Is Hate Conquered by Love?

BeatlesLoveAfter the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, it seemed like every Buddhist organization with any kind of on line presence was posting a quotation attributed to the Buddha that went, “Hate is not conquered by hate. Hate is conquered by love. This law is eternal.”

This is the go-to quotation that every Western-born Buddhist is seemingly required to post on the Internet every time certain types of tragedies happen. Back in September of 2001, before Facebook even existed, Buddhists started sharing it almost immediately after the terrorist attack. It’s been used on all sorts of occasions whenever the need arises ever since.

The quotation comes from Juan Mascaro’s translation of a book called The Dhammapada (Penguin Books, 1973), a compilation of quotations by the Buddha taken from a variety of different sources. It’s saying number five of chapter one, which Mascaro titled “Contrary Ways.”

Other translators tend to prefer to title this chapter “The Pairs,” and their translations are different. John Richards translates the same saying as, “Occasions of hatred are certainly never settled by hatred. They are settled by freedom from hatred. This is the eternal law.” Acarya Buddharakkhita translates it as, “Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.” Other translations tend to be similar.

The key words in the original Pali language are verani, usually translated as “hatred,” and averana, usually translated as “non-hatred.” There are supposed to be little lines over the “e” and the “a” in both words, but the software I’m using for this blog won’t let me put those in.

The word “love” (pema or metta in Pali) is not actually present in the original quotation. Mascaro decided that love was the same as non-hatred and translated the phrase accordingly.

His word choice has influenced Buddhists in the West to see this quotation as meaning something quite different from its original intention. The Mascaro version sits very comfortably alongside a lot of Christian ideals about love, and so it’s become very popular, especially in the USA. But is love really the opposite of hate? Can love actually conquer hate?

A few days before the incident in Orlando, social media was all abuzz with the story of a swimmer at Standford University who raped a woman and was given a ridiculously light sentence for his crime. Lots of people called for the judge to be taken to task for his decision. The woman who was raped shared her story of how both the rape and the process of the trial felt to her.

But more than that, there was a huge outpouring of hatred toward the swimmer-rapist. His name and photo were plastered all over social media with the clear intention of inciting anyone who should happen to encounter him to… Well, no one I saw quite came right out and said it. But what would you do if you came face-to-face with a guy who looked like the quintessential stereotype of an entitled white douchebag who raped an unconscious woman and got off with little more than a stern warning never to do that again?

We don’t know the motives of the guy who shot all those people in Orlando. But circumstances indicate it was what Americans call a “hate crime.” He opened fire at a gay nightclub. Not long before that, he seemed to have converted to a very intolerant brand of Islamic fundamentalism, which is notoriously anti-homosexual. There is evidence he may have been in denial about his own homosexuality. So it’s reasonable to conclude he shot all those people because he hated gays.

My question is this. Is there an essential difference between the shooter’s hatred of gays and the Internet’s hatred of the swimmer-rapist?

Of course there is a superficial difference. You can make a reasonable case for hating the swimmer-rapist since he did what most of us acknowledge as a very bad thing to a person who clearly did not deserve it. You cannot make a similarly reasonable case for the Orlando shooter’s hatred. Those people in that nightclub weren’t doing anything but having a good time.

But don’t reasons come after hatred? Are you presented with reasons and then, applying those reasons, hate someone for them? Or does hatred come first and then get bolstered by reasons?

I can’t look into that shooter’s mind, but based on my own mind I can guess that he probably had reasons for shooting those people. He probably justified his hatred to himself. My guess would be his reasons involved the idea that the people in that nightclub were sinners and deserved to die for their crimes against God. There are plenty of people on the Internet claiming that the shooter did the right thing for those very reasons.

Could the shooter’s hatred have been conquered by love? Can our hatred for the swimmer-rapist be conquered by love?

It certainly sounds good. Maybe if we’d given the shooter a great big hug on Friday, he wouldn’t have shot all those people on Saturday. And maybe if we gave that swimmer-rapist a great big hug right now we’d all feel better about him. Would we? Could we?

I am suspicious of this word “love.” I know everybody loves love and hates hate. I know the Beatles said love is all you need. I sometimes feel like the word “love” is used to describe a kind of universal oneness that exists in spite of whatever other feelings we might have toward one another.

Yet I also feel like love can be wielded as a weapon. We have love! You don’t have love! We love-people are going to conquer you hate-people! Buddha said so!

Outpourings of so-called “love” can often feel aggressive and angry. There’s a lot of hate in what some people call “love.”

The difference between hating homosexuals and hating those who hate homosexuals feels very superficial to me. It feels like different ways of justifying and providing reasons for a much deeper hatred that is already present before it has an object.

Non-hatred might be a very different thing from what a lot of people are labeling as “love.” Non-hatred might be a stepping back from both hate and love into something that isn’t really one or the other. When I take this backward step, it doesn’t feel like indifference or ambivalence. It feels more balanced and more like a place from which a person might be able to act with greater clarity than acting out of either hatred or love.

Those are just a few thoughts. I’ll leave you with another quotation form the John Richards translation of the Dhammapada that may be useful, “Happy indeed we live who are free from hatred among those who still hate. In the midst of hate-filled people, we live free from hatred.”

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