Photography by Sias van Schalkwyk
“Monks, as low-down thieves might carve you limb from limb with a double-handed saw, yet even then whoever sets his mind at enmity, he, for this reason, is not a doer of my teaching. This is how you must train yourselves: neither will my mind become perverted, nor will I utter an evil speech, but kindly and compassionate will I dwell, with a mind of friendliness and devoid of hatred.” – Buddha, Majjhima Nikaya
“You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you; That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Jesus, Mark 5:44
Love My Enemies? Really?
The quotes above encompass an idea that is probably familiar to many, if not all of us, whether we are religious or not: love your enemies. It is a very noble concept, but one of the most difficult philosophies to follow.
In fact, I think many people, whether consciously or unconsciously, write it off immediately as something reserved for ‘pious,’ ‘enlightened,’ or even stupid people. And indeed, when looking at those passages out of context, the words almost seem to mock us.
It was for that reason that Jesus, Buddha, and countless other teachers emphasized a well-rounded spiritual practice. The words mean nothing if they are not examined through the lens of the core teachings. And what if the idea of organized religion, or ‘rules’ is something you really can’t get down with? Well, then it’s time to use that beautiful brain or yours (with a little help from mine).
Hatred is Heart Breaking
So what does ‘love your enemies’ really mean? Well, that depends on the person, but I like to think of it instead as ‘do not hate.’ Still, not an easy thing to do, but perhaps a bit more palatable because it makes it more about us, the individual, than about our enemies.
When you feel an incredibly deep love for another being, that love seems to course though your veins, warm your heart, and dizzy your brain. Hatred is no different. When you hate another person or thing, it does something to YOU.
Often, we have the delusion that by withholding forgiveness and filling our mind with hateful thoughts, we are exacting some sort of justice on the other. But the truth is that it takes the deepest toll on the one who hates. Even on those rare occasions when we let our hatred be heard, we hurt no one so much as ourselves.
When we hate, we have to sit with that anger, rage, fear, and indignity. It seeps into our being and pollutes our hearts and minds like a toxic black smoke that billows through a burning building. Hatred is heart-breaking.
Transforming Hatred into Something More Useful
Understanding how detrimental hatred can be is the first step to transforming that state of being into something more useful, because when we stop and really notice what it’s doing to us, we realize that we do not want to feel this way. As always, the key is presence or consciousness. By simply taking a step back and acknowledging that hatred, one brings his or herself into the present.
One quote I really like comes from the Dalai Lama: “You must not hate those who do wrong or harmful things; but with compassion, you must do what you can to stop them — for they are harming themselves, as well as those who suffer from their actions.”
He doesn’t say anything about love or passivity in the face of adversity. He speaks about action through compassion. That is conscious behavior; when you realize that those ‘wrong-doers’ are just other people full of hatred AND that by engaging in hatred, you too will bring harm to yourself and possibly others.
You see, it is not about waking up one day and saying “I will never hate again.” It is about acknowledging the very natural inclination to hate, and then stopping it in its tracks. True, it takes a conscious mind and the desire to change one’s habitual mental patterns of thought and action, but know that it is possible.
May you dwell in a place of compassion and understanding.
By Terence Stone
Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained (and training) actor and singer living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.