Atisha’s Cook

Excerpt from the book The Misleading Mind 

“As we begin, I want to share a wonderful and amusing historical anecdote that captures what the practice is all about and how transformative it can be. From the seventh century, Buddhism flourished in Tibet, but in the ninth century, it declined as a result of a ruthless Tibetan king who aimed to destroy Buddhism in his country. Then, in the early eleventh century, Tibetan Buddhism began a regeneration. This was marked by increased travel between Tibet and India, as key Tibetans traveled to India for instruction, and many Indian masters were invited to Tibet. Foremost of these Indian masters was Lama Atisha, a well-known scholar and practitioner who was one of India’s principal teachers of mind training. Lama Aisha was invited personally by the current king to spearhead the reestablishing of Tibet’s rich Buddhist cultural and religious tradition. Initially, Atisha committed to staying in Tibet for three years, but he was so well-loved by Tibetans that he remained for a total of twelve years, finally passing away in Tibet.

One Reason for Atisha’s long initial commitment was because travel from India to Tibet was not easy. You had to negotiate hot, disease-infested jungles, eighteen-thousand-foot Himalayan passes, and inhospitable tribes and bandits. The trip took months to prepare and months to complete, involving dangers and hardships we can barely imagine today. Among the party traveling to Tibet was Atisha’s personal cook, who was known as a very difficult person to get along with. And indeed, the Tibetans found him rude, crass, and unfriendly. But even worse, the cook’s terrible behavior did not merely extend to the Tibetans but even to Atisha himself. The Tibetans just could not understand why Lama Atisha would keep such an unsavory person as his cook. Wasn’t travel hard enough?

However, Atisha never showed any sense of intolerance, anger, or embarrassment over his cook’s behavior. Then as now, traveling can sometimes bring out the worst in people, and the Tibetans were impressed that Atisha showed only affection for the cook. Finally, though, they couldn’t sand it, and they asked Atisha why he did not fire the man and send him back to India. Lama Atisha replied, “He is not just my cook; he is my teacher of patience.”

With that one simple statement, Lama Atisha demonstrated to the Tibetans and to us the entire concept of transforming one’s inner experience through mind training.”

Discussion: This famous story continues to inspire as there has never been a shortage of difficult people. How challenging is it to practice patience with difficult people? How easy is it to get frustrated, agitated and offended? When does a difficult person change from being a good teacher of patience into a detriment to your sanity? Do you think that mind training is saying that we should be door-mats and simply receive negativity from people? When does a challenging person in our lives turn into an abusive relationship? How can we use our minds to learn and practice patience from difficult people without becoming victims? When is it necessary to enforce boundaries? What do you think? Please share your thoughts and experiences on this blog. 



  1. As a child and as an adult-I have felt society and personal prudence allowed/demanded that you should , at least, let someone know of your differing slant on a subject- so the person might either explain their reasoning for continuning to “disturb” you- or maybe soften their “voice” so a more harmonious existence might be accomplished. Not maybe because I’m right and they are wrong- but as a ‘neighborly thing to do”. I know such talk often becomes “I’M RIGHT & YOU’RE WRONG”- that’s not what I’m advocating.
    Also, at 69 years, I am totally out of any reason whatsoever to get up in the morning. In my heart, I know that that is, in itself, a “personal problem”, but, I know It is a problem. I am on the Lung Transplant List and am almost ready to say -“what the hell, it’s never going to come- let me just go buy a carton of cigs and a case of scotch and be done with it. It’s only the reprisal from my siblings and girl friend that keeps me from it. If there is a different path to a life of production and happiness I’d like to at least look at it.

    • Chas, thank you for your post. I cannot say “I know how you feel” because I’ve never had the situation where my life was obviously hanging in the balance dependent upon an organ transplant. However, I can say I have engaged with the immediacy of death numerous times.

      Yes, we need to adhere to conventional or social protocol, as you point out, when it particularly helps the mood and minds of others. Personally, I have not enough wisdom to know when or if being provocative is helpful to the other person. So, the “neighborly” thing to do is often, usually, the right thing in my opinion. Philosophically, right and wrong are merely relative. However, I try to distinguish right and wrong from the point of view of “helpful” and “harmful”. These two terms are also relative but it at least makes me think. As I try to develop, “helpful” and “harmful” continue to evolve. I now think of “helpful” and “harmful” as that which helps others develop a more satisfied mind…the longer term the better. So, it’s a work in process.

      I’d really like to know what you mean when you say, “If there is a different path to a life of production and happiness I’d like to at least look at it.” Before I could really comment on this, if you are looking for a comment, I’d need to understand a little better what is meant by your statement. However, I’m glad you’re still getting up in the morning and keeping your siblings and girlfriend from worrying. Of course, ordinary reasons for getting up in the morning seem to disappear when a person is not feeling well. at that stage we have to find something deeper.

Speak Your Mind