Buddha: “Our Enemies are our Greatest Teachers.”

Via Waylon Lewis
on May 25, 2010
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Here’s a Spiritual Value for us:

The difficult Keep your Friends close, + your Enemies Closer Principle.

In an increasingly polarized partisan atmosphere, Agreeing to Disagree—with Respect is vital to our democracy.

These days, even bleeding-heart liberals are filled with hatred for the Palins and Rushes of the world.

This post is inspired by a little blog I put together today about the Harvard Business Review’s “The Dark Side of Social Media,” which discussed how Sarah Palin was adept at using the sound-bite, 140-character culture that social media embodies to insult and denigrate, not just build and inspire.

But a funny-thing happened on the way to the forum: I titled the article rather blandly: Sarah Palin: Mistress of Social Media, by way of discussing her prowess on Facebook and Twitter and discussing how technology, like any tool, can be used to unify and uplift, or divide and conquer.

On our Facebook Page, within an hour, there were 15 comments (there are now twice that) saying things like “I can’t stomach anything about that woman, not one word out of her ignorant way below average intelligence racist mouth….just sayin’!!! what!!?? Wait why is she on Elephant Journal ??? Nooooo! , say it ain’t so, I hate seeing her face…”

Which is understandable.

I, personally, am no fan of Sarah Palin’s—though I am a fan, literally, of her Facebook Page (it’s useful by way of keeping track of what she’s up to). I do regard her as a force to be reckoned with—a generally skilled manipulator of “the common man.”

The reaction to my blog reminded me that, more and more, it’s difficult for all of us (myself very much included) to listen to “the enemy.” Why, a few months back, I tried watching Fox for a few minutes—it was painful. I literally had to turn it off. It was like sitting down with Iago for a pleasant conversation about Othello and his lady—everything was subtly twisted, and venemous.

But in his recent Commencement speech in Michigan, President Barack Obama urged all of us, on both sides of the aisle, to stop listening to those we already agree with. To stop nodding and preaching to our own choirs. To mingle:

“If you’re someone who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in awhile,” he said. “If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post Web site.” Mr. Obama has followed his own advice, a White House spokesman said afterward, and tunes in to his critics on the cable television channels, particularly when he has time during travel on Air Force One.

“It may make your blood boil,” the president said. “Your mind may not often be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.” …for the rest, click over to the NY Times.

A few years back, I had the honor of interviewing then-Representative, now-Senator Mark Udall. I’ve always been inspired, as I was again that day, by his “agree to disagree” philosophy. He said, that said, “I can get much more done for my causes if I have a history of respect and working with my opponents. They’re good people. We can agree to disagree.” I’m paraphrasing—you can read the conversation here.

And that’s the kind of country I want to live in, and help protect, and see my future children grow up in and be inspired by. The more we mix and mingle and get to know one another, the harder it will be to hate one another. Hate is not a virtue. Respectful disagreement, on the other hand, I’m all for. And that’s how I feel about Gov. Palin.

Atisha, the great Indian Buddhist teacher who helped bring Dharma to Tibet, is the star of a famous story about the Enemy Principle.

He’d heard lots of good things about the Tibetans: how they were sweet, mild, gentle, peaceful. Since he was going there for a long time, traveling around teaching, he brought along a “tea boy” with a horrible, vicious, divisive personality.

Asked why, he replied that he needed some obstacles, some enemy, to work with. Otherwise his Dharma path might not progress, things might be too smooth and easy and tractionless. Our enemies are our greatest teachers, he said. They’re the ones who expose our lack of patience and compassion, and inspire us to work harder to become truly gentle warriors for peace. Again, I’m paraphrasing—story is here.

So, our enemies are our greatest teachers. I’ll try and watch a little Fox News. Climate Change deniers, try to go a week without calling Obama socialist?

It’s a deal.

Jon Stewart says MSNBC = Fox:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
MSNBC Replaces Fox News
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


26 Responses to “Buddha: “Our Enemies are our Greatest Teachers.””

  1. Panchenlama says:

    I accept Sidharta Gautama, The Buddha, The Tathagata.

    I refuse Devadatta, the great enemy of Buddha.

    I refuse Mara, the greatest enemy of Buddha.

    I accept Sidharta Gautama, The Buddha, The Tathagata.

  2. dralaterdzo says:

    while I totally agree with what you say, there is a point where we move from listening and compassion to idiot compassion. I work with homeless and street involved youth and listen every day to the comments of “let them rot, throw them in jail, NIMBY, they choose to be there, lazy useless bums“, the list goes on. There is much to do to educate and to let go and trust the basic goodness in others will abound. And then there is Sarah Palin and the Fox shows. That is the point beyond where self exposure becomes unhealthy in the same way as exposing oneself to Typhoid infected water is unhealthy. Yes, I know that means I have much more to let go of and learn, but instead of drinking the poison energy and sickness of these people, I choose to dig a well for clean water for all. Maybe when I share the cold, clear well water with the Palin`s of the world, goodness will enter and grow. Seems like a healthy compassion for all.

  3. Amen. There were many times when Chogyam Trungpa or any great Buddhist teacher would cut others off, and sort of stamp or pop their neuroses.

  4. Sarah says:

    I agree with all of the above mentioned and as Waylon writes in his article, "the more we mix and mingle and get to know one another, the harder it will be to hate one another. Hate is not a virtue"… Having said that, I for one believe that whatever we put our attention on will grow stronger in our life… and I for one rather put my focus and energy on the positive contributors to our world than the opposite…

    Thanks 🙂

  5. Padma Kadag says:

    "An enemy repaying your good with bad makes you progress in your practice.
    His unjust accusations are a whip that steers you toward virtue.
    He's the teacher who destroys all your attachment and desires.
    Look at his great kindness that you never can repay!"
    –Jigme Lingpa

  6. Greg says:

    In the end, the problem we face is the effect of the karmic illusions we accept as reality.

    The world is awash in the re-enactment of past karma. The real enemy, always close, is the monkey mind that causes us to leap about screaming at the top of our lungs at the dangers we perceive in the jungle.

    At an introductory level, the task is evaluate the different players according to the freedom for the individual they advocate.

    Only the individual becomes enlightened. Only the individual achieve cessation of attachment. Only the individual achieves salvation. And only the individual acts — either as a self-aware being or a mob-directed robot.

    Thus, what is good about Palin? Anything that opposes the imposition of chains on other humans. What is good about a social justice activist? Anything that removes the chains from an individual.

    If government seeks tyranny over citizens, it is to be resisted. If government seeks freedom for its citizens it is to be supported.

    Who is my enemy? The person who seeks to chain me so that I cannot achieve enlightenment. Who is my friend? The person who helps me achieve cessation of attachment and enlightenment.

  7. Brooks Hall says:

    I think this is a great subject, Way. I'm glad you brought Sarah Palin to Elephant, even though I'm not her fan… We can learn from the people who turn us off!

  8. Aurora says:

    Woah, that's weird! I just posted a vlog here on this very similar topic, Waylon:) Somethings in the air we're both sniffin'. http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/05/growing-fr


  9. Amen, sister. We have to, in fact.

    They view our heroes in just the same way as we view them.

  10. Checking it out now. How funny!

  11. swati jr* says:

    maybe this is why i like texas so much. i have learned a lot living here….

  12. Tiffany says:

    Thanks for this post. I read the comments to your earlier Palin post with interest, as I've been thinking a lot about this same idea lately. My husband watches a little bit of everything (MSNBC and Fox and CNN, etc.) because he wants to hear it all and then decide for himself. I've never been able to watch any more Fox than Jon Stewart shows, but I do think there's value in trying to understand what the other side is saying and where they're coming from.

    That said, it would be much more productive if it were a two-way street, and much of the time I don't see a lot of respect coming from the other side. There were definitely times during the healthcare debate that I wondered why on earth President Obama kept trying to work in a bipartisan way – it seemed so naive and futile. But I do believe we should "be the change," and I guess that's at least partially the point of this for me. And I do believe our enemies can be our greatest teachers (well, I believe this theoretically; in all honesty, I'm probably not 100% on board with this yet in my own life!).

  13. LasaraAllen says:

    This is from 2008 election year; Generating Compassion for Sarah Palin:http://lasaraallen.com/articles/generating-compas… – it's totally ON TOPIC.

    I value much of what's been said here, and my view is very much along the leanings of Atisha. The more compassion I can cultivate in my own heart, the more merit I generate for the benefit of all beings.

    So this "reaching out" is not for Sarah (except on the level that she is one of the innumerable beings pervading time and space), it's for me. It's for my own work towards engendering the attitudes of enlightenment.

  14. Sue says:

    Love this post! As a newbie yogini, I try to dedicate one practice every few months to compassion for someone who makes my blood boil. Sarah, Rush, Glenn and others have been the focus of my attempts to feel genuine compassion for someone who appears to be the mortal enemy of something I care deeply about. Even they had mothers, even they have value and are worthy of compassion. The calmness I gain allows me to engage with compassion, and a steady mind when faces with those I disagree with. Bitter medicine, to be sure, but I think it allows me to demonstrate the change I want to see in the world. So, to the lunatic fringe, I say – Namaste.

  15. Our enemies are indeed our greatest teachers. We can learn patience, compassion and forgiveness. Even though it is often that we only realize this in hindsight, it is also true that the more often we can forgive, feel compassion and learn in other ways, the easier such practice becomes. Unfortunately for many people enemies remain enemies and nothing is learned. Instead self-righteousness and hatred are reinforced and practised over and over again. http://www.mindfulstrategies.com.au http://ww.thinklessbemore.com

  16. ARCreated says:

    excellent post!!!! I have always said you can't discuss a topic if you don't know what the "enemy" is thinking. I also coached speech and debate and this was a great way to practice this as for LD debate you had to know both sides becuase you wouldn't know what side you were speaking for…it was so amazing to see how kids would learn so much more when they had to argue for soemthing they didn't agree with…remembering that love and respect doesn't mean agreeing or giving up on working towards improving things…But I swear sometimes we get so caught up in sides that we forget we all want the same things.
    I have often said you can only make a change from within…and that is true for self change and for changing the status quo— if you are too diametrically opposed and shut down before you hear both sides you can't facilitate change.
    I had to face this as a reality when I realized a lot of tea party stuff WAS what I beleived…WHAT?? had I written it ALL off becuase of anger or bitterness I couldn't have seen where we could meet and when we meet in the middle we can grow.

  17. ARCreated says:

    PS HOWEVER — if you aren't in that frame of mind and watching Glenn Beck will make your blood pressure rise let it rest…we don't always have to push ourselves all the time…I'm only allowed to "HUFF" once a week, and I can only read accounts of glenn beck or take him in small doses, this is for the benefit of those I live with that felt it was better for my health 🙂

  18. […] The Buddha said, “Our enemies are our greatest teachers.” […]

  19. […] our responsibility to help our friends and enemies see stuff they’re not good at seeing. We can be constructive and helpful. Being mean is just […]

  20. mindfulnesswalks says:

    Waylon, Great article! I really enjoy the work you are doing with the Elephant Journal. A great combination of Mindfulness with your own flair. Thanks for keeping us informed as well as entertained. All the best, great happiness & peace to you & your readers! Cindi Silva

    Cindi Silva Communication Coach (like me on facebook)
    @zendi4peace http://mindfulnesswalks.wordpress.com

  21. Wendi Dimartino says:

    It’s not really an experiment with Furbush, he’s been a starter his entire minor league career and was only a reliever in Detroit for about a month.

  22. […] to disagreement. Rather, dialogue is the way to understand, learn and, ultimately defeat our “enemies”—by turning them into our […]

  23. […] any case, as the Buddhists say, it’s our obstacles or enemies that are our best friends, provoking self-examination, questioning and growing […]

  24. francis says:

    I was terribly verbally attacked in front of my home on Friday. I kindly (really!:)) signalled to a speeding minivan to slow down while driving in front of my home, and a man jumped out of his car and attacked me for gentrifying his neighborhood.

    but it went much much farther. he screamed at my 3 year old calling him the spawn of satan cracker piece of shit, and attacked us for all kinds of things that we have nothing at all to do with. Because I am white he blamed me for events in the neighborhood that are actually hurting my family, too. He accused me of having been sent by the devil to destroy him and he accused me of bestiality (please use your imagination here). I was called cracker bit*h more times than I could count. He tried to punch my husband.

    Up until Friday I had never had hate speach directed at this way, and actually, I have never seen such intense racial anger. It was like television violence. and it was extremely hurtful to have this strongly directed at my 3 year old boy.

    Could you guys tell me how to frame this so I can understand how he is my teacher? I am (obviously) far too close to this to really understand how he can help me– right now I feel a ton of negative stuff and a desire to protect my family.

    I need some good buddhists to frame this up so i can understand how this applies:

    "An enemy repaying your good with bad makes you progress in your practice.
    His unjust accusations are a whip that steers you toward virtue.
    He's the teacher who destroys all your attachment and desires.
    Look at his great kindness that you never can repay!"
    –Jigme Lingpa