The Real Enemy

Rimpoche Nawang Gehlek exhorts us to let go of anger and take charge of our minds.Nawang Gehlek Rimpoche

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Part of the Tricycle 9/11 Special Section. View the complete series here.


This article is part of Tricycle's Winter 2001 special section, "September 11: Practice and Perspectives." Read the other articles in the section here.

Today, we have witnessed a terrible and senseless tragedy. We may not be directly or physically involved, but we are all affected. When we look at the victims, we will certainly have compassion, because we have these good human qualities within us that will draw forth our compassion. But the moment we focus on who did it, we feel our anger rise. Even though I have spent sixty years practicing Buddhist kindness and compassion, when I see the collapse of the buildings and the people running, unable to breathe, the anger comes. When I hear about the plans for retaliation, the thought comes, “Okay, good.” When something happens and we say “good,” but say it with anger, we must see that our anger will soon be controlling us. We have to be very careful with this. If it is a surgical retaliation directed at the culprits without bringing harm to many innocent lives, good. Because not retaliating can be wrong, too, and this is often misunderstood. Retaliation is necessary. Without it we become vulnerable. But there are many nonviolent ways to retaliate, and I hope for this to be nonviolent.

Our real challenge is to develop compassion even for those who did this. Developing compassion for them does not mean you cannot stop people who are going to hurt others. People should not misunderstand this. Compassion does not only mean love and light. On the contrary, if we don’t stop them when we have the opportunity, we may even have the negativity of not stopping them. The spiritual path is not as black-and-white as we may think. But it does not mean that we do not act with compassion. We should be compassionate to all. But compassion sometimes has to be harsh. How else can we pinpoint where the problem really lies? Hatred’s hold on us is so strong. Simple coddling will not do the job.

We have been watching and listening to the news, and many feelings have arisen. We are supposed to feel! Because if we don’t feel what happened today, we are senseless and useless people. But when we watch our mind, we see it tends straightaway toward anger. If you did not experience anger, then rejoice! But if you did, it is very normal. But that feeling should not be left at the anger level. It should be transformed into compassion. That’s where we have to take charge of ourselves, take charge of our minds, take advantage of our freedom to use our minds properly and turn away from hatred of our enemies. How? Not by justifying what they did. We also don’t want to try to understand where they are coming from or why they did it. If we do that, we will ultimately be justifying hatred. That is not right. We know why they did it. They did it out of hatred. Hatred brings more hatred, and violence only brings more violence. What we must do is stop this cycle here and now by transforming anger and hatred into compassion.

We must see that when we feel anger, we are not reacting to the person who harmed us, but to that person’s hatred. Their hatred has blinded them. They were unable to stand up for themselves. They submitted completely to their anger. Even though they think they are doing something great, consider how stupid they have actually been. They have become total slaves of their hatred. Who is a better candidate for compassion than that?

Their hatred hurts the whole world: physically, financially, emotionally, and mentally. We have witnessed a horrific example of how hatred can create suffering and pain for us all. No one is going to forget today, September 11. 9-11. And no one is going to forget how sad and terrible indeed it is. But it has given us a point to develop compassion, and to understand how hatred can be harmful.

This hatred is the cause of suffering not only for them, but for all of us. The real enemy is their anger, our anger, their hatred, our hatred, their violence, our violence. Our hatred is our own Osama bin Laden, hiding in the mountains of our hearts. If we can begin to consider hatred as the enemy, as your and my enemy, then we can begin to transform our anger into compassion. That will be how we can take advantage of an unfortunate and tragic situation. ▼

Rimpoche Nawang Gehlek is the founder of Jewel Heart, an organization dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan culture and Buddhism. From a talk given on September 11.

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jackelope65's picture

I did not feel anger but shock. It took a very long time to believe that it was really happening, unlike the innocent bystanders and brave first responders who can see, that it really was happening even today. I was surfing a hurricane swell at Point Judith, Rhode Island, when a surfer paddling out said: " Its had to believe we are surfing when buildings are falling down in New York." I just wrote it off as insanity. However, whenI paddled in, my surfing buddy was watching buildings falling down on a portable TV in my van. All he could do was shake his head. Because I was not there it continues to have an unreal quality, like a dream. No matter how hard I try, I cannot see that reality play back in my mind. If I was there anger may have come more quickly. Throughout the world, bullies keep people in fear and impoverished in all aspects of being, and that is where we start compassion, as bullies breed in those conditions and that is where we have some hope. We stop the Bin Laden's when they need our help the most. We don't go after the wrong country to lash out with hatred; then kill their leader whom we in the USA put in place. I cannot debate what happened to Osama Bin Laden. Our compassion needs to be directed at helping people regain their dignity by necessary donations, education,not propaganda on what to believe, and most of all,loving kindness, compassion.