So how should we view sentient beings? If they have all been in every possible relationship with us from time without beginning (and time has no beginning in Buddhism), should we consider them to be enemies? Everyone has indeed been the enemy—the person who wants me to trip, fall down the stairs, break a leg. My first teacher, Geshe Wangyal, said that one problem with this outlook would be that you’d have to go out and kill everybody.

Difficult to do. Everyone has also been neutral, like the many people we pass on the streets; we may even know some faces, but we don’t have any open relationship with them. They are just people working here or there; we may see them often, but there is neither desire nor hatred. Should we consider them to be neutral? Or should we consider these people to be friends?

The answer given by popular early twentieth-century Tibetan lama Pabongka is provocative. It is not an abstract principle, but refers to common experience. To render it in my own words: If your close friend became crazed and attacked you with a knife, you would attempt to relieve him of the knife and get his mind back in its natural state; you would use the appropriate means to take the knife, but you wouldn’t then kick him in the head.

Pabongka himself uses the example of one’s own mother: If your mother became crazed and attacked you with a knife, you would relieve her of the knife. You would not then proceed to beat her up. That’s his appeal: Once there’s a profoundly close relationship, the close relationship predominates. Why is a friend acting so terribly? Why is she turning against you and attacking you? It’s due to a counterproductive attitude—a distortion—in the person’s mind.

Indeed, if your own best friend went mad and came at you with a knife to kill you, what would you do? You would seek to disarm your friend, but then you would not proceed to beat the person, would you? You would disarm the attacker in whatever way you could—you might even have to hit the person in order to disarm him, but once you had managed to disarm him, you would not go on to hurt him. Why? Because he is close to you. If you felt that everyone in the whole universe was in the same relationship to you as your very best friend, and if you saw anyone who attacked you as your best friend gone mad, you would not respond with hatred. You would respond with behavior that was appropriate, but you would not be seeking to retaliate and harm the person out of hatred.

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