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The teachings of the Buddha are not to make our lives comfortable, but to wake us up to reality

My father died recently, and even before the cremation was held, my father’s younger brother arrived to take our house and land and to evict my mother and me. Previously, I was close with my uncle’s family, but now he rejects my calls, and my aunt and cousins ignore me. I am shocked and sad that people who I have known my whole life can suddenly become so cruel. Lam, I have an interest in Buddhism and so I want to know how can I deal with this situation in the best way? 

Sad Boy, Thimphu

Well, unfortunately these kinds of incidents are not uncommon these days, and I agree that it is sad that people are trading their noble human qualities of empathy and compassion for mundane and temporary gains of wealth and status.  

You didn’t tell me anything about the origins of the property. However, as you mentioned that there is also land, I’m assuming that it is a traditional house or a property built on an ancestral estate, and so it might have been in your father’s family for generations. Anyway, I have no idea about the legal aspect of such matters, but from a human point of view, I believe that ancestral land should be something that we cherish and not see in terms of dollar signs. In reality, it is a reminder of the hard work and sacrifices that our grandparents and great-grandparents made, and, in this respect, should be a source of inspiration for us and our children. Sadly, instead of bringing dignity and joy into households and acting as a bonding agent for families, property has become a source of fighting and division. It is really disturbing that so many families are being torn apart over land disputes. 

Well, as a Buddhist, we should remember that the teachings of the Buddha are not to make our lives comfortable, but to wake us up to reality. In fact, the teachings should actually make our lives uncomfortable as they shake us from our complacent and half asleep lives. Anyway, in the context of your situation, I suggest that you root your responses to your uncle in the advice given by Guru Rinpoche: “While my view is as high as the sky, my actions regarding cause and effect [karma] are as meticulous as finely ground barley flour.”    

So, how do you apply this piece of advice in the context of your situation? Well, with regard the last section, I would suggest that you protect your mother’s interests, but, at the same time, do all you can to avoid causing harm and distress to your father’s family. Practically, this means that even if you take the case to court, you should do so purely with the aim of bringing the issue to a conclusion, not to exact revenge or create problems for your uncle. With regard the first piece of advice, you should never lose awareness of the ultimate view of emptiness –- that nothing is any more real than a rainbow or a movie projected on a screen.       

Even if you are unable to constantly hold the highest view in your mind, then at the very least you should reflect on the realities of life: that nothing will ultimately work out and that everything we cherish – property, wealth, health and even our lives will one day disappear. This is not a pessimistic thought, but a reality, and acknowledging it prepares us for these eventualities and enables us to cherish the things that we possess with even greater appreciation. 

In the words of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, “If one knows that everything is impermanent, one does not grasp, and if one does not grasp, one will not think in terms of having or lacking, and therefore one lives fully.”

From the other side, I strongly suggest that your uncle and others in similar situations take a long hard look at what they are trying to accomplish. I’m guessing that their aim is to be happy or at least to avoid suffering, in which case they should reflect on whether gaining wealth and status at the expense of their relatives’ wellbeing is a way to achieve these goals. To put it in another, can we genuinely feel happy if our minds are disturbed by family infighting and when we are inflicting suffering on others. In reality, it is good for all us to recognize that even temporary worldly joys are not possible if our minds are anxious and ill at ease. 

Anyway, it is for your uncle to decide how he deals with this issue, but I at least hope that he can pause and consider what he is aiming to achieve in life and whether his action is leading him towards these goals. In reality, most people just blindly follow current trends without seriously thinking where they are going or considering the consequences of their action.  

Finally, here is some heart advice from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, which may help you to face the situation with greater equanimity: “When you feel you are being harmed by someone, remember that the harm that person may be inflicting on you (or someone dear to you) is the direct result of yourself having harmed others in the past. Reflect that this person is so overpowered by delusion that he or she is as if possessed, and cannot resist harming you. As a result of this harm, he or she will have to suffer in samsara’s lower realms in a future life. When you think how terrible that will be, you will feel only sadness and pity rather than anger.” 

On a concluding note, I sincerely hope that the matter can be solved amicably and that your family members will start supporting rather than hurting each other. I wish you well.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organizing drug outreach programmes.

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