Almost all of us have limits to our love. If we didn’t, the world would be an entirely different place. And our experience as a human being would be very different too.
Is there a way to break through the limits of our love and learn to love fully? To nourish ourselves with love and then extend our love boundlessly so that it even embraces our enemies? Yes, there is.
Revenge is Sweet Poison
It’s not easy to love our enemies or even those that simply annoy us or get in our way. Recently, I encountered the limits of my own love.
I first heard about Osama Bin Laden’s death on my twitter stream. I found the 140-word celebrations disquieting. When they were questioned by other tweeters, even a blogging buddy insisted that it’s OK to celebrate the death of a mass murderer.
I believe revenge is sweet poison. It might taste deliriously delicious for a moment, but in the end it poisons your heart. Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t condone mass murder. I don’t believe that mass murderers should be allowed to run free.
Although killing may be unavoidable in some circumstances, celebration is always optional. It only adds to the ocean of hatred and strengthens your own harmful tendencies.
But as I took in the twitter stream of celebration, my fiery Leo nature wanted to jump into the argumentative fray. It’s this very urge to act on attachment and aggression that leads us astray. Yet our habitual tendencies are often so deeply embedded. It takes training to turn them around. I felt this pull to divide between us and them, to judge the celebrators, to draw away from celebrating friends.
So how can I judge anyone else when the same dualistic principles are firing on high speed within me?
You see, often we operate on automatic responding to entrained beliefs or rising emotions. We don’t necessarily take time to look at the logic of our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Are they really serving us well? Are they a help to all of humanity?
“Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Logic of Love
I’ve never encountered a great spiritual leader who celebrates violence. Have you? They always say, “love your enemies.” I’ve been the victim of a violent, life-threatening crime so I’ve had to think this advice through for myself. I don’t celebrate violence and these are the reasons why.
1. Killing doesn’t address the root cause of evil.
The seeds of evil lie within each of us. We only water the seeds of hatred in our own mind when we rejoice at someone’s death. Our celebratory thoughts, words, and actions stain our own mind and heart. They add another groove to whatever negative tendencies exist within our mind. When this type of thinking is repeated, the groove deepens. Gradually, it becomes easier and easier to get stuck in a groove of negativity and aggression, which only brings unhappiness our way.
2. When we rejoice at someone’s death, we teach the celebration of violence to our children.
While violence comes about for multiple reasons, it’s well know that children who live in harsh and violent families learn aggressive behaviors and typically repeat them as adults. The cycle of violence spins on giving birth to more and more brutality. Why did Osama Bin Laden hate his enemies so fiercely? How did he learn to hate?
Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong? – @KagyurRinpoche
3. We’re all interconnected.
When you harm others, it harms you. Sometimes we can see the impact immediately. Other times, the effect is delayed and the cause may not be so obvious. When we celebrate violence, we reinforce the dualistic notion of being separate from one another and being independently functioning entities. But nothing could be further from the truth. Just look around. Can you show me anyone that doesn’t depend on others and the environment for his or her existence?
“The effects of our positive and negative actions may not be immediately evident and identifiable; but nor do they just fade away. We will experience each one of them when the right conditions come together.”
- Patrul Rinpoche, The Words of My Perfect Teacher
4. Celebrating violence reinforces the notion that evil only exists outside of ourselves.
It supports the notion that killing someone else can eradicate evil. We’re like the Munchkins singing “Ding, Dong The Witch is Dead” and merrily dancing until her sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, bursts upon the scene.
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Strength to Love
When we regularly indulge in over-consumption, we ourselves are impacting the lives of others on this planet. When we unnecessarily indulge in air travel, we are contributing significantly to global warming and adversely impacting others. In fact, people are already dying from global warming.
Osama Bin Laden? 17,000 children die every day on Earth from preventable causes; why not make some noise about that? @raamdev
5. Celebrating someone’s death generates bad karma.
It’s bad news for you. Like a boomerang, negative actions bring suffering back to you. Yes, even celebrating killing brings a karmic result according to Eastern spiritual traditions.
“…you should know that the same karmic result comes to everyone involved [in killing], even anyone who just felt pleased about it…” – Patrul Rinpoche, The Words of My Perfect Teacher
“Do not take lightly small misdeeds,
Believing they can do not harm:
Even a tiny spark of fire
Can set alight a mountain of hay.”
- Buddha, The Sutra of the Wise and the Foolish
Killing is a complex question and I don’t profess to have all the answers. But celebration is always optional. There’s no need or benefit in adding to the ocean of revenge and hatred.
“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. “ – Jessica Dovey
To consider how our celebrations look to the rest of the world, please read A Traveler’s Perspective on the Death of Osama at Wandering Earl.
Exploding the Limits of Our Love
Even when we want to love, our habitual tendencies may be deeply entrenched. We often find ourselves reacting impulsively.
This is why it helps to understand the logic of love and compassion. When we understand that harming others actually harms us, it makes sense to be vigilant about our thoughts, words, and deeds. Once we make a mental shift, there’s a stronger foundation for actually training in love kindness.
The practice of Loving Kindness, sometimes referred to as metta, maitri, or simply as love depending upon the particular Buddhist tradition, is one way to train in loving kindness. It’s easy to learn and can be practice by anyone, whatever your tradition. The practice offers a progressive framework for gradually expanding our circle of love. It begins by cultivating loving-kindness towards oneself, then gradually widening the circle to include one’s loved ones, friends, teachers, strangers, enemies, and finally all sentient beings.
When I experienced the limits of my own love that night, thanks to my twitter friends, it impelled me to go beyond my impulsive reactions and open my heart further. I have a long way to go in my training in loving kindness, but I feel more strongly than ever that love is the answer. Mixed with wisdom.
I’ll be writing more about the practice of Loving Kindness in an upcoming post.
I invite you to read For Our World, a poem written on 9/11 by Mattie Stepanek when he was 11 years old. Even at his young age, he intuitively understood love and interdependence.
Do you have any thoughts to share about the power of love?
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