Tag Archives: Buddhism and social justice

Violence & Non-Violence: Lessons on Perfecting Tolerance

By: Rev. Shi Shen-Xi Astor

From the very beginning of our Buddhist studies we learn about the Three Pure Precepts – Do no harm, Do only good, Do good for others; and the Ten Precepts, the first being to abstain from taking life, or as we creatively re-describe it ‘I undertake the training of loving-kindness in all possible circumstances, I will abstain from hurting sentient beings’. We recognize that by acting with encompassing and corrective effort that we gradually train our conditioned mind to act spontaneously for the good. The way we tackle life’s experiences and situations will seem spontaneous to others but we quickly learn that they come from practice and commitment to the path we have chosen to practice. Our Buddhist Precepts can be considered as positive and constructive resolutions that are sincerely and voluntarily undertaken. They awaken in us how the truly wise behave, beyond any sense of dominating self interest; the realization that mutability is the foundation upon which we are made.

Malevolent behavior often springs from an ego-mind deluded about our nature as human beings, and it can take the characteristics of hatred, aggression, and craving for unnatural control over others, or against others we perceive as being different, in negative aspects from what we consider “normal.” It is not power and control that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing control corrupts those who wield it unjustly and without consent, or fear of the unknown that they see as threatening to their core beliefs. These behaviors feed upon themselves and become strongly rooted in the way we see the world around us and our dominating dispositions, not only in individuals but in whole cultures or sub-cultures. Physical aggression, as expressed in violent like action, is no more than their most spectacular and bloody expression. In Buddhism the cultivation of situational ethics reflected in expressions of compassion by our attempting to follow the moral precepts is an aspiration toward breaking this karmic cycle. It is a primary step towards resolving the egocentricity of dominating willfulness, and cultivating sincere awareness of others. These moral and ethical precepts invite us to remove those filters through which we view the world in negative terms and to aspire to promoting harmony and reconciliation where it is needed. Whether, and to what extent, we keep the Precepts is the responsibility of each individual. But we must remain fully aware of the intent of our actions while we engage the hard issues of our day.

The contingent causal force of violent behavior will be affected by the circumstances in which it occurs. There is surely a difference between conflicts of conquest, religious intolerance and self-interests, than actions of defense. History has recorded some conflicts for national independence from foreign exploration in Buddhist countries that became established in some Buddhist schools tradition as examples of just actions to counter acts of tyranny since freedom was essential to the spiritual as well as the material progress of the indigenous community. We may deplore the historic destruction of the great Indian Buddhist heritage in the middle-ages undefended against the Mongol and Muslim invaders, for example. However, it is important to understand that according to Buddhism there is nothing that can be called a ‘just violence against a minority group’ which is only a false term coined and put into circulation to justify and excuse hatred, cruelty, ignorance, violence, suffering, and the philosophy of relativism.

Why does the violence inherent in radicalism so often undercut the humanistic nature of ones cause? To implement acts of destruction is easy, to work for a constructive and just resolution is difficult. Violence has no goodness, only outcomes. Someone is always on the winning or losing side. It is doubtful that peace by destruction could be the only way in which contemporary cultures would experience a stable world order resulting in a lasting peace as well as a universal one. In this modern time the ideal is at least stated in terms of peaceful methods for achieving tolerance and inclusiveness for everyone, not by force, but by consent, not by imposition imposed buy the weak minded. But reality reflects a different lesson. We speak in terms of tolerance, but act in terms of aggression. The intent, I think, is clear. Augustine put it this way, “…with the desire for peace that wars are waged….Every man seeks peace by waging war, but no man seeks war by making peace. For even they who intentionally interrupt the peace in which they are living have no hatred of peace, but only wish it changed into a peace that suits them better….Even those who they make war against they wish to make their own, and impose on them the laws of their own peace”. Continue reading

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