Shouting at the shadow – why you cannot change other people

One of the questions I get most often from readers is this: Should I chant to change other people? The short and simple answer is ‘No. Change your own karma first.’ But before exploring this in more detail, here are the kinds of comments people send me:

Q: When you know that the other person is wrong and ill-treating you, why should I change? Shouldn’t they change instead?

Q: I am chanting for my husband to stop being so lazy. When will he?

Q: I want my daughter to change for the better so that she respects me and treats me with equality in front of my in-laws. How do I chant about this? This One Life


Of course these situations can be difficult and cause deep suffering. And often our desire for the other person to change is based on compassion, for example because they are deeply disrespecting their own life. It can be especially hard when your own children are involved. But would you want other people to chant for you to change? No, I didn’t think so. You would prefer that they chant to respect you unconditionally, right?

And Nichiren Buddhism is very strict on this point. A very wise SGI leader called Roy Marshall once explained to me that when we try to change someone else’s behaviour, it is like ‘shouting at the shadow’ in effect screaming at the other person: “You change! You must change!” When of course, for a shadow to move, you need to move first.

For example, I have seen many people suffer for years and years in the futile hope that their partner will change – in effect they are putting the Gohonzon outside themselves by saying: “I’ll be happy when… my husband/wife is more this or more that or more whatever…” 

Shouting at the shadow is a function of our lesser self (ego) or arrogance and means we are trying to make others more like us. This is a route to temporarily higher self-esteem, whether in the home, in the office or when invading a foreign country. If you do find yourself ‘shouting at the shadow’, chant to understand with your whole life the Buddhist principle of ‘esho funi’, or the ‘oneness of your life and the environment’. Chant also to see the other person as a ‘spoon’ stirring up the karmic sediment of your own life so that you can transform it. Chant as well for the other person’s absolute happiness (perhaps through gritted teeth at first) and I promise that you will discover benefits you never imagined were possible with your rational mind. Actually, don’t just chant for their happiness, chant to unconditionally revere the eternal core of their lives, the pure ninth consciousness that they share with everyone, including you. It really is very liberating to chant in this way. Love shadow

If the situation involves your own children, remember that they are not on this planet to follow the script that we, as parents, often want to write for them. They arrive with their own karma, their own mission and their own human revolution to do. Even if our intentions are positive, our own definition of what is ‘best’ for our kids will probably be different to theirs. And I love this reminder from Khalil Gibran: “Your children are not your own children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.” 

In short, this whole question reminds us that we, not other people, are totally responsible for how we feel and act, as Daisaku Ikeda points out: “If someone hits you and you hit him back, the first blow is the stimulus leading to the second, but it is not the ultimate cause. You can maintain that you hit the person because he hit you, but in fact you hit him because you are you.”


18 Replies to “Shouting at the shadow – why you cannot change other people”

  1. Jac Ho says:

    Hi Dave,

    I m looking forward to hear from you one day in your post about financial karma.

    I trust it will be a great interest to many readers at large 🙂

    Cheers, Jackie

    Sent from my iPhone

    1. Hi Jackie, yes I could write about that if you like. Do you have a particular question in mind? I think most of the answers re money are in the ‘Three kinds of treasure’ gosho… D 🙂

  2. Shweta says:

    Thank you soooo very much David for sharing this Guidance. I really needed it this point in time for me and my friends. Its so wonderful 🙂

    1. You are welcome Shweta. Thank you for your kind comments and for sharing with your friends 🙂 D

  3. Jayanthi soma says:

    Thank u. This made me to realize a lot.:)

  4. namm80 says:

    Very beautiful.I really loved this guidance.Please keep writing.

    1. Thank you very much and yes I will :-). D

  5. Soumya says:

    Thank you so so much for this.. It makes me look at a relationship with a total different perspective! and I’m loving it! Thanks a ton! Your blog is such an inspiration.. and i look forward to each and every entry!

    1. My pleasure Soumya and great to hear that this blog post was useful to you 🙂

  6. Shobhana Sharma says:

    I am thankful for your eye opening article. My Buddhist practice seems complete with reading your articles. I am a new member and you have simplified all the teachings for us freshers. Thanks again David.

    1. Hi Shobhana, that’s great to hear as my aim is to make Buddhism more accessible to everyone, especially freshers! Congratulations on starting your magnificent Myoho adventure! D 🙂

  7. rosemarie says:

    The Buddha in your heart., Davidhare

    Learned this from you:”I ride the wave of every challenge I face and turn it into a benefit and if I can do it, so can you!!!” Your blog posts are full of appreciation that brought tears to my eyes, just at the right time. Nam myoho renge kyo

  8. Brian says:

    “chant to unconditionally revere the eternal core of their lives, the pure ninth consciousness that they share with everyone, including you.”

    I started chanting after reading this, and it immediately popped into my head that honestly, this should be how we are chanting about ourselves, not just other people. That will lead to the solutions in every other area of our lives.

    Discussion welcome, and thanks for the great articles!

    1. Hello Brian, yes I agree. Indeed I now tend to avoid using the term ‘practice for self and others’ because I feel that the very term separates us from each other. Now I just chant for Life to be fulfilled, this Life that flows through me and you and everyone else (including the people,we may dislike). In the 9th consciousness there is just Oneness and when we connect with it we feel our interconnection with all of Life. Actually I think one definition of ‘evil’ is the ‘illusion of separateness’. D 🙂

  9. Anuradha says:

    Nice blog David. I am a new member to this practice and going through the tough time with few people and in relationships. I am truly moved by your blog post and i think rather than thinking to change anyone.. its high time to focus and change myself first.. you are amazing. have been following your blog and i am liking it.. Keep it up.. I look forward to your posts 🙂

    1. Dear Anuradha, thank you for those kind words and it is great to hear that you find my posts useful. Sincere wishes for a long, joyful and valuable Buddhist practice. D 🙂

  10. David says:

    I am chanting for my daughters not to be receptive to negative brainwashing by their X step father, but I read, that you can not change other people. However, I am not trying to change them but really protect them and their relationship with me. This seems like a good cause and not really trying to change them in my idea of what they should be.

    1. davidhare3000 says:

      Hello again David,
      I think in the case you describe that your prayer to protect your relationship with your daughters is fine & well-intentioned. The bit about how they react to brainwashing is probably over-thinking things a bit – better just to chant for a happy relationship without using your head to work out ‘the how’. But most important of all, please seek personal guidance on this matter from a senior in faith.
      all best wishes

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