Summary: Love Your Enemies By Sharon Salzberg
Summary: Love Your Enemies By Sharon Salzberg

Summary: Love Your Enemies By Sharon Salzberg

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.

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.

Crushing the Competition

Competition is natural, a part of the human arsenal for survival, but when it creates enmity, we need to question its power in our lives. This is where sympathetic joy—joy in the happiness of others—comes in. If we’re in a competitive frame of mind, when something good happens to someone else, we think it somehow diminishes us. It doesn’t really, of course, but being consumed with jealousy and envy clouds our judgment. Even when we’re not in the running, extreme competitiveness makes us feel as if we were.

However, if we approach other people’s successes with an attitude of sympathetic joy, we can genuinely and wholeheartedly receive happiness from their good fortune. Instead of running an internal monologue that goes something like, Oh no, you got that, but it was meant for me! It should be mine, and you took it away, we can accept that the prize was never ours and rejoice in the other person’s success. If we approach life from a place of scarcity, a mind-set that emphasizes what we lack instead of what we have, then anyone who has something we want becomes the enemy. But when we can rejoice in other people’s happiness, we realize that joy and fulfillment are not finite quantities we have to grab while we can. They are always available because they are internal qualities that flow naturally if we allow them to.

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.


Victory over the Inner Enemy

Anger is like a powerful addiction. We’re addicted to anger as a state of being and a way of acting in the world. But if we are to have any peace, we must recognize hatred and anger as potentially lethal compulsions that we have to kick. Like any addict, we have to realize the full power of these mental impulses in order to truly resolve to free ourselves from them.

Anger and hatred want their victim to feel pain and suffering, while love and compassion want their beloved to feel joy and happiness. The ultimate opposite of anger is love, the fervent wish for others to be happy. But at the inner-enemy stage, when we’re still learning to manage our addiction to anger, aiming for love pushes us too far. It is unrealistic to expect to immediately switch from anger and hate to compassion and love. Patience is the middle ground, the place of tolerance, forbearance, and in time, forgiveness.

We might still be irritated when we are harmed (or think we are harmed), but we will not lose ourselves to anger so long as we can tolerate the irritation, be patient with the harm and the harmer, refrain from reacting vengefully, and maybe even forgive the injury. Patience is the antidote to anger, and love can freely arise on the basis of patience as the ultimate opposite of hate. So, to deal with the inner enemy, our positive resolve is to cultivate patience.


Patience doesn’t, as we commonly assume, mean dull endurance but rather holding a much bigger picture of life. Patience involves recognizing how we can carry on—even flourish—through ups and downs, twists and turns, triumphs and tragedies.

Cultivating patience doesn’t imply becoming apathetic or succumbing to feelings of powerlessness. Instead, we remember the simple truth of our lack of sovereignty over unfolding events. Patience is peaceful awareness in the midst of weathering life’s storms, giving us the ability to go on in the face of adversity.

In Buddhist teaching this quality is likened to equanimity. Equanimity isn’t about not caring about what does or doesn’t happen to us or to others. Of course, we care. Rather, equanimity, as the voice of wisdom, simply reminds us that life is a series of highs and lows over which we have little control. We can and should do everything we can to ease suffering and foster happiness in others. But in the end, the universe is not ours to manage. And even as change unfolds, the pace of it might not match our timetable. Acknowledging this brings insight to our compassion, and realism and sustainability to our efforts to make a difference in the world.


Victory over the Secret Enemy

But is this inner freedom that we now enjoy complete? Are we sure that we can keep our cool at all times? If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that there are depths in our psyches that are beyond our mindful observation. Whatever is inaccessible to our conscious awareness is, in a very real sense, a secret we keep from ourselves. This is the secret enemy. We cannot be completely firm in our ability to control the inner enemy without uncovering the secret enemy and unlocking its secrets, bringing to consciousness what we were previously unaware of.

The secret enemy is an inner pattern that is deeply entwined with what Buddhist psychology calls the “self-habit,” identified as the deepest root of desire, anger, and delusion. Built on the foundation of the identity habit, the secret enemy is the inner voice of self-preoccupation—“What about me? How am I doing? What am I getting out of it? What do I have? How do they see me? How will they serve me?”

Hidden from our conscious mind by taking over our conscious mind, the secret enemy lives in the shadows, keeping itself secret from us by appearing to us as our very self.

Self-Preoccupation or Loving Oneself

Self-preoccupation is not the same thing as loving oneself. Self-preoccupation is the antithesis of what the Dalai Lama means when he says that he has never met anyone he would consider a stranger. When we are fixated on ourselves—which usually means being fixated on what we think is missing in ourselves or our lives—existence itself becomes our adversary.

Instead of connecting with others, we hardly hear them above the din of our internal monologue: What do they think about me? Do they like me? Do they like me more than they’ve ever liked anyone they’ve met before? Oh no, they hate me. I said something stupid. This is bad. Locked inside this self-reflecting chamber, we cannot give, receive, or connect. Instead, our attention is focused on bolstering our own wobbly self-image and assuaging bleak feelings of emptiness.

When we genuinely connect with the world within us and around us, this burden is lifted. That is why it’s so important to confront the many voices of the saboteurs, naysayers, and critics residing within our own minds if we hope not to make an enemy of others. Self-obsession breeds anger and contempt in others, inevitably leading to conflict.

11th-century Buddhist teacher and poet, master Dharmarakshita left us a vivid record of his own battle with the secret enemy in his masterwork in Tibetan, Lojong Tsoncha Khorlo, which translates as The Blade Wheel of Mind Reform.

Dharmarakshita identified four basic steps to victory over the secret enemy. (1) The first challenge is finding the secret enemy, the constant self-preoccupation that is based on the self-identity complex as both instinct and habit. (2) Once we find it, we need to observe it and, with penetrating focus, mindfully experience how it works within us, at both the level of habit and the level unconscious instinct. (3) Becoming conscious of the secret enemy does not immediately rid us of its ill effects, however. It takes time to flush it out and erode it—to correct our misperception with wisdom, and cultivate self-preoccupation’s antidote, other-preoccupation. (4) And finally, we have to deepen our critical understanding of the secret enemy by means of meditative concentration, to go deep enough to uproot the underlying instinctual pattern, reach the welling bliss of inner freedom, and seal our release from the secret enemy.