Today I was listening to this podcast on Audio Dharma given by Shaila Catherine titled “Living Without Enemies”.
The focus of the talk centered around conflict, both internal and external conflict. The two go hand in hand because there is no external conflict without the conditions already present internally. I found it a fitting topic considering all that I have been through over the past several months and even just recently with this semi drama that’s been brought to my door.
There are many things that incite a conflict between two people. What puts me at direct odds with someone is when I feel I’ve been slandered. Yet there is a very interesting story told about the Buddha.
On one occasion the Buddha was invited by a brahmin for alms to his house. As He was invited, the Buddha visited his house. Instead of entertaining Him, he poured forth a torrent of abuse with the filthiest of words.
The Buddha politely inquired:-
“Do visitors come to your house good brahmin?”
“Yes”, he replied.
“What do you do when they come?”
“Oh, we prepare a sumptuous feast.”
“If they fail to turn up, please?”
“Why, we gladly partake of it.”
“Well, good brahmin, you have invited me for alms and entertained me with abuse. I accept nothing. Please take it back.”
The Buddha did not retaliate, but politely gave back what the brahmin gave Him. Retaliate not, the Buddha exhorts.
I love that story. The teaching is that we don’t have to accept slander, attacks, and abuse that others may throw in our direction. There is a sort of power behind simply turning away from it, from refusing to own it. By refusing to take it up you are essentially leaving the other party in sole ownership of that conflict thus leaving them with the burden and the suffering it will eventually cause.
It takes a lot of discipline, strength, and insight to not react to conflict. The main ingredient for conflict is anger and many of us aren’t willing to let go of our anger because it justifies our feelings and actions. Whether it’s a family feud or ex’s beefing the question remains the same, why add anger to an already unpleasant situation? Other questions to ask are, is this skillful means? Is this adding to my suffering? If the answer is no to the former and yes to the latter then the apparent course of action is to disengage.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, conflict with others wouldn’t exist without the seeds planted internally. At times, issues may arise from conditions that have nothing to do with the other party. Maybe the person is suffering from some past or preset pain and something the other party has said or done triggered it. Other times the issue may arise from one party directly (or indirectly) harming another. Regardless of the source this is where a Buddhist follower must remember his or her practice and examine the conditions of the mind that create conflict. Once the root is uncovered the ability to disengage from conflict becomes seamless.
At the end of the day we must take responsibility for our practice of non-harming, equanimity, and mindfulness. Though I would never advocate allowing others to cause harm unfettered there is a way to cultivate defending oneself for the purpose of self-defense and not vengeance. I will certainly learn to say “I accept nothing.” and will definitely practice not reacting to conflict.