In our last +1, we talked about Aristotle’s Virtuous Mean. As it turns out, Buddhism has its own take on the same idea. Let’s take a quick look.
In The Places That Scare You, Pema Chödrön tells us about four of the most important virtues of Buddhism. She calls them “Limitless Qualities.” They are: Loving-kindness, compassion, joyfulness and equanimity.
Those are obviously wonderful qualities that we’d be wise to cultivate in our lives.
But, here’s the deal.
There are, as Pema says, both “near enemies” and “far enemies” to each of those qualities.
The “far enemy” is, essentially, what Aristotle would describe as the vice of deficiency. You just don’t have the quality. That’s pretty obviously not a good thing.
For example, the “far enemy” of loving-kindness is hatred while the far enemy of compassion is cruelty.
The “near enemies” are a little more tricky. These are essentially what Aristotle would describe as the vice of excess. You have a little too much of an otherwise desirable quality. That, somewhat surprisingly, isn’t always a good thing.
For example, let’s say we’re going after loving-kindness as a virtue that we’d like to experience more of. Clearly, the far enemy of hatred isn’t going to help us get there. But, what happens when you have TOO MUCH loving-kindness? Well, then you run the risk of having attachment. That’s the near enemy of loving-kindness. Our vice of excess.
Joyfulness is another limitless quality. The “far enemy” of joyfulness? It’s vice of deficiency? Envy. When you don’t have enough joy, you just envy what others have. Eek. But, what happens when you have TOO MUCH joy? Then you get overexcitement—which is similar to the vice of excess I talked about with my energy and enthusiasm.
Near enemies. Far enemies.
How are you doing with them?
If you’re feeling so inspired, let’s pick another one of your favorite virtues and see if you can drop it into this model. Then notice how you can Optimize it just a little more today.