Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Venerating our enemies

(6.109) “But your enemy has no intention to help you practice patience,
So why should you venerate him?”
Then why venerate the holy Dharma
As a way of practising virtue?

(6.110) “Surely you should not venerate an enemy
Who harbours the intention to cause you harm.”
But if everyone was like a doctor striving to help me,
When would I ever practise patience?

(6.111) Thus, because the practice of patience occurs
In dependence upon those with hateful minds,
Such people should be venerated just like the holy Dharma
Because they are causes of the practice of patience.

Outrageous! Shantideva is so outrageous.  If we appreciate or value the Buddhadharma, then we should appreciate or value those who bring us problems and suffering because in dependence upon them, Dharma realizations develop in our mind.  We should appreciate and value those with hateful minds towards us. We should venerate them in the same way that we venerate the holy Dharma.  It does not matter that they have no intention to help. After all, neither does the Dharma. That doesn’t matter. Because we still benefit.  What matters, actually, is that they have the intention to harm. That’s important! Because it is then that I must really train in patience.  Those people I must venerate, just like I venerate the holy Dharma, because the practice of patience occurs in dependence upon those with hateful minds.

Now some verses encouraging us to venerate living beings just as we venerate holy beings:

(6.112) Buddha says that the field of living beings
Is like the field of enlightened beings,
For there are many practitioners who, through pleasing living beings,
Have attained the state of perfection, Buddhahood.

(6.113) Since living beings and enlightened beings are alike
In that the qualities of a Buddha arise in dependence upon them,
Why do we not show the same respect to living beings
As we do to the enlightened beings?

How can we understand this?  Enlightened beings give us the opportunity to engage in spiritual practice, spiritual practice leading to liberation, to enlightenment. How kind. Enlightened beings such as our spiritual guide are kind in giving us such an opportunity to follow the spiritual path leading to freedom, to happiness.  How are living beings any different in this sense? They also give us the opportunity, in just the same way they give us the opportunity to follow the path, spiritual path, to liberation and enlightenment. They give us freedom and happiness.  Therefore, it is entirely appropriate to respect them exactly as we would the enlightened beings.

Additionally, even from a worldly point of view, it makes sense to respond to harm with respect.  If we retaliate against others, then the cycle of retaliation will continue without end and the other person will continue to bother us in the future.  Even if we don’t externally retaliate and neither do they, we will wind up having ill feelings in our heart every time we think of or see the other person.  We are just torturing ourself.  Even from a worldly perspective of wanting pleasant relationships, it is better to heal our negative, dysfunctional relationships.  Treating the other person with respect, and trying to understand things from their perspective is the best way of doing so.

Ghandi showed how it is possible to use peaceful non-violent, non-cooperation and a willingness to accept suffering to not only gain independence, but earn the respect of the colonizer in the process.  If such methods can be used to defeat the most powerful empire in history, then surely it will be enough to heal our relationship with our loved ones or difficult work colleagues.

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