We can all agree that war is an expression of anger and hatred. But whose anger and hatred? We can’t control the way other people think, but we can try to change our own mind, and sow seeds of love and compassion where we know they can grow and thrive.
During the Bush presidency, I struggled hard with feelings of hatred for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. As a Buddhist, I tried (and mostly failed) to see them the way the Buddha or Jesus or Martin Luther King, Jr., would — as people who are deeply misguided and therefore deserving of compassion — rather than seeing them as villains who deserve only my contempt.
My hatred for Bush and Cheney has dissipated quite a bit since Obama was inaugurated — I tend to most actively despise those who are at the summit of their powers of evil, and now that Bush and Cheney are relatively contained, I am directing my un-Buddhist ire at other targets. (Wall Street chiefs: I’m looking at you!)
But I honestly don’t want to hate anyone. Buddhism teaches that all the war and evil I see in the world has its root in my own heart. Likewise, all the war and evil you see in the world has its root in your own heart. My point here isn’t to try to convert anyone to Buddhism (when was the last time a Buddhist handed you a tract?), but simply to share a method for working at this basic level, to cultivate outer peace through inner peace.
As it happens, I learned a new meditation this week for chipping away at my hatred (well, not exactly new — it was taught over a thousand years ago by an Indian yogi named Virupa):
- Start by focusing for a few minutes on your breath flowing out of your nostrils and then back in. This is a good way simply to gather all your thoughts into one place.
- Imagine yourself as a person who is infinitely kind and wise, and no longer able to be hurt by the harmful people you see around you. A sort of spiritual superhero, if you will.
It’s good to even picture yourself differently. The sky’s the limit, but I usually just imagine myself with the world’s kindest eyes and smile — the sort of person who can make anyone feel better just by looking at them.
- Think now about your “enemy”. This could be a person who’s actively and directly making you miserable, like an awful boss or ex-spouse. Or it could be someone you’ve never met, like a politician or media figure whose public deeds you see as harmful. You could even choose someone from the past, like Hitler or Pol Pot.
The key is that it’s someone who makes your blood boil.
- Look at that person, in your mind’s eye, the way you would if you were infinitely loving and kind. Think about them the way Jesus would think about George W. Bush. Or if that’s too abstract, imagine that they are your beloved parent or child who has gone temporarily insane and has come after you with a knife. Would you really hate them? Or would you just love them deeply and want only for them to stop hurting themselves and others?
- Expand on this feeling of love and compassion, and just repeat again and again in your mind, “I love you. I love you.” Let them struggle and rage. “I love you. I love you.” You are perfectly wise and compassionate, and they can never hurt you. “I love you. I love you.” Feel your heart open and sing, as you replace hatred with love.
Can you change them this way? Maybe not. But you can change yourself, by working to eradicate the hostility in your own heart. And you can’t prove that it doesn’t work unless you try it yourself, over and over, until you no longer have to imagine that you are infinitely wise and kind.