Thursday, April 21, 2005

Love your enemies

"Truth is born into this world only with pangs and tribulations, and every fresh truth is received unwillingly."
--Alfred Russel Wallace

In the events people in the Western news are focusing on today we have: a civilian plain shot down near Baghdad, Spain supports a gay marriage bill, and an ancient Necropolis has been found in Egypt. In slightly less mainstream press, the popular Buddhist-centric blog Paper Frog published some generous comments about Peaceful Turmoil. They were much appreciated. Congratulations to that site for being among the select religiously-themed blogs chosen to be in Beliefnet's Blog Heaven.

At this moment it is overcast outside my window with ocassional light rain. One of my larger dogs is barking at something in the back yard. I'm listening to BBC news online. What are you doing at this very moment?

I was reading over a discussion I had last year in a web-based forum regarding the idea of the so-called golden rule and the theme of equanimity, loving-kindness, sympathetic joy, and compassion. I think it's a common point of many religions as well as some non-religious humanistic philosophies as well as a maligned one. Many are familiar with the following:

Luke 6:

27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.
30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Without delving into comparative Biblical apologetics, it has long been recognized that there are distinctly different views of humans and the divine in the sacred texts collected into what we know as the modern Bible. Nor is this exhortation without a similar counterpart in what Christians refer to as the "Old Testament":

Micah 6:

6 With what shall I approach the Lord, Do homage to God on high? Shall I approach him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old?
7 Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, With myriads of streams of oils? Shall I give my first born for my transgression, The fruit of my body for my sins?
8 He has told you, O man, what is good, And what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice And to love goodness, And to walk modestly with your God

It is rather easy to point to a prominent Christian or Christian group preaching hate and violence and pass judgement with malice toward the person and derision towards their faith. It is much harder to recognize the suffering caused by greed, anger, and ignorance and forego the cheap shot regarding their religion.

Ironically, I was asked why I would have any use for such a belief without the reward of eternal paradise or the threat of eternal damnation. I happen to have saved my answer for future deliberation (who knows, I tend to think, I might be curious myself one day why I embraced a particular point of view):

First, just because someone considers you an enemy does not mean you have to hate them or attack them in return. Second, just because you practice compassion does not mean you don't stand up to thugs and bullies in some way. Third, having love or compassion for someone doesn't mean just letting them get away with whatever they want. There is nothing inconsistent with maintaining social order through a justice system (or global order through international forces) and profoundly respecting all human beings.

As far as the reaction toward a slight or insult goes, that is a part of practice. I am not a Christian, but I am a humanist who practices Buddhism. Just because your first instinct is to get angry does not mean you have to strike out verbally or physically. With practice, you still get upset but you find you don't fly off the handle or stay upset as long. It isn't an easy practice, nor does it mean you will never slip up, but it is certainly valuable. There are many ways to see the value of this kind of attitude (at least I have found the following things to be valuable).

For one thing, it allows you (the generic 'you' of course) to separate out basic human worth from any past actions, political or religious affiliation, etc. This helps you focus more on the cause of violence and hatred rather than chalking it up to 'him/her/those sort of people'. Second, it helps free you from the cycle of antagonism. Third, it helps you to liberate your own peace of mind/happiness from the actions of others. Fourth, less negative stress means better health. In my humble opinion, such a practice should make you stronger and give you more courage to face people who are less than friendly. It is not the same as simply becoming a doormat.

And this is (I hope) a good explanation for anyone regardless of their beliefs. From the perspective of Buddhist teachings we can additional reasons having to do with karma (cause and effect) , interdependence, and the like, but I think it's important that such important lessons, "Love your enemies" and "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you", transcend any one moral philosophy or sacred tradition.

What do you think of these teachings? How do they fit in with your beliefs?

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