The slogan 'Be grateful to everyone' is about making peace with the aspects of ourselves that we have rejected. Through doing that, we also make peace with the people we dislike. More to the point, being around people we dislike is often a catalyst for making friends with ourselves. Thus, "Be grateful to everyone."
If we were to make a list of people we don't like - people we find obnoxious, threatening, or worthy of contempt - we would find out a lot about those aspects of ourselves that we can't face. If we were to come up with one word about each of the troublemakers in our lives, we would find ourselves with a list of descriptions of our own rejected qualities, which we project onto the outside world. The people who repel us unwittingly show the aspects of ourselves that we find unacceptable, which otherwise we can't see. In traditional teachings on lojong it is put another way: other people trigger the karma that we haven't worked out. They mirror us and give us the chance to befriend all of that ancient stuff that we carry around like a backpack full of boulders.
"Be grateful to everyone" is getting at a complete change of attitude. This slogan is not wishy-washy and naive. It does not mean that if you're mugged on the street you should smile knowingly and say "Oh, I should be grateful for this" before losing consciousness. This slogan actually gets at the guts of how we perfect ignorance through avoidance, not knowing we're eating poison, not knowing that we're putting another layer of protection over our heart, not seeing the whole thing.
"Be grateful to everyone" means that all situations teach you, and often it's the tough ones that teach you the best. There may be a Juan or Juanita in your life, and Juan or Juanita is the one who gets you going. They're the ones who don't go away: your mother, your husband, your wife, your lover, your child, the person that you have to work with every single day, part of the situation you can't escape. There's no way that someone else can tell you exactly what to do, because you're the only one who knows where it's torturing you, where your relationship with Juan or Juanita is getting into your guts.
When the great Buddhist teacher Atisha went to Tibet... he was told the people of Tibet were very good-natured, earthy, flexible, and open; he decided they wouldn't be irritating enough to push his buttons. So he brought along with him a mean-tempered, ornery Bengali tea boy. He felt that was the only way he could stay awake. The Tibetans like to tell the story that, when he got to Tibet, he realized that he need not have brought his tea boy: the people there were not as pleasant as he had been told.
In our own lives, the Bengali tea boys are the people who, when you let them through the front door of your house, go right down to the basement where you store the things you'd rather not deal with, pick out one of them, bring it to you, and say "Is this yours?"
From Start Where You Are : A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chodron, Copyright 1994, Shambhala Publications.
Published by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston.
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