Sometimes when people hurt us or have different views than us, we think would should attack. We think we have to stop or change them–either physically or verbally–before they can hurt us more. Many of us approach conflict in this way, both in their personal lives and in their political lives.
But I was visiting a friend in Hudson, New York and we went to a talk by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher. His name was Chamtrul Rimpoche Lobsang Gyatsu. I didn’t really know anything about him but my ears pricked up when he said something like this:
If someone hurts you, what is the point of attacking their weapon? The weapon did not decide to hurt you. The weapon is not your enemy.
Or their body, what is the point of attacking their body? Their arms and legs did not decide to hurt you. Their body is not your enemy.
You could attack their mind, but our minds are all the same. Clear and empty and simply perceiving and reflecting everything that happens. Their mind is not your enemy.
No person is your enemy. If you have an enemy, it is the misunderstanding, the extreme desire and the anger that caused the mind and body to behave as it did. Misunderstanding, extreme desire and anger are our only enemies.
So if we want to stop the conflict, how can we reduce misunderstanding, extreme desire and anger?
In conflict, my own tendency might be to attack. It could be attacking just by telling the other person they are wrong. But when I tell them they are wrong, in an attempt to get them to behave differently. But often, they get more angry and they attack back.
Even if I were to kill my “enemies,” then what would be left behind is more misunderstanding, extreme desire and anger in their families and friends and those feelings would be pointed at me and the world.
As an example, on the same day that my friend and I went to hear the Rimpoche, we went for a walk in New York’s Columbia County down a quiet road and a suspicious farmer came out of his house to ask us who we were. He was rude and aggressive.
But his tongue that said the words was not my enemy. His body was not my enemy. His mind was not the enemy. Even the farmer himself was not my enemy. It was only fear and anger which brought us into conflict.
Luckily, I was centered and calm and I talked to him gently. I didn’t argue with him or tell him we had every right to be there. I just reassured him that we were not a danger.
When his fear and anger were gone, he became less aggressive and more peaceful. Thus, if I had attacked him verbally, I would have attacked the wrong thing. It was his fear and anger that needed addressing.
How much is this so in all my personal conflicts? How much is this so even in the conflicts in the society in which I live?
Is there really any single weapon, any single body, any single mind that I can attack with the result that I will get hurt less? Won’t all of that just end up with more misunderstanding, extreme desire and anger pointed at me and others?
What if to end conflict really means doing what is necessary to end misunderstanding, extreme desire and anger in ourselves and others? How might we approach conflict differently if we treated misunderstanding, extreme desire and anger as the thing we needed to target?
Let me know what you think.
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