By Lori Lines
Sometimes it is not easy to wish another well. Every now and then, perhaps more often than we like to admit, we can feel that those who suffer get what they deserve.
It's especially easy to feel that way about one who is the source of suffering to others. We may even take a special delight when those who have caused harm are getting those "just rewards." Who doesn't feel a surge of glee when the wicked witch of the west melts before our eyes after Dorothy accidentally splashes her with water?
But, back in Kansas, life is a bit more complicated and less clear-cut. It's not always to discriminate the innocent farm girls and the evil sorcerer. Blue gingham dresses and black pointy hats just are not indicators of moral condition. The difference is, between witches and farm girls, and the differences between all of us are always matters of degree rather than quality. There are things that we might call good and bad in each one of us. No one is wholly good and none is wholly evil. When we see deeply into the life of those we are inclined to despise, we can recognize that whatever vile acts one may commit does not completely express all that they are.
We can understand that their hatred and greed arise from fear, self-centeredness, ignorance and misunderstanding. The very thing that afflicts all of us from time to time. I'm convinced there's enough in each of us to make us both a Dorothy and a Wicked Witch.
If we ever lose sight of the moral ambiguity that pervades the human condition, we run great risks. Without insight into our own propensity to act in unwholesome ways we become blind to our own faults. And I'm not talking just about the way we may treat others, I'm talking about the way we treat ourselves. Without insight into the goodness of others, it becomes all-too-easy to hate them. Especially when we feel our hatred is justified by their wrongdoings. But these reactions distort the reality of what we are and lead us to behave unskillfully in ways that cause suffering to ourselves and to others. They incline us to forget how much the personalities of all of us are shared by circumstances beyond our control. Who knows how Dorothy might have turned out had she been raised in a gloomy castle surrounded by flying monkeys, instead of the loving arms of Auntie Em.
The dangers inherent in forgetting that we are all capable of wholesome and unwholesome actions have led sages throughout history to urge us to love our enemies as well as ourselves and our neighbors. I consider this admonition to be one of humanity's truly great moral developments. Although loving our enemies may be one of the most difficult things that we can possibly do, rivaled perhaps only to loving ourselves, it is clearly one of the most beneficial practices we can perform.
It is easy to see how hatred lies at the root of much human misery, but what we seem to find difficult is accepting that we cannot end hatred by hating. Hating those who hate may feel cathartic, and even righteous, but it brings us no closer to a solution to what is a very deep problem. As the Buddha put it, "In this world, hostility is never appeased by hostility; only in the absence of hatred does hatred cease."
Only love and compassion for others can end hostility and hatred. We can never transform an enemy into a friend with hate.
We also forget what hating others does to us as individuals. Hatred is a manifestation of our false self. It creates darkness in our soul and it is not what we truly are. To allow ourselves to be consumed by hatred distorts us, wounds us and scars us. It spills over into every aspect of our lives and causes us to misperceive the world, confusing the beautiful and the ugly, the true and the false, the skillful and the unskillful. Hatred is sure to cause us to suffer and is, itself, a manifestation of suffering.
While it's not difficult to grasp how hatred can perpetuate animosity between people and disfigure our own basic goodness, it's also not easy to find alternatives. How does one erase a lifetime of conditioning in which we've been encouraged to detest others? Hatred can become a habit that is not so simple to break.
On occasion I will work with clients, through coaching and/or QHHT, who have come to the realization that their belief systems have been conditioned and erred on the side of hate and hostility and they will be given tools to work with to transform the suffering that this conditioning has perpetuated. There are ways to imprint our spirit on a deep level to feel happier and more joyful as animosity softens into a feeling of freedom and liberation from self-limiting thoughts and bad feelings.
On another note, it has occurred to me that if my enemies are truly happy and free from suffering then, perhaps, they wouldn't be enemies. After all, what makes them such difficult people may be their own struggle with suffering.
And, what I do know is this: relieving a little of the hostility of just one person, myself, will make the world a little better for everyone. Knowing this, I can easily affirm the statement of the 14th Dalai Lama, "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."
To act, we must call upon our wisdom. Seeing suffering and being willing to heal it does not guarantee that we will act wisely. Very compassionate people may still act in very foolish ways. To be wisely compassionate requires especially that we attend carefully to our own lives first and treat ourselves with compassion. What we learn from self compassion provides important clues for the compassionate treatment of others. And, thus we return to the importance of the Golden Rule.
Learning to practice compassion for ourselves and others is a lifetime endeavor but it is one of the more important things we can do.
Author Lori Lines
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