You have heard that it was said
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."
But I say to you,
Do not resist the one who is evil.
But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek,
turn to him the other also.
Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount
The central problem in every religion and philosophy is the problem of pain, or suffering. Why do bad things happen to good people? Some traditions point to sin, others to karma, others to fallible human institutions. Just think of all the innocent people who die in conspicuous acts of terrorism, whether in Paris, Las Vegas or Orlando. In many cases, we are talking women and children.
An even greater dilemma is what to do in response. Should we pretend it never happened? Should we kill our attacker? Should we declare war? Should we begin to look at life as a victim? Should we get even through elaborate plots of revenge.
This is not what the greatest men who have every lived have taught us. Yet we must deal with the situation in a way that works for us as human beings.
We must start by acknowledging that violence, directed towards ourselves, or to others (maybe even on the other side of the world) is a part of our experience. It doesn’t matter how clever our interpretation; we must deal with the fact that we have let it in as a part of our reality. Every time you watch a newscast or pick up a paper, you create even more violence.
We don’t have to interpret it if we don’t want to. It is very difficult to acknowledge pain without immediately going to judgment, evaluation, decision and conclusion. We seem to be wired that way. Yet the truth is simply that we experience pain, or extreme discomfort, disruption and destruction, either by ourselves, or through other people.
Whatever has happened, has happened. There is nothing we can overtly do to erase that fact. How we respond to that event is wide open. This is where our creativity comes in. Not every injured person seeks retaliation or revenge. This should give us pause for consideration.
On a collective scale, we have institutions to protect us, from local police to militia to the armed forces. While we don’t really have effective structures on the global level, we certainly have them at lower levels. On the global level, we virtually live in anarchy.
The deeper problem, due primarily to “weapons of mass destruction,” is that the scale of their damage is too powerful to imagine. For example, one Trident submarine could launch enough missiles to take out all the major cities in North America.
President Nixon published a book, Real Peace, in 1984 that marked a shift in Cold War strategy. Nixon showed how total war no longer works as an instrument of public policy. Even limited intervention is risky and should be avoided wherever possible. Shortly thereafter, President Reagan, along with General Secretary Gorbachev, normalized relations between Russia and America.
On an individual level, we are almost never granted the privileges of James Bond. Even his creator, Ian Fleming, couldn’t pull off James Bond in real life. An intriguing movie, The Man Who Would Be James Bond, portrays this.
To retaliate by killing someone, even for breaking and entering, results in a civil procedure, and you must hire a defense attorney. Even killing game with your rifle out of season is reprimanded. The best policemen and soldiers pray they never have to use their weapons.
Simply asking the question, “Is violence ever justified?”, will lead you to the truth. People justify violence all the time, usually dragging God into the picture. This hardly makes violence justified. When it comes to human beings, it is hard for anyone to feel good eliminating someone.
On a deeper level, we can ask where the violence actually happens. If we are honest, we will admit that it always happens within our experience. As long as we find ourselves in the land of the living, any violence we see, hear or feel happens within the context of our absolute being.
An ancient mystical saying puts it that whatever we find without, we find within. The implication is that all external people, places and things are ultimately within us. We know this to be true from quantum theory and neuroscience. Nothing is really “out there” in the classic sense.
At first, this realization may cause you great dismay. However, if you stay with it, you will find it liberating. If Who You Are is the Source of all your experience, then your True Self must be the Creator of your world. This is exactly what is meant by you being a son or daughter of God.
We can learn much from Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They took Jesus’ injunction to love your enemy to the streets. Gandhi didn’t take a passive stance to perceived injustice, which Pope Francis I calls “structural evil.” Even though Gandhi started as a subject of Her Majesty, he didn’t receive equal treatment, as he wasn’t white.
Gandhi learned, and Martin Luther King closely followed, acts of “noncooperation” or “civil disobedience” not as retaliation or revenge, but to awaken the British imperialists and appeal to their higher sensibilities. He was brilliant at that, as you quickly realize in Richard Attenborough’s masterpiece, Gandhi.
When Gandhi was asked how he would respond to Hitler in light of the Jewish holocaust, he maintained that there would be much pain and suffering in a course of nonviolence. He then paused to ask the journalist, “Is there not much suffering and pain now?” Gandhi emphasized that the one thing you must do is stand firm for justice. As he once put it, “I am not for passive anything!”
“An eye for an eye, making the whole world blind!”
We then go back to Buddha, and to Christ. Both are human, both are divine. Buddha taught compassion, Christ taught love. This was not a theoretical construct. Buddha made his followers “Bhikkus,” beggars, and taught humility and solicitous concern. Christ had his followers unconditionally turn the other cheek. The Apostle Peter asked, “If my brother offends me seven times in one day, do I still have to forgive him?” Jesus’ response was, “Not seven times seven (49).”
To those of us untutored in “ahimsa” or noninjury, this seems like a fairy tale. Certainly, people will take advantage of you, abuse you and walk all over you if you are a pushover. However, this is not quite so certain to happen if you truly love them.
Christ taught us to systematically pray for difficult people, blessing them, and wishing the very best for them no matter what they do. Not only Gandhi and Martin Luther King demonstrated the power of this, but throughout the history of Buddhism and Christianity, contemplatives have worked miracles of love. That love, Divine Love, is the most powerful force in all the Universe.
Politicians and commentators keep asking what can we do about all this violence, an endless string of wars, terrorism, murder and violations to our Mother Earth. What they don’t suggest is that we do something radically different.
The Roman Catholic Church was recently in a sharp decline in public esteem. Charges of corruption and pedophilia were rampant. Pope Benedict XVI resigned, an unprecedented act. Then, an obscure archbishop from Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was elected pope. Jorge was an intensely practical man who had no other ambition than to live the Gospel. He invented the Papal name of Francis I and insisted on living in an apartment, not the Papal Palace. He insisted on using public transportation whenever possible.
Pope Francis I is but the latest example of people who seriously follow Buddha or Christ, and get the heart of the message right. Jesus called his disciples “the Light of the world.” He was referring to divine consciousness. When people awaken to Whom They Really Are, the world, itself, is transformed before their eyes.
It is not too late for us to carry that torch forward in our heart and our soul.