Recently, I got a heap of emails from people worried about me. Some of them were hurt, some puzzled and others downright angry (not with me). Reason? Some baseless rumors they heard concerning the one they love and look up to — Om Swami, who happens to be me in this case. They wanted to give it back to the gossiper. This reminded me of a story from the life of Buddha.
It is said that when Buddha inducted bhikkhunis (Pali term for ordained Buddhist nuns), he was met with considerable resistance, for he had moved away from the norm and offered women an equal place as their male counterparts. Some objected and asked him to reconsider. It was not prudent to have women in such close proximity to Buddha, they argued. Unchained by the petty views of the world, Buddha, however, did what he thought was right. The number of female followers grew rapidly in his sangha and wherever he traveled, many bhikkhunis traveled with him. This did not sit well with a lot of people and rumors spread like thoughts in a restless mind.
During one of his sojourns in a village, a small group of rowdy people hurled abuses at Buddha forcing him to cut short his discourse. They were mad at him for breaking the tradition and all that. They called him names, accused him of impiety and impropriety. Unable to bear the insult, a number of sangha members rose to their feet to confront the offenders.
“Wait!” Buddha forbade the monks raising his hand. “They are behaving like this because they don’t know me.”
He looked at the faces of his spiritual children red with anger and hurt. Buddha let a few moments roll before he said, “But, you do. Therefore, follow the path of ahimsa and sit down.”
Everyone has a whole world of thoughts, emotions, desires (mostly unfulfilled), opinions, ideas and so on in their head. What comes out of anybody’s mouth is simply a glimpse of what’s in their mind. Good and loving words tumble out from a calm and compassionate mind. Gossip and harsh words from a restless and jealous mind. It’s no rocket science. Besides, as I wrote a few years back (here), everyone is entitled to an opinion about you. Let them.
“Does that mean, Swami,” someone asked me, “that we just listen to their blabbering? Doesn’t being silent imply that we are not just accepting but encouraging them?”
It’s a good point but I’m not suggesting that you can only choose between silence and anger. When you are dealing with a rumormonger or a criticizer, if you are going to get angry then how are you any better though? Does that kind of behavior suit you? If anything, it’ll only ruin your own peace. As I say, under all circumstances, act in a manner that befits you. It takes patience, resolve, mindfulness and compassion to do that but, it is entirely possible. At any rate, beyond silence and hostility, there’s a third option. A better one. It’s called the Three Filters Test by Socrates.
“I’ve something important to tell you,” an acquaintance of Socrates said to him while he passed through the markets. “It’s about your friend. He—”
“Stop!” Socrates reacted. “Let me run the three filters to ascertain if I want to know it.”
The man looked somewhat confounded as Socrates continued, “First is the filter of truth. Whatever you want to tell me, have you seen or witnessed it firsthand?”
“Umm… I heard it from someone,” the man replied, “but, it is from a trusted source. I’ve observed—”
“Maybe. That does not pass my first test though,” Socrates said cutting him off, “since you don’t know whether it’s true.”
“Second is the filter of goodness. Is that a good statement you want to make about my friend?”
“Not really. That’s the reason I wanted—”
“So, you want to tell me something bad about someone but don’t know if it’s true.”
“The last is the filter of utility,” Socrates added. “Your statement about my friend, will that be useful to me?”
“Probably not, I just wanted to share…”
“Well, if the information is not necessarily true, not good, and of no use,” Socrates concluded, “I don’t want to know it.” With that the Greek philosopher walked away.
This is also my way of dealing with excessive information in the present age. Mindfully, I ask myself before indulging in a conversation: do I want to know it? Will this information fill my mind with good thoughts? Would it matter if I did or didn’t have this piece of information? After all, anyone who knows you or doesn’t know you will have an opinion about you. And, it’s perfectly fine.
What people see is what they want to see. And if they don’t see what they aspire, they’ll create it. That’s the definition of a rumor. That’s how an overactive mind imagines.
Social media has fueled our appetite for gossip. It is counterproductive and unnecessary. We waste a lot of time peeking into others’ lives. One little Nemo in the vast ocean of information. At least, I should not be a contributor on social media. As they say, charity begins at home and, to that effect, I’ve decided that Om Swami must not be on Facebook or any other social media platform. Therefore, beginning today, there will be no Om Swami page on Facebook. The page dedicated to Pin Prick Effect has also been deleted. I’m working on an app with a wonderful team that will allow us to meditate globally sans Facebook.
For five years, I’ve religiously written a post a week on this blog. This has been time consuming but I hope it helped some of you. Going forward, I’ll be writing on a bi-weekly basis only. Every first and third Saturday of every month. 6 a.m. IST.
A disciple asked, “Master, is it okay for a monk to use emails?”
“Yes, son,” the guru quipped, “as long as there are no attachments.”
Social media is full of attachments — meshed and entangled. Completely unnecessary, hardly beneficial and altogether avoidable. I’m a monk and not a rock star. Those who really want me in their lives will find a way to connect. Especially when there are so many other, better, ways. This is my first step in a series of many I’ll be taking in due course. As moments unfurl and I gradually gain quiet momentum with the energies that surround me, we’ll get to know each other better, you’ll see my path a bit more clearly.