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A Buddhist view of insults

Updated on August 30, 2010



‘A Buddhist view of Slander, Gossip and insults’

By Bob Young


Speak of me as I am. Nothing Exaggerate or set down in malice”




       As a Buddhist coming from a Christian family, I’ve had to deal with judgments and criticisms about my choice of spiritual practice. I don’t think they mean to be insulting, they just don’t think before they talk. And that’s a common problem today. 

       We judge, we criticize and we gossip. Sometimes it’s masked as a joke although it’s really not. Sometimes it’s said behind the other person’s back. But the harsh judgments of society are commonplace and people rarely think about the connotations. Maybe they take their lead from the TV sitcoms where friends and family members berate each other with vicious insults.

Sadly, these sorts of comments are made every day by people who surround us. By the people we work with and take the train with everyday. Slander and insults are all around us. And yes, we’re guilty of it too. Maybe not at blatant, like religious intolerance, but we all have targets for our unloving judgments.

Why do we insult, slander or gossip about people? Why do we judge and convict? Is it because we see something of ourselves in the ones we judge. It must be something personal or we wouldn't bother.

What we say and how we say it affects those around us. We’re all connected on some level and everything we say has a consequence. A thoughtless remark or a bad joke can be like an anvil dropping on someone’s head.

When I was a kid, I didn’t know much about religion or philosophy. But there was ONE GUY who I revered as the wisest philosopher & keenest observer of the human animal. That wise sage was Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts”. He was my guru, the one guy who really got it! One particular comic strip of his has always stayed with me till this day. Charlie Brown innocently walks up to two of the other kids – Lucy and Violet. Before he says a word, they start yelling “Get out of here! Beat it! Go away!” Charlie Brown skulks away sadly. The two girls watch him go, and Lucy says. “You know what I hate about Charlie Brown? I never see him smile.” That insight to me, spoke more eloquently than a whole volume of philosophy.

People can be blindly unaware of how their comments affect others. When we unleash our criticisms or insults at someone, they may not outwardly seem to be affected by our unsolicited opinion – but somewhere inside, part of them will be replaying what you said and wondering if it isn’t true. When this happens, both you and they are diminished. People can be much like dogs in this way. If you beat them enough, they may start to think they deserve it. We can be, as Shakespeare said, “Done to death by a slanderous tongue”.

Words can be weapons. Just as a kind word can keep you smiling for hours, a harsh word can ruin your day. “An injury is forgotten sooner than an insult”, said the Earl of Chesterfield.

 We slander so casually, but we hate it when we’re slandered against. It makes us mad. And sometimes we want to get even. As Edgar Allen Poe wrote… “The thousand injuries of Fortunado I had borne as best I could. But when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.” People take insults to heart. At one time, insults were considered so bad, that people would duel over them. Slandering a person was so serious; it was worth killing or dying for. We don’t do that anymore, but how often have you said “I'm gonna kill him! I swear, I’m gonna kill him.” Demeaning someone is not a little thing. It hurts.

 So why do we let it hurt us so much? We’re such fragile creatures. We’re so easily hurt. That’s why we get stuck. Little wounds from little words can drag us down, sobbing. Paralyzed into insecurity! To quote Buddhist Daisaku Ikeda, “If we allow ourselves to be disturbed by petty criticisms and slanders, if we fear persecution; we will never advance or create anything of lasting value.”

We don’t want to be unhappy. And we should take care when speaking so we hurt no one. We should try, as Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “To ride abroad, redressing human wrongs. To speak no slander, nor listen to it.”

Insults come from our anger, at ourselves and at the world. We may burn someone with an acid tongue because of the rage and fear inside ourselves. I think, if we were more comfortable with our inner demons, we wouldn’t see others so demonically. We need to adjust our thinking inwardly, to stop slandering outwardly.

One final Buddhist quote… “We will continue to strive for this goal earnestly, undaunted by criticisms, slander or malicious attempts to hinder our progress. That is because what we are doing is the will of the original Buddha.”


And so, our homework is to watch what we say and WHY we say it and if we’re careful, we’ll do no harm.






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    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 

      4 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Nice hub. As you say, you should first work on the inner self and it will reflect in whatever you say and do,

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Brad2001; Thanks for reading. I'll take a look at your hubs.


    • Brad2001 profile image

      Bradley Kaye 

      5 years ago from Lewiston, New York

      Since I have begun my meditation practice it has become easier to detach from hurtful things that people say. In my mind, when someone insults me, they are really trying to pawn off their suffering onto me. So once I look at it through their eyes, it becomes less likely that I will grow angry and tempermental. However, that said, it is easy to be in a Zen state of mind when everyone around me is happy and at peace (like in the meditation group I attend). Being happy when there is anger and resentment all around you is the real challenge.

      Thanks for posting this! I enjoyed it. Please check out my two new hubs. I have one on Sartre and the Heart Sutra and another on Maitreya. (Sorry, shameless self promotion usually gets me nowhere, but its worth a shot). Best!

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      I'm glad you liked it, Rose. It's true that what people say is a reflection of their own minds. What we say about people often speaks more about us than it does about others.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you for this beautiful piece. People are so often unaware that speech is a mere reflection of their own mind and can have little to do with truth.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Greg;

      It's true. We tend to see what we hate in ourselves in the people around us. We can develop a better attitude about the world if we stop looking for fault in those around us.

      Thanks for reading and offering such thoughtful comments.


    • gg.zaino profile image

      greg g zaino 

      8 years ago from L'America- Big Pine Key, Florida

      Hey Rob, great piece you've written here. I use this philosophy to the best of my ability.

      I have found that once i adopted this philosophy of patience, kindness, truthfulness, and of promoting no ill will, it became easier to withstand the onslaught of the world of wagging tongues. The more i practice the better i become at it.

      "It must be something personal or we wouldn't bother." i use your words and they bring to mind a truism i heard years ago, "that what we hate most in others- we hate in ourselves."

      Ha, yes and one more simple truth... "Beware the finger you point at others, for there are three pointing back in your direction." this is another i took to heart and do my best to follow.

      I believe you are right, once the demons within are tamed the view we adopt of the world becomes tolerable.

      Peace Rob - voted UP

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Thanks for the kind words, izetta. Glad you liked it.

    • izettl profile image

      Laura Izett 

      8 years ago from The Great Northwest

      Actually I was raised christian but have followed a lot of buddhist principles and find they pertain to my life more than bible verses. I enjoyed your analogy of Charlie Brown. Good stuff. I will be reading more.

    • hinckles koma profile image

      hinckles koma 

      9 years ago from nyc

      That's nice, better than no religion.


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