True enemies may be easy to spot, but what about “near enemies“? A near enemy is a subtle quality that we may miss or confuse as useful or helpful when, in fact, it can become an obstacle to practice that is hidden from us or in disguise.
For example, the far enemy of lovingkindness is hatred, which is unmistakable in ourselves and others. Once we have been practicing mindfulness for a while, we learn to spot this aversion fairly quickly and choose to apply an antidote when appropriate. A near enemy of lovingkindness, on the other hand, is attachment or greed. This can be harder to spot. When we offer well-wishes to others primarily because it benefits us in some way or we are expecting some specific outcome, this hidden intention can distort our thoughts and actions and lead to unhelpful ripple effects.
Flowers fall with our attachment, and weeds spring up with our aversion. – Dogen (Zen Master)
Compassion (concern for suffering and the desire to eliminate it) has a near enemy as well, which is pity, sympathy or sorrow. When we allow sadness about the sufferings of the world to overcome us, we can shut down and feel hopeless, preventing us from taking action. A sense of equality and interconnection accompanies true compassion, while pity arises from a view of the other as disadvantaged, unfortunate, separate, or less than in some way. This wrong view can perpetuate unhelpful habits and subtly undermine our efforts to benefit others.
Sorrow is a near enemy to compassion and to love. It is borne of sensitivity and feels like empathy. But it can paralyze and turn us back inside with a sense that we can’t possibly make a difference… But compassion goes about finding the work that can be done. Love can’t help but stay present. ― Krista Tippett,
A near enemy of equanimity (balance amidst difficulty) is indifference or callousness. Mindfulness means being with what is non-judgmentally, not hardening ourselves against what is unwanted. How can we respond open-heartedly from a foundation of nihilism? Another near enemy to equanimity is ignorance, meaning that we are mistaking not knowing for calm and serenity. Facing an obstacle with courage requires a true understanding of what one is up against – otherwise, its merely foolhardiness.
True equanimity is not a withdrawal; it is a balanced engagement with all aspects of life. It is opening to the whole of life with composure and ease of mind, accepting the beautiful and terrifying nature of all things. Equanimity embraces the loved and the unloved, the agreeable and the disagreeable, the pleasure and pain. It eliminates clinging and aversion. – Jack Kornfield, Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are
Just like anything else we encounter in life, near enemies are workable. It may help to remember the quote, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” A dedicated mindfulness practice awakens us to ever-subtler layers of consciousness – our habits, patterns, biases, and blind spots. By acknowledging and examining near enemies as they arise, we are better equipped to respond to them with wisdom.