Love Your Enemies
How to Break the Anger Habit & Be a Whole Lot Happier
By Sharon Salzberg, Tenzin Robert Thurman
HAY HOUSE, INC. Copyright © 2013 Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman
All rights reserved.
Victory over the Outer Enemy
We meet the outer enemy when we have been harmed. In everyday life, all sorts of harm can come to us. We—and our loved ones—may be insulted or abused, robbed or beaten, bullied or tormented, tortured or even killed. Our property may be taken, damaged, or destroyed. The people who commit such acts fit neatly into the normal definition of an enemy: a person who hates another and wishes or tries to injure him or her. We feel perfectly justified in labeling such perpetrators our enemies and treating them accordingly.
Other people, too, may be abused or harmed, and if we identify with them, we consider the people who harm them our enemies as well. We find no end of enemies in books and movies and TV shows, where the bad guys are doing bad things to the good guys. Naturally we identify with the good guys, and we wait in suspense for them to catch the bad guys and save the day.
Other outer enemies that cause us much pain are the many things we see going wrong in the world and the people we perceive as responsible for them: economic inequity that favors the super-rich over everyone else, industries that pollute our waterways and turn empty lots into Superfund sites, politicians who play fast and loose with our social entitlements and constitutional rights, well-financed interest groups that push their narrow agendas to the forefront. Everywhere we look, we can find some group antagonizing another group.
We need look no farther than our neighborhood or the local school to find enemies galore. Teenaged shooters and terrorists grab today's headlines, but an even more insidious and widespread problem is bullying, which has reached epidemic proportions. Race, creed, nationality, social class, gender orientation—even a stutter or the "wrong" clothes can invite abuse and attacks, with sometimes fatal consequences.
We only have to open a newspaper or turn on the TV to be confronted with enemies across the world. When we see one country attacking another or turning on its own people, we feel deeply upset by the carnage and want to see the aggressors defeated. When our own country is the aggressor—I think of the "shock-and-awe" bombing of Baghdad—we are torn between our desire to vanquish the bad guys and our sadness and guilt over the human suffering that results from resorting to violence.
We try to make ourselves invulnerable to harm, but merely shielding ourselves or running away from it is only a temporary fix. Sooner or later, harm will find us. The only sure way to make ourselves invulnerable is to change our view of enemies and learn to see every instance of harm as an opportunity—as something we can use to benefit ourselves and others. From this perspective, how could we possibly grow in strength and burnish the shining armor of patience without having someone or something attempt to harm us, to give us a chance to learn to restrain our reactions of irritation, victimization, anger, and fear? We need enemies for this. We should be grateful for our enemies, the Dalai Lama has said, for they teach us patience, courage, and determination, and help us develop a tranquil mind.
To deal effectively with our enemies, we have to overcome our hatred and fear of those who harm us, intend to harm us, have harmed us in the past, or might harm us in the future. That's a tall order for most of us, at least at first. Coming to terms with our enemies is best taken slowly, in incremental steps.
Right away, let me assure you that we are not suggesting you simply lie down and let whoever wants to harm you take a shot. That would be masochistic, serving no one. To deal with our enemies, we can start by doing everything possible to avoid the people who wish us harm, in order to keep them from being in a position to carry out their hurtful plans. If we can't avoid them, however, we do then need to defend ourselves. But between avoidance and defensiveness lies a middle way. The best strategy of all is to act preemptively, skillfully, and before we are angry, and not allow our enemies the opportunity to harm us.
In all these strategies, we are looking on the person as a potential danger, not unlike a truck coming toward us on the highway. We anticipate the truck's path and take precautions to avoid it. But we don't hate the truck; we don't make an enemy of it. We just take care to stay safely on our side of the road.
Granted, it's hard not to hate our enemies. When we're hurt, we automatically feel victimized and respond with anger, hatred, or fear. So the question, at least with our outer enemies, is how can we conquer them without returning fire with fire? How do we avoid reacting when we feel that we're under attack? It takes a clear understanding of the situation to avoid reacting, to exercise physical and verbal restraint. So to assist us in dealing with our enemies, we need the powerful intelligence of critical wisdom—as its penetrating analysis of the real situation can free us from losing ourselves in clumsy gut reactions.
Let's be clear: critical wisdom is fierce—unflinching, uncompromising, even ferocious—yet at the same time, subtle and tender. In Buddhist imagery, critical wisdom is represented by the sword of Manjushri, a divine bodhisattva (enlightenment hero) whose name means "gentle glory." In Tibetan icons, Manjushri's sword is razor-sharp, with a golden handle and a blue steel blade with fire blazing from its tip. This sharp sword represents critical, analytical intelligence. Critical wisdom carried to the furthest level can also be represented by a ferocious emanation of Manjushri, Vajrabhairava ("Diamond Terrifier") or Yamantaka ("Death-Exterminator"), an exquisite symbolic embodiment of immortal life as the "death of Death!" (We will invoke Yamantaka to help us overcome the secret enemy in Chapter 3.) Also, to show the breadth of critical wisdom and its softer side, it is also represented by the beautiful goddess Prajnaparamita, or "Transcendent Wisdom." Known as the Mother of all Buddhas—because transcendent wisdom gives birth to enlightenment—she holds in her many hands not just weapons (a bow and arrow, and a sword and a scepter) but also a book and a lotus flower.
"Why the ferocity of critical wisdom?" you might ask. "Aren't we trying to not respond to the enemy with hostility?" True. But insight must be fierce to overcome fear, anger, fury, hate, vengeance, malice—all the ingredients that go into making an enemy, and they all come from our misunderstanding of the reality of our situation. So critical wisdom must be fierce in its laserlike penetrating concentration to enable us to see through our confusion.
And what is the reality of our situation? In other words, what's the worst that can happen? What's the gravest danger our enemy can inflict on us? Okay, we must face that we can be insulted, injured, or even killed by enemies. We are right to be afraid of those outcomes. Such fear is healthy; it energizes us to avoid such enemies. But we can avoid them or even defend ourselves against them much more skillfully if we master our fear and anger and keep our cool, like a martial artist. One way we can do that is to rehearse the various outcomes, imagining even the worst ones. Surprisingly, it can help to think carefully about each outcome.
We tend to get angry when someone insults us, for example. But how bad can any insult be? Will any name we are called cause us lasting harm? Can't we just laugh it off, especially since most insults are exaggerations in the first place? We're seldom as bad as the enemy makes us out to be. And we need not worry about the effect of the insult on others who overhear it, as usually the insulter is the one who looks bad. How about the wisdom of the child's slogan, "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me!"
And what about the sticks and stones, even physical kinds of harm? Of course we must protect ourselves, but if we do get hurt, what good does it do us to get angry on top of suffering the hurt? The Dalai Lama tells a story about a servant he had in Tibet, who tried to fix an old car that had belonged to the previous Dalai Lama. While working on the old car, the mechanic would occasionally skin his knuckles. Losing his temper, he would bang his head repeatedly on the underside of the car. Trying to calm him down, the Dalai Lama would get him to see the humor of it, telling him, "The car doesn't feel anything!"
Anger often makes us hurt ourselves more than any enemy. If an enemy hurts us, that is bad enough; we should avoid hurting ourselves by overanticipating the hurt and being paralyzed by fear, unable to face the enemy with all our faculties at their best.
But let's be really radical, rise to the occasion, and imagine even the ultimate harm: the enemy could kill us. Do we ever think about dying? It could happen at any time, after all, just by accident, without any enemy. We probably live mostly in denial of that fact, but it may be that our subliminal yet ever-present fear of death prevents us from feeling fully alive. What does death mean to us? What do you think happens to you at death? Maybe you have a strong sense of an afterlife and think that after death you will ascend to heaven, by the blessing of Jesus, Buddha, or some other God or angel (though hellish prospects might scare you, you'll have found help or a sure way to avoid the danger). Or maybe you're a secularist and your sense of an afterlife is to think that after death you will simply disappear—become an unconscious nothing forever after. Either way, again, though it might happen, there's no point to overanticipating it while alive and letting the enemy hold your anticipation over you.
Anyway, what we really fear is not death but dying—a transition that we anticipate could be deeply painful. Of course our instinct is to save our life at any cost, but that instinct is reinforced to our greater endangerment by our unexamined notions of what death is. Paralyzed by fear or driven mad with anger, it's just so much harder to save or enhance our life. We either become unable to respond at all, becoming a helpless victim, or we lash out ineffectively, fail to stop the enemy, and sometimes provoke an even worse reaction. So if we can free ourselves from the excessive fear of the unrealistic outcomes that we anticipate, we improve our chances of avoiding those very outcomes. Mark Twain famously said he had "known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."
We fear pain much more than death, when we face it clearly. Mercifully, most of us will not be forced to endure physical torture at the hands of an enemy. But imagining how we might handle it can be instructive in strengthening our resilience. The most practical method for dealing with pain would be restraint—not being angry with either our victim-hood or our tormentors, since such reactivity only makes the pain worse and arouses the tormentor to greater viciousness. Hatred does not help us alleviate our pain even in the slightest. Tibetan monks who were imprisoned under harrowing conditions often attribute their survival to not getting caught up in anger toward their guards. If, instead of anger, we conceive that every single pain our torturers are dishing out now will make us better able to deal with any future pain, then bearing it will seem like an achievement. Further, if we have a commonsense understanding of the observable truth that "What comes around, goes around!"—or, even better, if we know of the law of evolutionary, biological causality that is called "karma"—we might be able to consider that every pain our enemies inflict on us is the very pain they themselves will suffer in the future—or future existence—not to mention the guilt they suffer subliminally even at the moment. With this view, we might even be able to summon up sympathy for our torturers. Jesus's plea from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" might echo in our ears.
Much of the harm we suffer at the hands of our enemies is emotional. But here, too, we can expand the range of the "no pain, no gain!" motto, and try to use any sort of suffering inflicted on us to strengthen our ability to not waste energy hating those who wrong us. If we can learn to not be angry with them, we will be arming ourselves with the greatest possible protection: tolerance. With the shield of tolerance, we become stronger and more resilient, better able to deal with efforts by our enemies to inflict whatever kind of pain.
The basic obstacle, however, to overcoming our anger toward our enemies is our thought that, unless we have the strength of anger, they will trample us. Anger, to this way of thinking, is protective. It gives strength to resist, and without it we are weak. But if we look at our experience more carefully, we can catch anger in the act of tricking us, making us feel stronger by heating us up, but actually weakening us by impairing our judgment and causing us to exert our energy all at once in unsustainable bursts. According to neuroscientific studies, it also harms our health by releasing noxious chemicals such as cortisol into our bloodstream, which damage our circulatory system.
Overcoming our enmity toward others does not mean surrendering to them. On the contrary, when threatened, we can defend ourselves more effectively if we deal with aggression without hatred or anger. The martial arts teach us that to gain the power to defeat our opponents, we must transcend anger. As any martial artist will tell you, anger throws you off balance and exhausts you too quickly, making you more vulnerable to your enemy's attack. Excessive fear can do the same thing.
Being afraid when we are under attack is natural. But we can handle the situation much more competently if the fear we are feeling is the good kind of fear—the cautionary fear that warns us of legitimate threats to our safety and prompts a constructive reaction—and not the paranoid, paralyzing fear that prevents us from acting with good judgment and unflagging energy.
Co-creating the Enemy
Our perception of others as enemies is influenced by how we have interacted with them in the past and how they have interacted with us. Our view of them is seldom an objective reflection of their qualities but tends to be a projection of our own aversion. Maybe someone harmed us in the past, so now we are afraid of them. Maybe we did something a person didn't like, so now they are angry with us. We have a mental template of what we consider harmful, injurious, and frightening, and, with or without provocation, we project that onto people, turning them into enemies. When someone looks unpleasant or threatening—when they fit our mental image of a frightening person—then we assume they intend to harm us, and we can't wait to get rid of them. And if we can't get rid of them, we feel frustrated and angry, which reinforces our view of them as an enemy.
The last thing most of us want to hear is that we might have any responsibility for creating our own enemies. After all, it wasn't our car that drove over our newly sodded lawn. And we're not the ones who spread that malicious gossip about a loved one, nor are we the one who seemed to take great pleasure in stealing a colleague's clients. But if we are ever to get rid of our enemies, or at least render them powerless over us, we will have to own up to our part in creating the enmity.
Every person has the potential to be unpleasant and harmful, just as every person has the potential to be pleasant and helpful. Think of someone you love dearly; if you look back, you can probably find a time when they did something that harmed you, even unwittingly, or a time when you were angry with them or they were angry with you.
"Enemy," then, is not a fixed definition, a label permanently affixed to anyone we believe has harmed us. It's a temporary identity we assign people when they don't do what we want or they do something we don't want. But whatever others have or have not done, enemy-making always comes back to us.
Once we divide the world into Us and Them, self and other, "other" is filled with potential enemies. Even others we love right now may turn into enemies later on. All they have to do is harm or displease us in some way, and immediately we will fear and dislike them.
How we deal with our outer enemies, then, is to see them as human beings and to see ourselves from their perspective, being conscious of our own prejudices and preoccupations, and realizing that our enemies are operating out of their own prejudices and preoccupations. "Working with the Outer Enemy," an exercise in the Appendix on page 158, will show you how you create outer enemies and how to reverse that process.
When it comes down to it, the outer enemy is a distraction. Focusing on someone who seems to have it in for us allows us to ignore the real enemy, the enemy within. But when we can see the enemy's hatred as a challenge, it becomes a spur to our own growth, a gift to wake us from our complacency. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Love Your Enemies by Sharon Salzberg, Tenzin Robert Thurman. Copyright © 2013 Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman. Excerpted by permission of HAY HOUSE, INC..
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