You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:38-48
About This Week's Meditation Prompts
My enemy helps me in my conduct of awakening. - The Dalai Lama Healing Anger
Do not resist the evildoer, says Jesus. Turn the other cheek, give your cloak, go the extra mile, give. Love your enemies and pray for them. Why? All these instances of abuse provide occasions of awakening, perhaps - for the evildoer as well as the victim.
Stories of the Desert Fathers and Mothers abound with monks living these extreme directives of Jesus (meditation one, miscellany). I thought also of the enemies within, the demons living in the cave of my own heart (meditation two) whom I must befriend -since fighting and throwing holy water doesn't seem to help. Finally, hearing "love your enemies" expressed through a tradition not my own underscores for me the radical teaching of Jesus, especially when an individual puts that love into practice (meditation three).
For an extra bonus point this week, why not invite your demons to tea? Ever helpful,
Meditation One (introit) give your cloak as well
The same Abba Macarius while he was in Egypt discovered a man who owned a beast of burden engaged in plundering Macarius' goods. So he came up to the thief as if he was a stranger and he helped him to load the animal. He saw him off in great peace of soul saying, 'We have brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.'(1Tim.6:7)'The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.'(Job 1:21)
-Benedicta Ward The Paradise of the Desert Fathers
Give to everyone who begs from you
Whilst this same crowd of people (refugees from Syria) was still in the city (Alexandria), one of the strangers, noticing John (the Almsgiver's) remarkable sympathy, determined to try the blessed man; so he put on old clothes and approached him as he was on his way to visit the sick in the hospitals -- for he did this two or three times a week -- and said to him: "Have mercy upon me for I am a prisoner of war."
John said to his purse-bearer: "Give him six nomismata." After the man had received these he went off, changed his clothes, met John again in another street, and falling at his feet said: "Have pity upon me for I am in want." The Patriarch again said to his purse-bearer: "Give him six nomismata."
As he went away the purse-bearer whispered in the patriarch's ear: "By your prayers, master, this same man has had alms from you twice over!" But the Patriarch pretended not to understand. Soon the man came again for the third time to ask for money and the attendant, carrying the gold, nudged the Patriarch to let him know that it was the same man; whereupon the truly merciful and beloved of God said: "Give him twelve nomismata, for perchance it is my Christ and He is making trial of me."
-Leontius, Life of St. John the Almsgiver, early 7th century
Miscellany the stolen book
Abbot Anastasius had a book written on very fine parchment which was worth eighteen pence, and had in it both the old and New Testaments in full. Once a certain brother came to visit him, and seeing the book made off with it. So that day when Abbot Anastasius went to read his book, and found that it was gone, he realized that the brother had taken it. But he did not send after him to inquire about it for fear that the brother might add perjury to theft. Well, the brother went down into the nearby city in order to sell the book. And the price he asked was sixteen pence. The buyer said: Give me that book that I may find out whether it is worth that much. With that, the buyer took the book to the holy Anastasius and said: Father, take a look at this book, please, and tell me whether you think I ought to buy it for sixteen pence. Is it worth that much? Abbot Anastasius said: Yes, it is a fine book, it is worth that much. So the buyer went back to the brother and said: Here is your money. I showed the book to Abbot Anastasius and he said it is a fine book and is worth at least sixteen pence. But the brother asked: Was that all he said? Did he make any other remarks? No, said the buyer, he did not say another word. Well, said the brother, I have changed my mind and I don't want to sell this book after all. Then he hastened to Abbot Anastasius and begged him with tears to take back his book, but the Abbot would not accept it, saying: Go in peace, brother, I make you a present of it. But the brother said: If you do not take it back I shall never have any peace. After that the brother dwelt with Abbot Anastasius for the rest of his life.
-Thomas Merton (trans.) The Wisdom of the Desert
A great nation is like a great man: When he makes a mistake, he realizes it. Having realized it, he admits it. Having admitted it, he corrects it. He considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers. He thinks of his enemy as the shadow that he himself casts.
― Lao Tzu, 6th, 5th, or 4th century BCE Tao Te Ching
St. Margaret, Gaddi, 14th century
St. Margaret of Antioch, Illumination, c.1440
Meditation Two (insight) beasts and demons
We should constantly search all the inner chambers of our hearts lest, unhappily, some beast related to the understanding, either lion or dragon, passing through, has furtively left dangerous marks of his track. And so, daily and hourly, turn up the ground of our hearts with the gospel plough, i.e., the constant recollection of the Lord's cross. By doing so, we shall manage to stamp out from our hearts the lairs of noxious beasts and the lurking places of poisonous serpents.
-Cassian Conferences I.22.2
We can stop struggling with what occurs and see its true face without calling it the enemy. … It's like inviting what scares us to introduce itself and hang around for a while. As Milarepa sang to the monsters he found in his cave, "It is wonderful you demons came today. You must come again tomorrow. From time to time, we should converse." We start by working with the monsters in our mind. Then we develop the wisdom and compassion to communicate sanely with the threats and fears of our daily life.
-Pema Chodron When Things Fall Apart
Meditation Three (integration) love your enemies
I remember a Tibetan monk who had been tortured in a Chinese prison for 22 years. When he reached Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama asked him: "What were you scared of the most in prison?" He replied: "I was afraid that I might lose my compassion towards the torturers."
-Sulak Sivaraksa from an interview by Swati Chopra Life Positive
If a villainous bandit were to carve you limb from limb with a two-handled saw, even then the man that should give way to anger would not be obeying my teaching. Even then, be it your task to preserve your hearts unmoved, never to allow an ill word to pass your lips, but always to abide in compassion and good-will, with no hate in your hearts, enfolding in radiant thoughts of love the bandit (who tortures you), and proceeding thence to enfold the whole world in your radiant thoughts of love, - thoughts great and beyond measure, in which there is no hatred or trace of harm.
-The Buddha Swami Prabhavananda quoted from The Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta
The Last Word
The Bible tells us to love our neighbors and to love our our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people. -G.K. Chesterton
-Walt Kelly, Pogo
Inviting The Enemy
A few years ago I went to the Rubin Museum (http://www.rmanyc.org/) for a tour and talk on the exhibit Embodying the Holy: Icons in Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism. In one corner a large map of Samsara showed souls ascending through the realms of becoming, only to slide swiftly down slippery ramps all the way to hellish regions after embracing, say, pride. The Samsara painting was paired with a Christian Icon of a ladder of St. John Climacus, with demons pulling at souls ascending the ladder toward heaven and dragging them into hell. The speaker pointed out that in Buddhism you have many lifetimes to get off the wheel of becoming, that is, to reach Nirvana, and that in Christianity you have only one chance.
On the way home I thought about my inner demons and the story of Milarepa, the Tibetan yogi and poet. Milarepa began his life training as a sorcerer impelled by resentment and the desire for revenge. After killing his mother's enemies during a wedding party, he repented, attached himself to spiritual teachers, and, according to legend, became the only sage to achieve enlightenment in one lifetime. Several stories of demons attacking Milarepa in his cave exist, but I like the way my friend Brother Bede tells the story.
“How kind of you to come,” says Milarepa to the demons. “You must stay to tea. And you must come again tomorrow. And from time to time we will converse.”
Like everyone, I have enemies: people who have hurt me deeply either meaning to or not meaning to. But my worst enemies dwell in the cave of my own heart. “Love your enemies,” said Jesus. “Pray for those who persecute you.”
So now when my demons showed up, and I'm aware they're there, I try mindfully to invite them to tea. Surprisingly, the bad spirits are less chaotic when I pay attention to them than they are when I ignore them. Including the ones dwelling in my own heart.