Saturday, September 30, 2006

A time to duck, a time to run, a time to stand

There is a general sense that among the more mystically-oriented and contempative sacred traditions that absolute pacifism is the answer - the only answer - to violence. I don't happen to agree with this. As I've written before, when it comes to the point where we are confronted with the threat of violence, we (human society) have already failed. That is, the effect was laid with the causes we allowed to be sewn which then ripened in the condition we helped to create. It's the basis of the concept of karma.

So, then, even seeing others as ourselves, understanding our connection to those who threaten us, and realizing that we are seeing the result of delusion in their actions, speech, and thoughts, how does one know when to duck, when to run away, and when to fight back? It is true that violence begets violence, but then, never standing to oppose violence allows it to flow unchecked and cause even greater harm. Would it not be better, for example, for an attacker to be subdued and for or him or her confined for a time? Doesn't it make sense to use the least possible amount of physical or social force possible (including none at all) to avert or minimalize the violence and aggression of others? Or to quote that (in)famous line from Kung Fu, "Run away rather than hurt, hurt rather than mame, mame rather than kill."

I am carefully distinguishing here between force and violence, though some may see it as an arbitrary distinction. The distinction is primarily one of degree of disruption and injury and secondarily one of intention and state of mind.

Is it possible to use force with compassion? I believe it is. Seeing one's opponent as a misguided brother or sister not only mean one will want to use the least force necessary, it also means one would take a certain sense of responsibility for their actions and the damage they might cause (and see to it that they are stopped).

The problem, as with most things in society, is that either force is not used with/seen as compatible with compassion or force is used in the hollow invocation of compassion. Isn't it imperative then that those sacred traditions which espouse boundless compassion for all sentient beings do not neglect the importance of these lessons for those who would be/are our societally-sanctioned wielders of force (i.e. police and military)?

The U.S. Armed Forces officially commissioned the first Buddhist chaplain, Lt. j.g. Gracie Shin, on July 22, 2004. Do you think this is/should be a rare anomolie or a hopeful sign of things to come?

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