26 Oct 2006 |
Posted by Lama Surya Das | 3 Comments.
Nonviolence is a radical and challenging practice. It’s interesting that we don’t even actually have a word for it – instead we only use the negation of violence. That is how foreign and removed this concept is in our usual collective thinking. Nonviolence is not mere pacifism; Mahatma Gandhi used the powerful truth of nonviolent passive resistance to free his country from British Rule. He said, “Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.” Gandhi taught that nonviolence must never come from weakness but from inner strength and clarity, and only the strongest and most disciplined, principled people can hope to achieve it. The leading contemporary advocate of nonviolence, the Dalai Lama of Tibet–a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate–says that the greatest expression of nonviolence is active, empathic compassion.
It is a rueful fact of spiritual life that it is usually easier to fight for our principles than to live up to them. I think we have to rely on finding the golden mean of appropriate action, as in the question I raised last week about whether we protect ourselves and our loved ones or not, or even to what extent we ought to defend our country. If Hitler’s Nazis were to rise to power in our world today, it would seem appropriate to resist and to fight back. How can we most intelligently deal with a murderous aggressor intent upon our demise?
I myself would try to fight with a mountain lion to survive–but then, I am hardly a perfectly selfless Bodhisattva like Buddha as told in the sutra story where he sacrificed himself to the starving tigress and cubs. Even Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest modern proponent of ‘ahimsa’ (nonviolence), admitted the possibility of using violent force, if needed, to subdue a dangerous psychopath on the brink of seriously harming others.
I guess your conscience must, as always, be your guide. No easy answers here! Just let me posit that there would be far fewer so-called “just wars” and “holy wars” if selfish greed, hatred, intolerance and other obscurations were not important factors at work in us. Killing for God has never seemed to me like much of a sensible option; I know of no God who requires that, whatever some may say. Anger, fear and avarice are so often at the root of various kinds of violence, whether international or domestic.
This is where we must start to work toward curing the rampant disease of war and violence–by disarming the heart. “The true battlefield is the mind of man”, as Dostoyevsky said. Let’s learn to look into ourselves and root out the seeds of violence and cupidity in our own hearts and minds– such as through mindful anger management techniques. Purifying ourselves purifies entire worlds. Transforming oneself can lead to transforming all.
I find it helpful to remember Buddha’s timeless dictum, not unlike Jesus’ teachings:
“Hatred is never appeased by hatred; hatred is appeased only by love.”