Wednesday, July 5, 2017

"A Journey into Buddhism" (Part II)

Elizabeth J. Harris, A Journey into Buddhism; A. Wells, Dhr. Seven (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
The Buddha, Kanthaka, and a Christian saint, maybe Mary, maybe Jay (Ginger Mayerson)
2. Non-Retaliation
And this mudra means "peace"!
In one sutra in the Middle-Length Discourses of the Buddha (Majjhima Nikaya), one of the five divisions of the sutra collection that make up the Pali canon, the Buddha says to his disciples:
"Meditators, as low-down bandits might carve you limb from limb with a two-handed saw, yet even then whoever sets mind at enmity, that person for that reason is not a doer of my teaching (Dharma).

"This is how you must train yourselves: neither will my mind become perverted, nor will I utter unskillful speech, but kindly and compassionate will I dwell, with a mind/heart of friendliness and free of ill will."

The vividness of this picture has always moved me -- a criminal hacking off my arms and legs with a saw. And it isn't that far-fetched. War involves such butchery. The denial of human rights under totalitarian regimes produces similar horrors, and so does the obsessional urge of a serial killer or multiple murderer.

Get her! She has a look on her face!!
Fear, terror, or violent retaliation in self-protection would seem the natural reactions to such an attack, the way we're taught in Christendom (though not by Jesus), a reaction programmed into our bodies.
Yet, the challenge of Buddhism here is to not retaliate, not to hate, no to grow angry or seek revenge. Instead, it is to show compassion to all people even if they are about to kill you.

It is a challenge that reaches out from other religions also. Jesus of Palestine, suffering the agony of being nailed through his flesh to rough wooden posts, forgave his killers and even felt compassion for them [due to the karma they were accruing] in their blindness.

But does this imply that Buddhism advocates that we should never protect ourselves or others from violence, that we should submit to whatever exploitation we are subjected to, that in the face of "evil" forces we should remain passive?

To answer "yes" is to misread Buddhism and all true religion. Buddhism does not support hopeless passivity in the face of violence and evil. Rather, it encourages a mental attitude which can face and oppose violence without fear or hatred or delusion.
Nowhere in the Buddhist texts is it suggested that we should remain inactive when we or others are suffering. Nowhere does it say we should refrain from action if someone is murdering our son, daughter, neighbor, or colleague in front of our eyes.

In such situations, harm must be relieved, violence denounced, interceding or self-sacrifice might even be demanded, though the Buddhist texts also warn that to meet violence with violence brings a vicious circle of spiraling further violence.

What the Buddhist texts do say is that to hate, to feel anger towards the doer of violence, is self-defeating. It harms both and harms the hater even more than the hated.

In the ancient Buddhist texts, we come across many stories of non-hatred deflecting violence and making it powerless.

One woman, because she refuses to feel hatred, is unharmed when burning oil is poured over her by a jealous co-wife. And when a monk dies of snakebite, the Buddha says he would not have died if he had radiated loving kindness (metta) to the four families of snakes. (See the khanda paritta for protection from snakebites).

This might seem utopian in a world shot through with violence. The skeptic can point to the deaths of Gandhi in India, Oscar Romero in El Salvador, and Michael Rodrigo in Sri Lanka to show that the most compassionate of beings are sometimes unable to escape violent deaths caused by the greed and hatred of others.
  • [The fact that the chief disciple Maha Moggallana could not avoid such a death shows the power of past karma to bear its results when it gets the opportunity. This disciple was fully enlightened and foremost in the practice of magic yet could not always avoid karma consequences (vipaka and phala). What then of ordinary unenlightened beings without magical powers?]
But the force of these spiritual teachings will remain. Violence is not overcome by violence. Hatred is not defeated by hatred. Our lives are not made more secure by wishing to protect them [or by harming others in that effort.]

To face death without hatred or fear, even towards our killers, is the path of sainthood (arhatship, full enlightenment). These are eternal truths. More

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