Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Buddhist Liberation from Hatred

Photo credit: chelle from

"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.

It took a dream I had a few months ago to finally break free of any lingering rage and hatred I had towards this man. Some fifteen years after I last saw him. He came to me in the dream seeking to hear my side of the story. Of the suffering I had experienced. And so I told him what I could, while we wound around the city in different forms of transit, until I suddenly woke up and immediately realized something had shifted completely.

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; nor anyone else since.

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. Making the effort, and letting go of gaining any benefit from that effort. This is the way, and what working with teachings like the verses from the Dhammapada is all about.


Anonymous said...

Brother Nathan,

I know more of your situation than pehaps you realize. My stepmother had a borderline personality all through my childhood and later in life became completely psychotic. Your story of hovering over the dishes is identical to my experience and while I won't bore anyone with the details, my childhood was so bad I nearly killed myself at 17, when instead I opted to move out and stake out on my own -- a decision that would lead to major spiritual breakthroughs in this lifetime.

However, the hatred I carried with me for a long time. Over the years she managed to alienate everyone around her so that when she finally was on death's door -- suffering from disease, intubated and unable to move or speak -- I was the only one who was willing to care for her except some distant cousins who were also estranged but had been led to believe they would get some money. When they found out this was not the case, they withdrew, and I was basically alone with her in her dying moments.

I would like to express that nothing could ever really repair the harm she caused, but I realized as did you that carrying our hatred forever merely perpetuates the cycle of suffering and produces no relief. I prayed with her, held her hand, spent some time with her quietly, cried with her, and though she should not speak or even write more than a word or two, she tried to apologize: for what I don't really know. But I accepted, for her sake really.

I didn't love her ever and I did not love her then, but I did feel it was important to leave as much of this behind us in this life, and not carry it forward into the next. She needed someone, and I was, for better or worse, that person. I still from time to time feel residues of pain or anger, but they are all but gone.

When she died, I did not weep. I did not celebrate. But I could recognize that something important had happened between us before she died that liberated me, and I hope, also her. In a way I was honored to be the one to remind her of her humanity, and to be kind to her even though she had been so cruel.

I don't think there is a lesson in this, but I do feel these things are for a reason, a karmic reason, and I applaud your courage and commitment to living a life free of the defilement of hatred. I'd like to tell you my name, but I'd rather not. But don't doubt for a minute that there is someone who understands, and honors your progress in this life, and your courage and generosity in sharing this important message with the world.

Bob said...

A thoughtful post, Thanks! One comment: adding "Buddhist" to it is something "extra", don't you think? In other words, there need not be anything especially sectarian about liberation from the poison of hate, nor need one be affiliated with some particular human religion to recognize that hate is a poison.


Nathan said...

Thank you for your offering Anonymous. It takes a hell of a lot of strength to step forth and care for someone at the end of their life that harmed you.

"I would like to express that nothing could ever really repair the harm she caused, but I realized as did you that carrying our hatred forever merely perpetuates the cycle of suffering and produces no relief." Yes, this is so important. I think there's a lot of confusion around this experience, as if letting go means that everything is instantly healed. Or that if you forgive someone in some manner, that it erases or minimizes what they did in the past. I know in my own case, neither of those are true. And I'd guess the same goes for you.

It seems to me that part of the reason people cling to hatred for so long is that they believe if they give up the feeling, it somehow invalidates the suffering they went through. Also, that in continuing to suffer in some manner through hating the other person, that "now" suffering keeps the past suffering "real" and "alive." I noticed over the years in conversations with other family members that I almost enjoyed ripping into the man. That it was some sort of odd form of justice for me. Re-feeling that rage and expressing a little bit of it.

Nathan said...

"One comment: adding "Buddhist" to it is something "extra", don't you think?"

I hear ya Bob. Over the years of blogging, I've learned that the more specific and clear your titles are, the better the readership. I see a considerable down tick in readers whenever I have really general titles, regardless of the quality of the writing. In fact, I have sometimes re-offered the same post with a different title and seen dramatically different results.

I've also had shoddily written posts get lots of attention and comments just because the title was provocative, or contained key words that caught peoples' eyes. It's a tricky balance, trying to title posts so that your audience will come, and being overly provocative just to get attention. I do want folks to read my posts, but I don't want attention just for the sake of attention.

I definitely agree with you that liberation from hatred can come in numerous forms. That it's not about Buddhism being better or something of the like. At the same time, my main spiritual practice is Buddhist in form. I can hear my poetry teachers telling me "it's in the details" that a great poem comes. Poetry or prose, to me that's true. So, unlike some posts I write where I just insert a key word like "Zen" in to spice up the title, with this one, the title feels pretty accurate actually.

Bob said...

Hehe, I understand and sympathize, Nathan. What really gets them flocking to a post is when you combine "Sex" with "Zen" in the title, as I found out with a blog entry I penned back during the Sasaki Roshi uproar. That one post still garners the most hits by far, even though it was not one of my better efforts. Humans are funny, aren't we! :-)


Nathan said...

No doubt Bob. Everything I've written about Zen teacher scandals has been a huge hit. One post about Genpo Roshi still gets comments 2 years later. Humans are definitely a trip!

Anonymous said...

"It takes a hell of a lot of strength to step forth and care for someone at the end of their life that harmed you."

At some level, I suppose so, but to be perfectly honest it didn't feel that way. It felt a little awkward because so many years had gone by, and of course, the situation was that she was in extremis and without dignity, even fighting with her nurses and hating them. So anyone by comparison would feel strong. The decision to abandon my hurt and simply have compassion did not seem forced or unnatural, or that I deserve a pat on the back or anything for being kind. Really the main beneficiary of this was myself because I was able to put aside hatred, to see there was little point in it anymore. I'm not particularly proud of it; it was not a very pleasant thing, and I would not look forward to repeating it.

I absolutely do not minimize the harm: it goes on in my present day, affects the way I see the world and causes problems in how I interact with people. For a while, even as an adult, I was so angry I had panic attacks, and still end up being more reactive than I would.

But the forgiveness is a way to start over, to put aside the burden of hatred, of pouring acid on our hearts. At some point she was an infant, helpless, innocent, new to the world, and something happened to her too, I suppose, that led to living an evil life. By some miracle I escaped that path and ended up in a better place. I feel like it was important that it happened; in caring for her in her last days, I was able to care for myself in a new way.

Oddly enough when we hate someone, we hope to protect ourselves, but it merely brings more harm upon our minds in subtle ways. It brings no end to it. Letting it go is to free ourselves. It will never really be ok, I think. But having suffered this made me kinder, more tolerant, more willing to forgive. These are blessings. It depends on how we look at it. Ultimately when we hurt or help another being, it is the same as hurting or helping ourselves.

Bob said...

"Ultimately when we hurt or help another being, it is the same as hurting or helping ourselves."

If there was one thing we are here to realize, that be it!

Thanks, and Blessings!

Nathan said...

"Letting it go is to free ourselves."

This. As well as the line Bob pulled out. Interdependence, which points back to each of us, since there's no separation anyway.

I think that the strength I'm speaking about is much more subtle than what we tend to think of as strength. When people learn about some of my personal history - the difficulties I've faced - they have said similar things. But I've mostly felt similar to what you expressed. That it isn't heroic or dramatic or particularly strong in a gross kind of way.

But there's something that I, and maybe you, tapped into that others sometimes don't. Or can't, for whatever reason.

I tend to think it takes effort and some persistent willingness to keep facing what you'd rather not. "Inner strength" feels like a clunky term, but it's the best I can come up with right now.

Anonymous said...

If anyone is still reading this or cares anything about the exchange of views here, I ask one thing from my heart.

Look deeply now into your mind and find any and all hatred, resentment, bitterness, anger or grudge against any person for anything they have done, at any time of your life, friend, foe, husband, wife, family, neighbor, coworker, stranger.

If you find such a feeling, no matter how sharp or subtle, recent or long ago, please, take the opportunity now, for your sake, see it for what it is, let it go and be free...

Nathan said...

Thank you for that.