The Need for Enemies

Previously we talked about the Christian concept of loving one’s enemies.
The Buddhist perspective from the teachings of the Dalai Lama also shows the requirement of enemies.  Without an enemy we can not practice the depths of patience and tolerance that is required to grow spiritually.


In his work “How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life,” the Dalai Lama goes over the basic principals of Buddhism in chapters 2-4.  From the Buddhist perspective this physical appearance of life is not final – it is the spiritual life that is really true.  By adhering to the physical world we become afflicted with suffering: everything you want ends, and everything you don’t want exists.  Based upon our past actions, we reap future realities.  Therefore by adhering to a form of ethics (morality) we can change our future.
One of the great practices is that of tolerance.  By growing patience and tolerance, one moves outside the reactionary mind of anger and hate.  This reactionary mind of anger and hatred creates horrible ends for us.  It is the source of much of our suffering.  The “evil” we see in our neighborhood, the world, within the family or in corporations – is a reflection of our past action that we have either thought or acted out.
But by changing our thoughts and actions, so that we express love and compassion – with the help of great patience, we become anew.  Our lives will appear to be blessed or have changes, or we will simply not be affected as much by what goes on around us.


On page 75 of “How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life,” the Dalia Lama writes:

Real compassion extends to each and every sentient being, not just to friends or family or those in terrible situations.  To develop the practice of compassion to its fullest extent, one must practice patience.  Shantideva tells us that if the practice of patience really moves your mind and brings about a change, you will begin to see your enemies as the best of friends, even as spiritual guides.
Enemies provide us some of the best opportunities to practice patience, tolerance, and compassion.  Shantideva gives us many marvelous examples of this in the form of dialogues between positive and negative aspects of one’s own mind…”

Shantideva was an Indian Buddhist master, who wrote a work titled “A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life” around 700 A.D.  This is a classic work that is much revered in many Buddhist schools.
The Dalai Lama continues on here to interpret and translate a portion of Shantideva’s work:

For a practitioner of love and compassion , an enemy is one of the most important teachers.  Without an enemy you cannot practice tolerance, and without tolerance you cannot build a sound basis of compassion.  So in order to practice compassion, you should have an enemy.
When you face your enemy who is going to hurt you, that is the real time to practice tolerance.  Therefore, an enemy is the cause of the practice of tolerance; tolerance is the effect or result of an enemy.  So those are cause and effect.  As is said, ‘Once something has the relationship of arising from that thing, one cannot consider that thing from which it arises as a harmer; rather it assists the production of the effect.’

Can it Be Done?

Simply to tell us that we should cherish the enemies can leave us with a bigger question – can this even be done?  As human beings, are we capable of this behavior?
There are many examples of this behavior (compassion and tolerance in the face of violence and adversity) throughout history and across various cultures and religions.
In the work I’ve quoted, the author discusses some of their own challenges and people they have met along the path who have practiced this.  In other religions, such as Christianity, there have been times of suffering where the Christian community (notably pre-Constantine) followed the teachings of Jesus (loving their enemies) in the face of hardship.
Yes, it can be done and deep down we know this to be true.


Many people today (especially in Western cultures) suggest that anger is a “good” thing and not to be dismantled.  Psychiatrists, therapists, the religious of today – all embrace anger.  They may say, “Well it’s really bad to hold your anger in,” to which any Buddhist will agree.  It’s not good to simply hide one’s anger.  But releasing one’s anger is the equal opposite wrong.
Your thoughts are powerful… intent is what drives the magic of mystical work.  To hate someone while you punch a punching bag, or to desire suffering on another group while you lift weights – these are not healthy from a spiritual point of view.  The very thoughts create violence within you – which ultimately creates violence outside of you.
The Buddhist response to anger is not to hold it in and hide it – nor is it to express it in a “healthy” way.  Rather the Buddhist response is to acknowledge it and once found, one’s anger is transformed into compassion.  This is the practice of many Buddhist scriptures on meditation.
One doesn’t need be a Buddhist to see the benefit of transforming anger.  We have all seen the one who is hurt and lashes out.  We understand their anger, we may feel it too. They were wronged.  We were wronged. It hurt and we respond.  It is “natural” in a way.  But the idea of cause and effect explains a deeper meaning here – if you are angry and hateful, you will create more of the same problems in your life.
When I was younger and studied under a Buddhist lama, he chastised his students who were supporting an anti-war movement with violent images.   Many at that time where holding images of the American President hung in effigy.  They would go on the corners and scream with pure rage about an unjust war.
War is wrong, but the anger and hate they were embracing was not counter war, but pro war.  By their own mental space, they were creating the next war they would detest.
That’s the nature of spirituality – this world is not hard, but fluid and a product of your own mind and intent.

The Enemy

Which is where we come back to center, considering our enemies.
I was very angry with Donald Trump.  I would hear him talk and see the comments from his supporters and I would get even more angry.  I would challenge and revile such people for their arrogance and hate.
Then I realized, I had fallen away from the central theme of spirituality – to love all, even one’s enemy.  By loving them and having compassion on them, we loose them as enemies.  This touches upon the mystical aspect of transformation and emptiness.  But it is true. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.  Our situations we detest are karmic and are broken only when we spiritually relate to the problem at hand.
So let us love our enemies and pray for them. Let us care for them and have patience no matter what they say.

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