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Fairness and Compassionate Complaining

Please take a few moments before watching or listening to this clip to settle yourself physically in an upright position. Listen to the teachings thinking, "I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to the precious Dharma. I am doing this for the benefit of all sentient beings so that they may be free from suffering and attain complete awakening".

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 question on how to use a sense of fairness in a positive way. We should use compassion, Rinpoche observes. 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.

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.

Societal Level

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 with righteousness and fairness, he says. We can’t be unfair when we complain; we need to be accurate and truthful in our protests.

This kind of complaint can be good, but again, we have to do this skilfully. Rinpoche advises that if we complain too much, then people may ignore us. People might say, “Oh, they always complain!” Then they don’t 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

At the end of the teaching, please remember to dedicate the merit of receiving a Dharma teaching. As you go through your day, take a few moments from time to time to recall these instructions.

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Samye Institute

Samye Institute