CONTEXT: In everyday conversations, we often blame other things or persons for causing our positive or negative emotions. For example, people say things like, "That dog disturbs me by always barking", "My daughter angers me by disobeying me", "My computer makes me anxious because it hangs in the middle of my work", or "My son made me very happy by scoring good marks".

Quite often, people feel that they are not in control of their own emotions. They think and/or say things like, "How can I help being anxious/angry/sad while my boss/husband/neighbour/dog/computer stops behaving as he/she/it does?"

It is considered normal in daily life to put the onus of change on the external factor/person, and think along the lines of: "I will become happy after I get more money/better job/trendier smartphone" or "I will start talking calmly after my daughter-in-law stops back-answering me." In other words, if Condition A is fulfilled by someone or something else, I will become happy", or "If Condition B is fulfilled by the world around me, I will gain control over my anger/sadness/anxiety etc."

QUESTIONS: What does the Buddha and modern gurus say about:

1) Taking agency/responsibility for our state of mind and our behaviour? Where does agency/responsibility for our positive/negative emotions lie?

2) Taking the responsibility ourselves, or putting the responsibility on other things/persons/situations where we ourselves have no control?

3) On the correctness of saying to another person, "Unless you exercise right-speech or right-action, I am unable to exercise right-speech, right-intention and right-mindfulness?


4 Answers 4


If something upsets you, it is because you are delusional.

If something upsets someone else, it is because they are delusional.

If you want to avoid upsetting someone out of compassion then avoid the object of their delusional hatred, but if anyone claims that because the onus is on the other to avoid being upset that I can do whatever I want to, then they are probably lacking in compassion and empathy.

Finally, if you are trying to lay blame and your argument is that somebody or something is to blame, then clearly it is anger, ignorance or greed which is to blame for anger, ignorance or greed and neither the offender nor the offended is truly to blame. That said, the responsibility for fixing the corruption in themselves lies with them because no one else can clean the defilements for them.

@Ryan the Buddha also never admits to an absence of a self. And to confuse things further, the hot ball of iron is actually no hot ball of iron and that is why it is called a hot ball of iron.

  • Sam, we see what we want to see. You and I are daily ignoring most of the questions or answers on this forum, or other forums. So, if I were to take offence at a question that you just asked, it would be because of an effort that I made to spend some minutes reading and re-reading that question, so that I could take offence at some points. And then I took the effort to write a rebuttal, thinking about the various things that you wrote that offended me. And then I waited for your response so that I could spend more time reading and replying... and so on. Correct? Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 16:36
  • Buddhists use "delusional" in a non-standard or technical way: see e.g. Avidyā (Buddhism) on Wikipedia -- or is there another introduction to "delusional" which you'd prefer to reference instead?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 16:36
  • 1
    KrishnarajRao That is exactly what I meant thank you. We all do live in our own mental universe. yes this delusional refers to the presence of mental defilements. It is not all that non-standard either, delusional means the presence of imaginary constructs which are harmful which quite accurately portrays the intent.
    – Sam Reeve
    Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 17:36
  • I think it is worth clarifying what "imaginary constructs" (and "delusion") might mean: for example because "all external stimuli, whether pleasant or unpleasant, are illusory" might be a (quite a common) misconception about Buddhism, and a simple view like "Nothing Exists" is missing something important.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 19:12

There is a famous parable by a founder of Tibetan Buddhism guru Padmasabhava comparing Right Concentration / Attention with Lion's Gaze. Modern Tibetan Buddhism teacher ven. Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche explains:

Padmasambhava said that when a stick is thrown to a dog, the dog will chase the stick. A dog’s gaze follows the object, the stick. The lion gazes steadily at the source, the thrower. We need to look at our mind, the source of the emotion. An emotion like anger is the stick. The source hurling that emotion is our mind. It is the mind that projects. The source of our experience is our own mind.

Dzogchen [Buddhism] turns our gaze inward toward the source of experience, which is mind. Pristine mind is our lion's gaze.

According to my last teacher, the whole point of the above is to help us get out of "victim consciousness" and attain what he calls "master consciousness". Victim consciousness is when we blame our problems on other people or on the circumstances. Master consciousness is when we take ownership of everything that happens in our lives.

The flip side of the above is, if you are the one exercising the speech, you can't say "according to Buddha your mind is the source of your emotions, so I will say whatever I want, but the onus is on you to not get upset". Indeed, if that was the case, Buddha would only teach the non-attachment and not teach the Right Speech. But Buddha taught both. In all circumstances, the onus, according to Buddha's teaching, is always on us.

  • I feel your last paragraph relates to questions previously asked and answers previously given. I agree about the need for right-speech, but this argument nurtures the conditioned response that your right-thinking and mindfulness are dependent on my right speech. Are they? Most things on the internet would probably irritate me if I read them; so I gloss over them and ignore them. If you were genuinely disturbed by my propositions, maybe you would be ignoring them, and reading other things that please you. Possibly, 95% of the people on this forum are doing exactly that. No? Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 15:50

The Buddha does not admit to a self AFAIK, therefore the presumptions your question are based on don't have a great base to start on. However, conventionally , this can be said in regards to your question.

1) What does the Buddha say about agency for our state of mind and our behaviour? Where does agency for our positive/negative emotions lie?

Someone, having not followed and understood the Buddhas teaching, regards the hot ball of iron in their hand as themselves, not knowing to put it down, they create their own suffering. When someone offers them another Hot ball of iron, they gladly accept it, and when it burns their other hand, they blame that person for their suffering. It certainly isn't wholesome to offer to hand such a thing to someone else, but it is out of ignorance to the way things are that someone should choose to hold onto it.

"In the same way, an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person regards form as: 'This is mine, this is my self, this is what I am.' He regards feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness as: 'This is mine, this is my self, this is what I am.' If he walks, he walks right around these five clinging-aggregates. If he stands, he stands right next to these five clinging-aggregates. If he sits, he sits right next to these five clinging-aggregates. If he lies down, he lies down right next to these five clinging-aggregates. Thus one should reflect on one's mind with every moment: 'For a long time has this mind been defiled by passion, aversion, & delusion.' From the defilement of the mind are beings defiled. From the purification of the mind are beings purified.


2) On whom (or where) does the onus/responsibility for changing a negative situation lie?

The solution for such suffering lies in following the teaching of the Buddha, following the Noble Eightfold Path, and developing wisdom and understanding into the nature of phenomenon and described in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta

“Bhikkhus, this is the direct path for the purification of beings [56], for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the true way, for the realisation of Nibbāna—namely, the four foundations of mindfulness. 3. “What are the four? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating feelings as feelings, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating mind as mind, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating mind-objects as mind-objects, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. "


3) What do modern-day gurus say about taking the onus or alternatively, putting the onus on external agents, whether human or otherwise?

Many people say many things. Unless a teaching contains the Noble Eightfold Path, it will not produce noble disciples:

“Very well, reverend Sir,” the wanderer Subhadda replied to the Gracious One, and the Gracious One said this: “Wherever, Subhadda, the Noble Eightfold Path is not found in a Teaching and Discipline there a true ascetic is not found, there a second true ascetic is not found, there a third true ascetic is not found, there a fourth true ascetic is not found.


4) Is it correct to say to another person, "Unless you exercise right-speech, I am unable to have right-speech, right-intention and right-mindfulness?

No. see the answers to question 1 and 2

  • I accept your answer, Ryan. But I wish the scriptural references were more direct. May I request you to point us to the exact lines that address the question? Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 16:08
  • the suttas I linked address the questions :) I don't believe there's any imperative to restrain understanding to a single line. All of this reading is just conceptual in any case, no single line or paragraph or volume of knowledge will encapsulate the truth, at best it can point you to it. What the Buddha is telling you in these suttas I linked is to practice.
    – Ryan
    Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 16:18

If anyone abuses you, hits you, throws stones at you or strikes you with a stick or a sword, you must put aside all worldly desires and considerations and think, ‘My heart will not be moved. I shall speak no evil words. I will feel no resentment but maintain kindness and compassion for all beings.’ You should think like this. M.I,126

Irrigators lead the water, fletchers bend the shaft, carpenters shape the wood, the wise mold themselves. Dhp.80

The Buddha asked Anuruddha how he was able to live in harmony with his fellow monks and he replied; ‘I always consider what a blessing it is, what a real blessing, that I am living with such companions in the spiritual life. I think, speak and act with love towards them, both in public and in private. I always consider that I should put aside my own wishes and acquiesce to what they want, and then I do that. Thus we are many in body but one in mind.’ M.III,156

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