In a World of Controversies, Backbiting and Calumny...

In the 21st century we live in, the most lethal of weapons, in my humble opinion, are no longer knives, guns and bombs. With the world so well-connected by the Internet, Today’s wars are those of words.

Today’s wars are those of words.

Today’s wars are those of words.

Think about the rampant internet wars amongst social media influencers and even political leaders all over the world. We are constantly bombarded with controversies, backbiting and calumny and no one in this Information Age can be truly spared from it unless you are literally a caveman living in recluse.


Since these controversies are inevitable, the question then is: how should we approach them? In face of these ugly backbiting, some people jump at these opportunities to boost their fame and popularity by joining in and hyping up the wars. Others feel the need to voice out their opinions and speak up for the parties they lean towards. Some who do not wish to have more drama in their lives choose to block these controversies out of their awareness completely. For some, these controversies readily provide talking points during social gatherings and means for them to spice up their interactions with others.


In the monastery where I learn Buddhism in, my Teachers have always been inculcating in their disciples, the practice of reflection and disciplining the mind, in all circumstances, good and bad. I wonder, what would Buddha have done if he was living in this day and age that we live in? How would my teachers have thought and reacted when defamatory comments are hurled their way?

Here are some of Buddhist perspectives that really hit home:

1)   Observe: When faced with controversies, are my thoughts, speech and action virtuous or non-virtuous?

Whether you are the subject of defamation with malicious rumours flying your way, or a bystander trying to make sense of the controversy in hope to formulate some conclusion or judgement, observe your thoughts, speech and mind. Am I losing compassion for the antagonist? Are feelings of hostility brewing in me towards the harm-doer and his entourage of supporters? Are my thoughts, speech and actions congruent with the Buddhist teachings? Would my teachers/ Buddha be pleased with my reactions? And the crux of all, observe yourself and discipline your mind to cease any non-virtuous reactions for they will land you in the three miserable realms where unspeakable suffering awaits you. With that in mind, you will realise that being right in the eyes of others, having your name cleared or fighting for what you think is right, isn’t that pertinent after all. If there is anything truly worth fighting for, it would be compassion and enlightenment. Fight to never lose compassion for your enemies. Fight to maintain the spirit of enlightenment in all trying situations. Fight to always choose virtue over sin.


2)  Know that the antagonist is a victim of his afflictions. He is not his afflictions. 人不是烦恼,人只是有烦恼。

Contemplate that the person who hurts you, hurts you because of his afflictions and he is not his afflictions. The Buddha states that all beings have the Buddha nature. Our fundamental nature of mind is a luminous expanse of awareness that is beyond all conceptual fabrication and completely free from the movement of thoughts. It is the union of emptiness and clarity, of space and radiant awareness that is endowed with supreme and immeasurable qualities. However, due to afflictions, primarily our fervent misconception of a finite self, we are hindered from uncovering our Buddha nature. Hence, in all circumstances, never take it personally. If you should be angry at something, be angry at his afflictions of hostility, greed and ignorance and strive to have the complete wisdom, compassion and strength of the Buddha to overcome all afflictions and help others overcome them.


3)  The Lamrim states, “Train in the pure perception of all living beings that comes from developing the idea that all beings are the Teacher.”

This may sound like a tumultuous task to do but it is in fact, extremely logical. We have zero means in identifying whether any party in these controversies are bodhisattvas or not. The only thing I can be certain of, is that yours truly is a sentient being trapped in cyclic existence. Who knows if your harm-doers or any of these controversial figures are manifestations of the Buddhas or bodhisattvas to teach us something? Take heed my friend, guard our hearts.


All in all, in these wars of controversies and defamation, what am I supposed to learn from them?” These internet wars or wars of words are catastrophic manifestations of afflictions or mental faults left unattended and left to fester and grow. 

Amidst the storms, may we not let the external storms whip up hurricanes and tornados of afflictions within us.

Let’s guard our hearts.


Yan Ru Teo