A Near Enemy in Buddhism, by Midjourney

What is a Near Enemy?

The concept of the “near enemy” in Buddhism is a fascinating and insightful aspect of Buddhist philosophy that delves into the subtle nuances of human emotions and states of mind. This concept helps to differentiate between genuine wholesome mental states and their seemingly similar, but ultimately unwholesome, counterparts. Understanding the near enemies is crucial for personal growth and spiritual development, as it allows individuals to recognize and navigate the fine line between beneficial and detrimental emotions.

What is the “Near Enemy”?

In Buddhism, the “near enemy” refers to a state of mind or emotion that can easily be mistaken for a virtuous quality but is, in reality, a subtle form of an unwholesome state. These near enemies are considered “near” because they closely resemble positive qualities on the surface but are fundamentally different in their nature and impact on the mind and spiritual development.

The concept is particularly emphasized in the teachings of the Brahma-viharas, also known as the Four Immeasurables: loving-kindness (Metta), compassion (Karuna), empathetic joy (Mudita), and equanimity (Upekkha).

Examples of Near Enemies

  1. Loving-Kindness (Metta) and its Near Enemy, Attachment:
    • True loving-kindness is an unconditional wish for the happiness and well-being of all beings without any expectation of return or personal gain. Its near enemy, attachment, masquerades as love but is actually a desire-based emotion that seeks personal satisfaction, often leading to clinging and possessiveness.
  2. Compassion (Karuna) and its Near Enemy, Pity:
    • Compassion is the heartfelt wish to alleviate the suffering of others, coupled with the motivation to help. Its near enemy, pity, involves looking down on others and feeling sorry for them without the genuine intention or effort to assist, often leading to a sense of separation and superiority.
  3. Empathetic Joy (Mudita) and its Near Enemy, Exhilaration:
    • Empathetic joy is the ability to take genuine pleasure in the happiness and success of others. Its near enemy, exhilaration, is a more superficial excitement or thrill that may be associated with others’ good fortune but lacks the depth of true altruistic joy and can be tinged with envy or desire.
  4. Equanimity (Upekkha) and its Near Enemy, Indifference:
    • Equanimity is a balanced state of mind, characterized by a deep inner peace and acceptance of things as they are, without attachment or aversion. Its near enemy, indifference, mimics this balance but is actually a form of detachment and disconnection from the welfare of others, stemming from a lack of compassion and engagement.
Radiant Buddha, by Midjourney

Dealing with Near Enemies

Recognizing and overcoming the near enemies is essential for anyone looking to deepen their understanding and practice of Buddhist principles. Here are some strategies to deal with these deceptive mental states:

  1. Mindfulness and Self-Reflection:
    • Cultivating mindfulness allows one to become more aware of the nuances of one’s emotions and thoughts. Regular self-reflection helps in distinguishing between the genuine qualities and their near enemies by examining the intentions and effects of one’s emotional states.
  2. Developing Genuine Qualities:
    • Actively developing the genuine qualities of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity can naturally diminish the power of their near enemies. Engaging in practices like Metta meditation, for example, can help cultivate true loving-kindness, reducing the likelihood of attachment taking hold.
  3. Seeking Wisdom and Guidance:
    • Studying Buddhist teachings and seeking the guidance of experienced practitioners can provide clarity and insight into distinguishing between wholesome and unwholesome states. This knowledge acts as a compass in navigating complex emotional landscapes.
  4. Practicing Patience and Forgiveness:
    • Encountering near enemies is an inevitable part of the human experience. Practicing patience and forgiveness, both towards oneself and others, when mistakes are made, can be a powerful tool in overcoming these obstacles.
  5. Engaging in Compassionate Action:
    • Putting compassionate thoughts into action reinforces the genuine qualities and diminishes the near enemies. Acts of kindness, generosity, and service to others help to ground these positive states in reality, making them more resilient to distortion.

Understanding and addressing the concept of near enemies in Buddhism is a profound journey into self-awareness and spiritual growth. By recognizing these deceptive mental states and actively cultivating their wholesome counterparts, one can navigate the path towards true inner peace and enlightenment with greater clarity and purpose.