We all have them in our lives. The people that give us a hard time and always get under our skin. Most of us are constantly irritated by these people. Thankfully there is a way to learn from them – instead of getting annoyed they can help us practice mindfulness.
I have started to think of annoying people in my life as Bengali tea boys. This simple change of idea has shifted my mindset from being frustrated, to being amused when I deal with annoying people.
Atisha (982-1054 C.E.) was a famous Buddhist teacher from Bengal. He had been teaching in Bengal and was planning a trip to Tibet to share his knowledge with the Tibetan people. While he was preparing for his journey, he learned how polite and well-mannered the Tibetan people were. This pleased Atisha, for he believed they would welcome and enjoy his teachings. However, Atisha also believed his own spiritual growth would slow in this comfortable environment.
He believed the best teachers are the ones that annoy and frustrate people because they show us what we dislike most in ourselves. What agitates us in others is what we dislike about ourselves. For this reason, Atisha believed the boy would further his spiritual growth, so he brought his mean-tempered and obnoxious tea boy on his trip to Tibet.
The other monks Atisha was traveling with believed the boy was invited because he was Atisha’s way of bringing his culture with him. Atisha laughed at his idea and corrected their misunderstanding; Atisha was bringing the boy to further his spiritual growth in the tranquil land of Tibet.
When Atisha arrived in Tibet he realized he need not have bothered bringing his Bengali tea boy. The Tibetan people were as frustrating and obnoxious as people everywhere.
There is a lesson in this story for everyone. We ought to be grateful for the Bengali tea boys in our lives. They are providing us an opportunity to grow as a people. Difficult people will never go away, we just learn to deal with them.