"He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,"--in those who harbor such thoughts hatred will never cease.
"He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,"--in those who do not harbor such thoughts hatred will cease.
For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love alone.
These lines are from the first chapter of the Dhammapada, one of the best known collections of teachings from the Theravadan Buddhist canon. A few thousand years later, they are still completely relevant and contemporary.
After my parents divorced, my mother met a man that triggered a lot of hatred within my teenage mind. He could be highly controlling and demanding at times. I still remember him lingering over my should as I washed dishes, waiting until I was finished so he could inspect for spots, and make me wash them again. I hated him then, and for years afterward, whenever his name came up in conversation, or his image came into my thoughts, a tirade of miserable commentary poured out.
I haven't fully broken through all of this, some fifteen years after I last saw him, but it's become so much clearer to me now, how almost everything I thought and said during those days and up until recently just added to my own misery, and those around me. In this way, he was a great teacher for me - someone I never want to see again, but who gave me the opportunity to experience a hatred deep enough to understand the damage hatred causes. None of my childhood "enemies" did this really; I never hated them hard enough or long enough to experience what I have as a result of my connection to this man my mother dated for several years.
Yesterday morning, a group of us met at the zen center for our monthly meeting. It's a kind of experiment, this group. A lay training group you might call it, although we have at least one member aspiring to become a zen priest in the future. Anyway, among other things, we had a discussion about various forms of self-hatred that seem commonplace in people living in the United States, and maybe many other places as well. The way I see it, "self-hatred" need not be just about the psychological; it's about anything you cut off or avoid in your life. Yes, there's no fixed, centralized "self" - however, most of the time, most of us are operating from a place of believing in one, so a concept like self-hatred is a useful construct, if nothing else.
During our meeting, I related how more than anything, what I try to cut out, deny, or downplay is things like the story above. Currently, I have an extreme dislike towards one of the directors at my workplace. I honestly don't respect her, nor desire to work with her in any capacity. In fact, after meeting with our education director for my annual review, I realized that while there are other issues I have with my workplace, much of my suffering is linked to the miserable relationship I have with that particular director.
Do I hate her? No. But I have felt ill will towards her plenty of times. And my response to this ill will arising and being expressed is usually to follow it up with some effort to soothe it, soften it, or think ill of myself for thinking so ill of her - anything but just experience the rawness of the dislike and lack of respect.
The thing about the Dhammapada quote above is that people often want to leap from one end to the other. Don't you think? Instead of doing the difficult work of experiencing the pain and roughness of what's present, we want to have that shit over with so we can go on appearing more and more bodhisattva-like in the world. It just doesn't work that way though.
This is why we have to do continuous practice. Not just sitting meditation, chanting, going to sangha events - but acting out our intention to be mindful with every step, knowing we won't be mindful at every step. Making the effort, and letting go of gaining any benefit from that effort. This is our way, and what working with teachings like the verses from the Dhammapada means.