Small Harms and Greater Harms

by Site Author

Shantideva

Shantideva was a Buddhist monk in eighth-century India. He wrote a long poem that is still widely read and studied today, 1300 later.

One passage in the poem is often highlighted by teachers as a guide to dealing with everyday problems.

There is nothing whatsoever
That is not made easier through acquaintance.
So through becoming acquainted with small harms
I should learn to patiently accept greater harms.

Shantideva here recommends that we use our little problems to prepare for the big problems. Life is filled with little, tiny sorrows. You spill your coffee, you are given the middle seat on a full airplane, or you are hit with some other first-world problem. If you fall apart when faced with such little disappointments, what hope do you have when a really serious problem comes your way?

Shantideva encourages a kind of cognitive reappraisal here. When you look at everyday irritations as practice, then your attitude towards them can change. Little problems transform from obstacles into stepping stones.