong-an is like a finger pointing at the moon. If you are attached to the finger, you don’t understand the direction, so you cannot see the moon. If you are not attached to any kong-an, then you will understand the direction. The direction is the complete don’t-know mind.
You must keep only don’t-know, always and everywhere. Then you will soon get enlightenment. But be very careful not to want enlightenment. Only keep don’t-know mind. Your situation, your condition, your opinions — throw them all away.
At the end of your letter you say, “Go fuck yourself.” These are wonderful words that you have given me, and I thank you very much. If you attain enlightenment, I will give them back to you.
So, what’s the lesson from this?
Don’t feed the haters by responding back with more anger. Instead, respond with guidance, empathy and warm wit. According to Thich Nhat Hanh:
“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”
This is similar to the advice offered from a Zen master on dealing with toxic people:
“The deeper your present moment peace gets, the easier it’ll be to react non- passionately when confronted with hostility. As this gets better, you can begin to realize more deeply just how much someone has to be suffering internally in order to have such harsh reactions. With enough insight, you can develop your empathy and compassion based off this knowledge and these also help you remain even more peaceful in the present moment.
Eventually, with enough compassion and insight on your side, you can begin to extinguish the fires of hostility by extinguishing anger with patience and understanding… It’s hard to continue treating someone harshly when they continue treating you well. In helping them relieve these feelings, you not only help them but you also help yourself, since you no longer have to deal with them as they were.”