Sunday, 4 December 2011

Knowing the Enemy (Pema Chödrön)

This is the eighth in the series of posts based on Pema Chödrön and accompanied by Chopin. It completes the first half of her book on living fearlessly. Previous posts in reverse order discussed equanimity, empathetic joy, practicing compassion, loving-kindness & compassion, learning to stay, three lords of materialism and bodhicitta.

We build further on the four immeasurable qualities of the kind heart: (1) loving-kindness (maitri), (2) compassion (karuna), (3) joy in the joy of others (mudita), and (4) equanimity (upekkha). I would like to challenge you to take this quiz before reading on. Please share your own answers in the comments.

1. What is the opposite of love, kindness and friendship? What resembles love, kindness and friendship, but is not love?

2. What is the opposite of compassion, warmth and support for one who is suffering? What resembles compassion, warmth and support for one suffering, but is not compassion?

3. What is the opposite of joy in the joy of others? What resembles joy, but is not joy?

4. What is the opposite of equanimity? What resembles equanimity, but is not equanimity?

The music is Chopin's Nocturne Op. 48 No. 1 recorded on piano rolls at the beginning of the twentieth century by the best of her generation, the American Fanny Bloomfield.

Later, I will leave you with Chopin's Waltz No. 2 Op. 64 played by the enchanting young Chinese-American pianist Yuja Wang of the current generation, but now it's over to Pema Chödrön:


The essence of bravery is being without self-deception. A warrior takes responsibility for the direction of her life. Our training encourages us to open and see any baggage we might be carrying. There is a traditional teaching that helps us in this process: the near and far enemies of the four limitless qualities.

1. The near enemy or misunderstanding of loving-kindness is attachment. There's a Tibetan word lhenchak that describes this well. Lhenchak points at how free-flowing love can get stuck. It is taught that the strongest lhenchak occurs in the following relationships: between parents and children, between lovers, and between spiritual teachers and their students. Lhenchak is characterised by clinging and self-involvement. Loving-kindness is different. It is not based on need, but a genuine appreciation and care for the well-being of another person and a respect for their value. Loving even a flower without lhenchak means we see it more clearly and feel more tenderness for its inherent perfection.

The far enemy or opposite of loving-kindness is hatred or aversion. Aversion isolates us from others. It strengthens the illusion that we are separate. However, in the tightness and heat of hatred is the soft spot of bodhicitta.

2. There are three near enemies of compassion: pity, overwhelm and idiot compassion. True compassion does not debilitate us with the emotion of sadness, but opens us up to the possibilities of what we can do.

Pity or professional warmth is easily mistaken for true compassion. When we identify ourselves as the helper, it means we see others as helpless. Instead of feeling the pain of others, we set ourselves apart. If we've ever been on the receiving end of pity, we know how it feels. Instead of warmth and support, all we feel is distance.

Overwhelm is a sense of helplessness. We feel that there is so much suffering — whatever we do is to no avail. We've become discouraged. There are two ways I've found effective in working with overwhelm. One is to train with a less challenging subject. Starting with something workable can be powerful magic. When we find the place where our heart stays engaged, the compassion begins to spread by itself. The second is to keep our attention on the other person. This takes more courage. Sometimes we should trust our sense of panic, but sometimes instead of turning inwards and closing down, we might let the storyline go and feel the energy of the pain in our body for a second. If this is not possible, we engender compassion for our current limitations.

The third near enemy of compassion is idiot compassion, when we try to avoid conflict and protect our good image, being kind when we should say a definite "no". In order not to break our vow of compassion, we have to learn when to stop aggression and draw the line, how to set boundaries and not allow our ideals to justify self-abasement.

The far enemy of compassion is cruelty. Brooker T. Washington was right when he said, "Let no man pull you so low as to make you hate him." Cruelty when rationalised or unacknowledged destroys us.

3. The near enemy of joyfulness is over-excitement. We can mistake riding high above the sorrows of the world for unconditional joy. Instead of connecting us with others, this separates us. Authentic joy is not a euphoric state. Rather, it is a state of appreciation that allows us to participate fully in our lives.

The far enemy of joy is envy. Some say it is also cynicism, despair or boredom. It is amazing to see how frequently we can react to others' success with resentment. The realisation is humbling. It is because these practices expose our hidden flaws that we are sometimes reluctant to do them. But that's why we must do them: it takes practice to stick with ourselves as we are, in our totality.

4. The near enemy of equanimity is detachment or indifference. Emotional upheaval is where the warrior learns compassion. It's where we learn to stop struggling with ourselves. It's only when we can dwell in these places that scare us that equanimity becomes unshakeable.

The far enemy of equanimity is prejudice. We get self-righteous about our beliefs and set ourselves solidly for or against. Taking sides, we become closed-minded. As we start training in opening our hearts, we get a close look at prejudice and indifference.
The enemies are good teachers. They show us we can accept ourselves and others complete with imperfections.


aspara121: Many thanks for your quality posts. I look forward to savoring each one. :)

satshanti: I thought there was no "enemy". I thought Pema and Tantra Buddhism taught the acceptance experiencing of everything to attain the Whole. Why not experience "attachment" as a "friend" coming to show where we are stuck? Why present the experience as a dualistic us-vs-them me-and-"enemy" dichotomy? That seems like a continuing of the dualistic problem rather than accepting accepting accepting experiencing experiencing experiencing - and watching the energy attachment relax dissipate fatigue let go - and then seeing false confused assumptions under the energies. Freedom acceptance presence mindfulness peace...

okei: From the section about the far enemy of equanimity: "Taking sides, we become closed-minded. As we start training in opening our hearts, we get a close look at prejudice and indifference..." There is no enemy. Sorry if I didn't stress that.

The "near enemy" she describes as the misunderstanding of... and the "far enemy" as the opposite of... they are our friends and teachers, so long as we recognize them for what they are. We are not trying to get rid of them as you say, but let their storylines go and rest with the energy. Well said, Peter.

satshanti: _()_

irishgall13: okei said: What is the opposite of love, kindness and friendship? What resembles love, kindness and friendship, but is not love? 
Fear. Fear of trusting your heart of love to another.
Fear of the vulnerability.

Just fear.

okei: Good point Marie!

I was looking through all the opposites, and the root of every single one is fear. Hatred, cruelty, envy/cynicism and prejudice all come from a feeling of a relationship to the outside world based on fear of the other...

The near enemies: attachment, pity, over-excitement and indifference could also be related to fear, but fear of oneself, of fulfilling our true nature.
The blog & comments originally appeared on Buddhist Travelers

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