How to Be a Nicer Person the Buddhist Way
Don’t despise, be generous the right way, and choose nice friends. Learn to be nicer by following Buddhist wisdom.
Each of you is perfect the way you are ...
and you can use a little improvement.
The above wisdom from Zen Buddhist master Suzuki is a reminder that there is always room for growth, development, advancement. Each one of us has tendencies and triggers that need to be challenged and changed. Here are some gentle ways to become a nicer person … the Buddhist way.
Cultivate the Practice of Never Despising
In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha narrates the story of an awakened master named Never Despising. The man did not become enlightened by spending time in meditation or by studying texts, but by his behavior. He treated everyone with the utmost respect, was kind to those where were unkind to him, was complimentary and considerate of his critics, and always sought to help people tap into their inner Buddha nature. As a result, he came to be named Never Despising. His life is the source of the Buddha’s teaching to practice never despising or never disrespecting.
A contemporary example of that principle can be seen in the life of American comedian Patton Oswalt, who was trolled on his social media by an angry follower who unleashed harsh verbal abuse at Oswalt.
Upon reading the attacks, Oswalt looked up the man’s social media accounts and discovered that the man had recently had major health setbacks, which included having surgery, falling into a coma, and experiencing a lengthy hospitalization. This was so financially devastating that the man opened a GoFundMe page seeking help with medical expenses. Learning about this, Oswalt said: “If that had happened to me, I’d be angry, too.” He personally donated $2,000 on the man’s GoFundMe page and invited his followers to do the same.
Soon the angry man’s financial goal was met. He thanked Oswalt and walked back his negative comments about the comedian, saying: “You have humbled me to the point where I can barely compose my words. You have caused me to take pause and reflect on how harmful words from my mouth could result in such an outpouring. Thank you for this.”
In a follow-up post on social media, the man expressed additional appreciation to the comedian: “I want to thank everyone who came to my aid with generous outpourings—and also to Patton Oswalt without whom I would not be the recipient of so much love and support.”
Choose Nice Friends
Seek out and have as your closest friends those who manifest the virtuous qualities you want in your life. Spend your social time with those who are kind, gentle, compassionate, and courteous. Their presence will have a positive impact on your life. The Buddha stressed the importance of choosing such friends when he said:
There are these four types of people to be found existing in the world. Which four? One in darkness who is headed for darkness, one in darkness who is headed for light, one in light who is headed for darkness, and one in light who is headed for light.
Clearly, the lesson in this teaching of the Buddha is to surround ourselves with nice people, those moving toward the light. Being in their company will inspire us to to do better and be better. Another time the Buddha reinforced the importance of these types of friends when he said: “Avoid evildoers as friends. Do not befriend low people. Take virtuous people for friends and associate with the best.”
Be Generous the Right Way
Nice people are givers. They are generous. And generosity is a powerful virtue which is strongest and purest when done quietly, privately, anonymously, without bringing attention to one’s self. That way the focus of generosity is on the cause and not the donor.
The 7th Dalai Lama (1708–1757) was a prolific writer with a unique, succinct writing style. He wrote in four-line verses using the first two lines to ask a question and the next two lines to offer the answer. One of those teachings deals with generosity:
Who is but a skilled merchant
among beings of the world?
The patron who gives charity
hoping to get a return.
Author Glenn H. Mullin offers this insightful commentary on the 7th Dalai Lama’s wisdom:
An act of generosity is only spiritual when it is performed with a pure heart. That is to say, its aim should be to benefit the recipient; it should not be used as a manipulative tool to benefit oneself. To give in order to get something in return, such as public recognition or the affections of the recipient, is merely an investment in one’s own worldly concerns, and is of no spiritual value whatsoever. It is no different than buying stocks and bonds, or putting money into some business or other. To do so is not harmful, but also is not spiritually significant.
Bring Compassion to Life
Buddhist writer Tara Brach observes: “When compassion arises, the next step is actively expressing it. This is what brings compassion fully to life.” As soon as you learn that someone is having a hard time, reach out. When others remain silent and unavailable, be there to provide support.
Early in her career, American media journalist Gretchen Carlson was fired from her position as television news anchor. Stunned and feeling both vulnerable and alone, Carlson says she “discovered a sad truth that when you’re fired people don’t reach out to you, even though it’s the time when you need them the most.”
Carlson realized the reason was not due to people being uncaring but because “they’re just uncomfortable with sadness. They don’t know what to say, so they say nothing. I’ve seen it happen for people who have lost loved ones, and it’s the same distancing.” As a result of this experience, Carlson says she learned an important lesson and now makes a point of reaching out to people who are suffering a loss. “I know how much it means to them.” So, when you encounter a person who is clearly struggling, reach out. Don’t hesitate because kindness delayed is always kindness denied.
The opposite of patience is irritation … frustration … anger … intolerance, etc. It’s unpleasant to be in the presence of someone who is frequently irritated, frustrated, angry, and intolerant. Cultivate the fine art of patience. Dig deep when impatience begins to awaken. Here’s a powerful insight from Dzigar Kongrul, author of Peaceful Heart: The Buddhist Practice of Patience:
If we look at our lives, we already have a certain amount of patience. We can bear many difficult circumstances quite well. For example, we all have to endure minor illnesses such as colds and headaches.
We have to deal with plenty of weather we don’t like. We put up with mosquitoes and mice and many other creatures that cause us minor trouble. Rather than constantly seeking to eliminate all small irritations from our lives, we can use them as a basis for developing more patience. If you emphasize comfort over the practice of patience, your mind will get weaker and weaker. If you want your life to be free of the challenge of needing patience, your mind will be in constant fear. You will feel increasingly under threat, increasingly provoked, increasingly paranoid. This will lead you to act more negatively and to reject much of the world.
“Meditation is intended to help us gain control of the mind, to free it from being dominated by disturbing emotions and to increase its familiarity with positive feelings like love and compassion,” says Tibetan Buddhist monk Sonam Rinchen.
Modern science confirms Buddhist teaching that meditation improves mental health, helping to make us calmer, kinder, nicer. For example, one recent study published in journal Consciousness and Cognition revealed that a single 20-minute meditation session reduced the body’s anger reaction even in people new to mediation.
Researchers examined 15 people who were not mediators asking them to relive experiences that made them angry. Quickly, the anger memory triggered a rise in their heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. But after only 20 minutes of meditation, people who had never done meditation before had a much calmer and more relaxed physical response when asked to re-experience anger. “Calming and tranquilizing the mind is the whole point of meditation,” says Australian Buddhist teacher Ajahn Brahm.
Finally, motivate yourself with the reality that most people like to be in the company of a nice person because they are a joy to be with and are a source of inspiration.
So, don’t merely be yourself, be a nicer version of yourself.
Discover how to increase your gratitude the Buddhist way.