Wisdom and Power: A Philosophical Approach to T'ai Chi

Chapter 9:
How to Love Your Enemy

"Love alone is eternal and unconquerable."
- Peter Peyoynd

I have talked at great length so far in this work about the mysterious, primal force at the root of the Universe - God, the Tao, T'ai Chi. I am now going to suggest another simple and quite familiar word for the transcendental principle which pulls together all that is into the great Unity of the Supreme Ultimate. It is a word which unfortunately has come into disrepute lately, but I'm going to use it anyway, because I happen to believe it is the strongest and most beautiful word in the world.

The word is LOVE.

I so wish that instead of merely writing this manuscript, I could reach out right now and hug you, touch you with love. Then we could both forget about verbal formulations and problems, and simply live in perfect peace and happiness.

The fact is, however, that we are separated by time, by distance, by social convention, by my hangups and yours. There are so many forces operating to keep us from sharing love with each other that it will be very surprising if you do not fee; a twinge of embarassment right now just from reading this paragraph. It is not polite to talk about love, particularly to strangers.

Still, this is where we are; and if words are our medium for the moment, let us uset them however we can to step a little closer to each other. Perhaps our next meeting will not be so distant.

The Bible says, "God is love." Note the grammar of this phrase - it does not say "God loves you," "God teaches love," or "You should love God," but "God is love." God and love are the same thing. No division, no separation. Love is complete acceptance and caring, and that is what God is.

From the love of our parents for each other, we are born. From our love of life we grow and expand, work, play, eat, sleep, think, plan, dream and build. From our love of the infinite Universe, we die; relaxing and giving up ourselves to the source from which we sprang so that new life can seed and grow.

The whole of the Universe is a perfect balancing of the forces needed to keep on keeping on. There is nothing in creation that does not need everything else in creation to be what it is. There is nothing in creation that is not needed by everything else in creation. Needing and being needed, giving and taking in perfect balance - this is love.

Light could not exist if there were no darkness. Darkness gives being to light, light gives being to darkness. The loving dance of light and darkness sustains them both.

I can write this book only because you exist to read it. In fact, there could be no "me" if there were no "you" to distinguish myself from. How could I fail to love what is responsible for my own existence? I love you.

Our consciousness has become so narrowed that we often forget that we are all "parts" of the same thing, that we are all on the same boat together. We have come to think of ourselves as isolated and unrelated to one another, and we try to figure out how to use and take advantage of one another - forgetting that we are already receiving the very breath of life from one another as a free and unlimited gift of love.

The most important lesson we can learn from T'ai Chi is the same lesson that Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu and every other enlightened being in history tried to teach, and that is to love your enemy.

"Why," you may ask, "should I love my enemy?" The answer is so simple and delightful it will make you laugh: if I love my enemy, I have no enemy!

Let's break this down into concretes. Suppose I have an enemy, okay? Now - according to me - I'm fine, I'm in the right, I'm just minding my own business; but this guy, he's the bad guy, he's against me. Now what do I mean when I say he is my enemy? Doesn't it mean that he doesn't care about me? There may be many particular circumstances that give rise to the argument between us, but ultimately the reason he is my enemy is that he doesn't care about me. It doesn't matter to him if I am hurt or sad or tired or hungry or frustrated; if I live or die. He is so wrapped up in getting what he wants for himself that he is willing for me to be hurt in the process. If I am standing in his way, he will knock me down to get where he is going, so he is my enemy. Now, if I say to myself, "Well, look, I was standing here first, minding my own business. That guy just doesn't have any right to come along and push me over - if he tries to, I'll just use my T'ai Chi and show him a thing or two!" then I am doing exactly thesame thing he is doing. I am concerned only with my own well-being, and if he interferes with it, I don't care what happens to him. So I am his enemy as well. It takes two to tango.

What is the alternative to this? How is it possible to avoid being caught up in this whirlwind of hate and enmity? The answer is caring. If I genuinely care what happens to my assailant, I will try to help him achieve his objective instead of fighting him for it. In the simple example above, if I merely step our of his path to let him by, the conflict is eliminated; and what is more, I will have gained his respect and friendship, for it is impossible to dislike someone who is genuinely concerned about your welfare.

At this point you may well ask, "What if what my enemy wants is directly inimical to my own welfare? Should I still try to help him achieve his goal?" In other words, what if some competitor wants to take over my business, and he plans to kill me to do it. Am I supposed to help him dispose of me?

The answer, of course, is no. Caring for someone does not mean assisting him to achieve every goal he has set for himself, no matter how irrational. It means having a sincere compassion for the other person's situation, a desire to understand what is causing him difficulty or grief, and a willingness to help him fit his misdirected energy harmoniously into life. If I "help" you commit an unjust act of violence, I am not helping you at all, but hurting you by strengthening your belief that hatred and violence are successful ways of dealing with reality; which they are not.

If you attack me and there is no way for me to sidestep or avoid your attack, I will certainly fight you. But I will not fight as your "enemy" - I will fight with a desire to understand the imbalance that provoked the attack, and a desire to help restore that balance. This is just a restatement of the T'ai Chi principle of non-resistance, and is in fact why the principle of non-resistance works. Nature (reality) seeks balance, and whatever is out of balance will ultimately be re-balanced. You are unhappy, and mistakenly believe you can achieve happiness by lashing out violently. If I too am unhappy and unbalanced, I will lash back at you and we will both get hurt, both become even more unbalanced, and both leave the encounter unhappier than we were to begin with (no matter who wins the fight). But, if I can somehow manage to view your act with love and compassion, then I will see that what you are really trying to do is not to hurt me, but only to be happy - you just don't understand that attacking me will not create happiness, but only take you farther away from it.

In this frame of mind, I can view the encounter not as a hated conflict but as a welcome opportunity to help you regain your lost balance, and enhance my own understanding and expression of balance. Not turning away or rejecting the idea of the fight, I can put my full attention into it and meet you as an equal with love and respect. If I can accept what you are doing, I can understand it; and, understanding it, I can flow with it without resistance. In this way, I not only avoid being hurt myself, but I also avoid poisoning you with my hatred. We may not emerge from the fight as friends (although we may), but we will both have gained something positive and valuable from the encounter. In one way, fighting is very much like making love - it is a total involvement of two people with each other on the most basic level, and holds the potential of a profound meeting and understanding of the combatants which far transcends words or ideas.

The question is: how can we develop this capacity for love and understanding? It is all very well to give lip service to a slogan like "love your enemy," but another thing altogether to actually feel the emotion of love when someone is getting ready to put the screws to you. There is no simple answer to this question,and the whole of T'ai Chi is an attempt to reach the state of being able to respond spontaneously in this way. To begin with, it is essential to clearly distinguish love - the all-embracing love of which we are speaking here - from approval.

We all have self-chosen criteria by which we decide who or what we approve of, which values we respect and admire, and which we don't. This is as it should be: the choice of personal values - and our emotional response to people embodying (or lacking) these values - is one of our primary responsibilities as independent beings.

The love we are speaking about here is not (necessarily) romantic love, filial or fraternal love, or even the love of one close friend for another. The choice of such individual love relationships is purely personal. But there is a more inclusive, broader love to be recognized as well, the love of "our own kind." More precisely, this is love at a higher order of abstraction, the order at which all human beings (as well as all entities of any nature) are perceived to be aspects of an underlying unity rather than separate, isolated beings.

For example, two islands in the sea are unquestionably "different" from one perspective - they have different locations, different terrain, and are isolated from one another by vast waters. From a broader perspective, however, both islands are outcroppings of the same planet, are features of the same land mass and are totally connected beneath the ocean's surface. We may not like the terrain of one island, but we surely would not choose to blast it out of existence with an atomic bomb, because we would be blasting our own Earth, and disruptions in the ecosystem of that "isolated" island would ultimately disrupt the harmony of the Earth's ecosystem as a whole.

Another example: if my left foot is infected with pus-filled sores, I can certainly say - from one viewpoint - that I "hate" my left foot, considering it an object in itself. But considering it a part of my body as a whole, I must love it in order to preserve the integrity of my health, and this love will take the form of treating and nurturing it so that it will regain its proper functioning, thereby improving the health of my body as a whole.

In much of this book, I have gone to great lengths to present the understanding that all life is one, that everyone and everything is inextricably interconnected and interdependent. From this level of comprehension, harming another human being makes about as much sense as beating up my own sore foot: it would only ultimately harm myself, because another human being is an aspect of myself.

A lot of the difficulty involved in grasping this concept comes from the epistemological problem of orders of abstraction. The fact that the same entity can be considered from more than one level of abstraction does not mean that these viewpoints are antagonistic to one another. The fact that a particular person or thing may be a member of one class of entities (say, bank robbers) does not mean that it is not also a member of a broader abstraction (say, human beings). Our reaction to the object may be different according to which level we consider it from, and both sets of reactions are valid within their appropriate contexts.

Thus, as a "bank robber" I may not approve of Joe Smith - I may, quite legitimately, abhor his actions and personal values, and I may choose not to associate with him at all. But as a "human being," I must recognize that Joe Smith is an integral part of life as a whole, and that his manner of expression has a direct effect on the life we both share. When circumstances bring me into contact with him, therefore, I will not love Joe's criminality, but I will love his (our) life - and my expression of that love will take the form of helping him, to whatever extent I am able, to express life more healthily and harmoniously.

This is really no more than a restatement - on an emotional level - of the principle that nature seeks balance and harmony, and that any imbalance will automatically return to its source unless it is interfered with. If Joe Smith "hates" me, he is mistakenly expressing an imbalanced energy; if I "hate" him back, I am interfering with the free flow of that imbalance and will only upset myself. If, to the contrary, I can love - not his animosity, but his nature as a center of life-expression - I will clear the way for his imbalance to return to him (that is, to allow him to directly experience the consequences of his own unloving actions), where it will cancel itself out to the benefit of us both.

Much practice and careful attention to the form and movements, and a lot of pushing hands practice will convince you that non- resistance is in fact a superior way of dealing with violent attacks. Once you know this by direct experience and can feel it with your body, you will have taken a big step toward being able to feel it with your heart and mind as well.

For this reason I emphasize that the spiritual and the physical sides of T'ai Chi are inseparable. Even if you are not in the least interested in the self-defense aspect of the art, you will find that you must cultivate an interest and ability in this area in order to reap the benefits of expanded consciousness, health and relaxation that T'ai Chi has to offer.

Getting people to understand this is one of the most difficult jobs I have as a teacher. In the Orient there is less confusion about the relationship between mind and body, but in America there is a great deal of polarized thinking. People want either to study the peaceful, spiritual side of Kung-Fu, and look at the physical side of the training as crude, boorish, uptight and somehow below the level of a refined person with spiritual sensibilities; or they want to learn to be the meanest mother in the neighborhood, fight off dozens of armed assailants like Bruce Lee, and have no time to spend on faggy and ineffectual things like meditation and philosophy.

This attitude is not hard to understand, for we are products of a culture which puts a good deal of emphasis on analytical and dualistic thinking. In reality, though, there is no such artificial separation between the body and mind. You are an integrated whole, and it makes no difference whether you view the body as an extension of consciousness, as the Yogis do, or consciousness as an extension of the body, as Western scientists do: they are both aspects of the same thing, and must function harmoniously together if either is to function well. If you like your body and reject your mind - or vice-versa - you have made a grievous error for which you will pay the high price of unhappiness and disharmony until the split halves are reunited. In fact, before you can really love your enemy (or anyone, for that matter) you must first really love yourself - and that means all of yourself, psyche and soma.

Well, it looks like I let the cat out of the bag, but I won't let that alter my sense of drama; so here is the point of this chapter (drum roll): In order to love your enemy, love yourself. Let me say it another way: you will love your enemy if and only if you love yourself. It is the love, not the object of the love, that breaks down the barriers between you and your enemy.

If you truly love yourself, approve of yourself, think you are a good person, you will automatically love your enemy. If you will speculate for a moment, you will not be surprised to find that the things you most dislike in others are the very things you consider flaws in yourself. But everyone has flaws - it is an intrinsic part of our makeup as human beings to be less than perfect in many ways, and to insist on perfection is to insist on an essentially impossible condition. No progress of any kind can be made in this way.

Please follow this carefully, because I am not talking about working hard to remake your character into something you can love and approve of; I am talking about loving yourself right now, as you are at this very moment. I am talking about looking at every flaw you have, every selfish action you have taken, every hurt you have given to someone who trusted you, every lie you have told, every skeleton in your closet, every ego-boositng false face you have ever put on, and saying, "I love myself."

Now, I realize this is an extremely radical thing to be saying, so I want you to be sure that I mean it exactly the way it sounds. If you want to develop your personal center, balance yourself and expand your capacity for loving acceptance of everything in the Universe, the first order of business is not to change anything at all, but to look at yourself right now, as you are, and to love what you see.

If you cannot love yourself the way you are now, no changes you can ever make will bring you to the point of loving yourself. Why is this?

The answer has to do with the nature of love itself. Love is the binding force at the root of everything in creation. Darkness as well as light, greed as well as charity, cruelty as well as kindness are all required to maintain the Universe. All are sustained by love, and it is only our limited understanding which sees some things as worthy of love and others as not. If we insist that we must eliminate our "bad" qualities in order to be worthy of love, it simply means that we do not understand love at all; and if we do not understand it, we cannot give it to ourselves or anyone else, no matter what virtuous qualities the love-object may possess.

Pain and struggle will never be totally banished from the world; but we can learn to personally transcend the antagonisms of life and to bring much light into the lives of our fellow travelers if we can learn love. And learning love begins with loving yourself.

There are many barriers to attaining self-love, including all the various "guilt trips" that our culture insists on instilling in innocent young minds beginning with earliest childhood. Many of these trips have to do with the supposed "split" between mind and body which society has fostered for thousands of years. The legacy of dualistic thinking is that we have learned to accept the idea that our bodies are somehow "bad," or at best indifferent, and that they must be constantly watched through the stern moralizing eye of the mind to keep them in line.

Our attitude toward sex is an example of this split, and the chronic obsession with "illicit" sex is as strong and indication as you could want that there is something wrong with this attitude.

People like to have sex - that is a simple and obvious fact. Sexual expression is a natural function of life; it is physically, psychologically and spiritually satisfying, as well as being necessary for the procreation of new life. But because the sexual urge is experienced so much through the body rather than through the intellect, our stern moral monitor concludes that it is a dangerous thing, to be watched closely and tightly bound by strict codes of what is and is not "proper." It is not proper to have pre-marital sex, polygynous or polyandrous sex. Sex must be hidden away in dark corners, or else talked about in a leering, jeering manner. This repression has gone so far that we are afraid to admit that we experience sexual desire for another person, unless the circumstances in which the desire arises fall into one of the neat categories we have labeled "acceptable." And, since extremes always ultimately attract their opposites, when people try to break free of these chains they often do it by re-defining themselves as "super-studs" or "liberated women," plunging themselves into an endless stream of shallow sexual encounters that rob the act of its juice and wonder as surely as the arbitrary repression at the other pole (and leave us with the same lack of self-esteem and self-love).

In T'ai Chi we are concerned with nothing less than breaking free of the artificial constraints that keep our consciousness narrow and limited, and the mind/body dichotomy we experience in regard to sex (and other natural forms of human expression) is one of the most powerful forces keeping us in a position of limited freedom and awareness. Body and mind are not separate or at war with each other, and our every action must integrate with the demands of both these facets of our being through direct awareness of the unique quality of each and every situation, if we are to learn true love. "Right" and "wrong," like the moving point of balance inpushing hands exercise, can never be determined by rote or dogma, but must be continuously grasped in the here and now - and no one can make such decisions but you, as the occasion arises.

Not only individual circumstances, but social and cultural mores regarding sex are continually adjusting and changing - what is "right" in one time and place is "wrong" in another. In traditional Eskimo society, if a visitor stayed overnight at a friend's house, the friend's wife would often sleep with the visitor as a gesture of warmth and friendship. We regard this as highly immoral, but the Eskimo considered it natural. If he learned that until recently many places in the United States permitted a man to shoot and kill his wife and another man if he caught them in bed together, he would have considered us immoral and barbarous to the extreme.

Much of the repression resulting from the mind/body split about sex is falling away in our modern society, but unless the split itself is resolved and integrated with love and understanding, it will simply be replaced by an equally alienating set of "free love" customs based on momentary whim rather than genuine caring or affection.

I have emphasized the sexual aspect of the mind/body split for the same reasons that contemporary psychiatry emphasizes it; not because it is the most important aspect of personal integration, but because it is the least understood, and contributes perhaps more ahan anything else to the confusion and guilt that makes genuine self-love difficult. You will have to figure out much of this for yourself, but the important thing to remember is that you - what you really are - is good. The only natural "drive" that human beings possess is the desire to preserve, enjoy and express life; and this includes material pursuits, sexual desires, productive ambition and all the infinitely varied ways in which we seek self-gratification.

The body and the spirit are not enemies. Feeling good is an indication of harmony and successful action, not a sign of selfishness and immorality. Understanding this is of the utmost importance, because if we think there is something wrong with feeling good, we are doomed to hate ourselves; and hating ourselves, we are bound to spread guilt and hate into the world.

Everyone in the world wants to feel good - it is impossible not to seek experience that makes us feel good. If we think we should avoid such experience, all we will accomplish is to consider ourselves hypocrites and feel guilty, because we will seek it anlyway; and to feel guilty is to pour poison into the Universe, creating the very evil we thought we were avoiding by rejecting our own desire for happiness. Believe me, the best thing you can do for the world is to be happy! A happy person is the only one able to give and receive love, and a world without love is a very shabby world indeed.

To be willing to love yourself as you are does not imply, of course, that you will not want to grow and improve. To the contrary, loving your "negative" qualities, like loving your external enemies, is the most positive step you can take toward transmuting confused or unloving qualities into purer forms of expression. It is simply that love is not, in its broadest sense, limited or discriminatory. Love is inexhaustible, and witholding love from yourself because you are not "perfect" in your own eyes will only have the reactive effect of making it impossible to improve - if you are not worthy of love, why bother? The process of defining yourself as guilty or unworthy makes the evaluation self-fulfilling. Moreover, if you insist that you must be this or that to "deserve" your self-love, you will do the same with others; and it is always possible to find reasons why someone is not deserving. This is how love is closed off and lost.

Just as, in pushing hands or fighting, you must learn how to move without internal resistance from your own body before you can accept your opponent's tense, aggressive attacks without resistance; so you will be unable to fully comprehend and practice loving your enemy until you have learned how to love yourself. And this analogy is even broader, because learning to love your enemy will do for the entire set of all your human relationships exactly what learning to accept your opponent's hostile attacks does for your fighting ability: it will allow you to transcend and neutralize all difficulties and negative experiences of life.

The idea of loving your enemy is a profound and revolutionary one, and will change your life dramatically if you will put serious attention into trying to understand and practice it. In the physical world we are all fellow travelers on a narrow and perilous tightrope stretched between birth and death. My enemy is motivated by the same hopes and fears I am, has the same doubts and confusions. Like me, he wants to come in from the cold and get warm. Like me, he wants love and attention. If his narrowed consciousness has led him to believe that he must be against me to ger what he needs, doesn't it make more sense for me to try to help him get where he is going than to keep him down where he will continue to be unhappy and continue to drain energy from me and everyone else?

Love is powerful and unlimited, and will ultimately break down and win over any opposition, because it is inexhaustible. No one in the world wants to hate, and hate can only flourish in the absence of love. Why not love your enemy? You need not worry about loving the wrong person or giving away too much of your love, because the way the Universe works you will always get back every bit of love you give away.

You see, there is a wonderful secret about love, which will change your life forever once you grasp it fully. The secret is -

- there is enough for everyone.


Previous Chapter | Contents | Next Chapter

Top | Home | Contact Us


Copyright © 2002-2016 by Gregory Ellison and Mary Barron, all rights reserved