Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Loving those who harm us

(6.107) Just as if some treasure were suddenly to appear in my house
Without my making any effort to obtain it,
I should be delighted to have found an enemy
Who can help me practise the conduct that leads to enlightenment.

(6.108) Along with myself, my enemy is the cause of my practising patience.
Therefore, I should first dedicate
Whatever fruits arise from this practice
To the person who was a cause of it.

As Geshe-la says in Eight Steps to Happiness, others can be a treasure or a mara.  Either. It depends upon us.  He says if we practice Dharma in a skillful way, they can be priceless jewels.  Geshe-la says, “for a sincere Mahayana practitioner, just seeing other living beings, speaking with them, or even thinking about them is like finding buried treasure.” If someone criticizes us, then they can be a treasure, a precious treasure, increasing our inner wealth of patience, in this way helping us to make progress along a spiritual path.  So, when such a person turns up, we should be happy, not unhappy. I should be delighted to have found an enemy who can help me practice the conduct that leads to enlightenment.

But if our practice is mixed with the eight worldly concerns, they can become like maras. If someone praises us, they can be a mara, act and function like a mara because we allow them, the fault is within our own mind, we allow them to stimulate attachment or pride. We have created a mara for ourselves, obstructing spiritual development.

Shantideva really pushes us by saying we should in particular dedicate our merit from our practice of patience to the one who provokes our anger.  This is the opposite of how we normally think.  Normally, we want to retaliate and harm the other person back to teach them a lesson to not mess with us again.  Perhaps at best we don’t wish to harm them, but to actually be happy to reward them for harming us with our dedications seems quite radical.

Paulo Friere says “the oppressor is unfree when he oppresses.”  This is the mind of a bodhisattva.  From the point of view of the karma ripening, it is the oppressed who is being harmed.  But from the point of view of the karma being created, the oppressed is purifying their karma and the oppressor is creating the causes of future suffering.  Who is truly harmed and who is benefiting?  The mind of universal love wishes for all beings to enjoy happiness, including those who inflict the most harm.  In many ways, Hitler, Stalin and so forth are worse off than their victims because they now must spend aeons in hell working through their negative karma.  Who is in greater need of dedications if we truly love all beings equally?  Surely it is the person who does the most harm.  This is especially true when we consider the only reason why the person created the negative karma of harming us is because we still have not purified the negative karma on our mind which triggers others to harm us! 

Shantideva is encouraging us to not only practice patience, but as an act of love give away our merit we accumulated from practicing patience to the one who harmed us.  Not only is the person who harmed us more in need of our dedications, but our responding to harm with love is how we purify our toxic relationship with the other person.  Geshe-la famously said, “love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies.”  Not only conventionally does a loving response change the dynamic in our relationship with the person who is harming us, it also fundamentally purifies the karma between us and the other person.  Gen Tharchin says we should view each person as our future disciple who it is our responsibility to lead to enlightenment.  We have a close karmic connection to the person who is harming us and it is our responsibility to eventually lead them to enlightenment.  Why make that task  harder by poisoning our relationship with them by retaliating when instead we can begin a relationship of love with them?

An objection may arise that if we reward the person who harms us with love, then aren’t we encouraging – indeed enabling – them to harm us again in the future?  This is why we need to love with wisdom.  We don’t give the person who harmed us what they wanted to obtain by harming us, because yes, that would encourage them to harm us again (unless of course we were unjustly depriving them of whatever they wanted, at which point giving it to them would be entirely appropriate).  There is nothing about loving others that means we need to become objects of abuse.  Quite the opposite, actually.  If we do love them, we will cease cooperating with their abuse because we want to protect them from creating negative karma.  So externally, making them stop if we can or separating ourself from them if we can’t is an act of love.  But internally, we need not hold back at all.  We can wholeheartedly give all our merit and all our prayers to the person.

2 thoughts on “Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Loving those who harm us

  1. Can you explain this? “ This is especially true when we consider the only reason why the person created the negative karma of harming us is because we still have not purified the negative karma on our mind which triggers others to harm us!“

    I must be misunderstanding this, but are you saying that we are responsible for people harming us? This doesn’t sound right. Rather, isn’t it our reactions to their harm, even labeling their actions as “harmful” which is the issue?

    If others who harm us are our teachers then aren’t they helping us not harming us by giving us the gift of opportunity to purify our karma and react in ways that help both of us?

    I don’t think you mean the person is motivated solely by our need to purify our minds and this is why they hurt us.

    • Others would not harm us if we didn’t have the karma to be harmed. Our karma to be harmed meets their karma to harm, and the two together cause them to harm us. If we did not have the karma to be harmed, then their tendency to harm wouldn’t meet anything, and thus not be activated (by us, at least). In this way, we are at least in part responsible for them harming us and our purifying our negative karma will protect them from creating more negative karma towards us.

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