Buddhist Philosophy

Fairness and Compassionate Complaining

fairness compassionate complaining

When is complaining appropriate? Our sense of what is fair can often be mixed with self-righteousness or anger. In this audio clip, Phakchok Rinpoche addresses a student’s question on how to use a sense of fairness in a positive way. We can use compassion when we take a stand. Fairness combined with anger is not beneficial either for ourselves or for others. Similarly, when we protest or complain from a position of anger, this is not good. But a gentle complaint or protest mixed with mindfulness and compassion can be very good.


Personal Level

In our relationships with partners, family, or friends, sometimes you may be treated unfairly. Then you do need to complain a little bit so that the situation changes. Sometimes, a small hint is sufficient. We can be skillful, register our complaint, and then be friendly and relaxed. On the other hand, if we start escalating our complaints, we can find ourselves in a fight. Then everyone can end up feeling bad and that is not the point. Complaining a little bit -asking to be treated fairly – is okay. We can all benefit from correcting injustice.


Societal Level

fairness compassionate complaining

We can think about fairness on a broader, societal, or global level as well. Similarly, in society, we may need to protest or complain in order to get our message across. Otherwise, people might overlook, ignore, or marginalize us. But a student asks if we complain too much does it seem to go against our Buddhist practice? Yet, if we don’t complain at all, then important changes don’t happen. Rinpoche says that the advice is the same regardless of the scale. Complain in a righteous and fair manner, he says. We can’t be unfair when we complain; we need to be accurate and truthful in our protests.

When we complain fairly, the results can be good, but again, we have to do this skillfully. Rinpoche advises that if we complain too much, then people may ignore us. People might say, “Oh, they always complain!” Then others may not take us very seriously. So, we need to be strategic and learn how to get results from our efforts. We should understand that a little bit of complaining is necessary for all relationships: partners, families, work, organizations, and whatever other human interactions we have.

Rinpoche reminds us that we also should always keep things light.

Phakchok Rinpoche was recorded on this topic in a Question and Answer session hosted in 2017 for the updated version of A Glimpse of Buddhadharma by Phakchok Rinpoche. This revised edition will be forthcoming from https://lhaseylotsawa.org/

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.