The Near and Far Enemies of Loving Kindness
Each of the Four Immeasurables has a near and far enemy. We’ll be focusing on Loving Kindness in this piece. Think of a far enemy as a complete opposite in this context. The far enemy or complete opposite of Loving Kindness is ill will or hatred towards another being. That’s usually pretty evident and easy to identify, so we won’t spend a lot of time diving into it. When we feel ill will towards another, we know that means we need to pause and look at what’s happening within us and find the reality of the situation.
Near enemies are a little trickier to detect. In this context we can think of a near enemy as an imposter in this context. A near enemy is the appearance of the Immeasurable but an ego-tinged variation. So, you’re either wearing away that ego boundary or you’re building it up.
The near enemies of Loving Kindness are sentimentality, clinginess, and conditional love. If we are feeling sentimental about someone, that’s not the same as wishing them well just for the sake of wishing them well. However, sentimentality may give us a false sense of warmth, making us believe we are practicing Loving Kindness. The goal of Loving Kindness is to extend love and affection for the sake of loving or without expectations of getting affection in return.
People can practice for years and actually be practicing a near enemy. It may sound, feel, and look like Loving Kindness, but it’s not. So how do we identify a near enemy and what do we do?
Lama Tsomo’s first recommendation is to build strong Shamata and Vipassana practices to gain stability of mind and self-awareness. Those qualities are crucial to identifying our true intentions.
Secondly, we ask questions. Lama Tsomo’s rule of thumb is to ask, “Is this practice making me feel closer to this person?” or “Does this join us or separate us?”
We can use those questions as a litmus test. Deeply longing for a person or grasping to have a specific type of relationship with them doesn’t actually make us feel closer. Most often it does the opposite. Wishing them happiness without expectations will cause us to feel closer to them.
If you’re struggling to determine if you’re practicing Loving Kindness or a near enemy, most likely it’s worth doing some self-reflection. Some more helpful questions could be: Am I placing an expectation on this person? Are my well wishes changing based on their behavior? Am I extending Loving Kindness in hopes of securing a friendship or some type of benefit?
If you find that you are practicing a near enemy, the good news is that you’re aware of it. You’ve already accomplished one of the most difficult parts. You can also find comfort in knowing that since there’s a name for it, “near enemy,” it’s common enough for others to have a given title, so you aren’t alone.
There is freedom in opening our hearts to others without expectations that they’ll accept our love or return it. But like Lama Tsomo says, “Go gently, go gradually, go slowly. This is why it’s called practice.”