Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Buddha and a Culture of Violence

Previous installment: "The Buddha Meets the Drone"

by Jack Lawlor

Although a life-long idealist, the Buddha was no stranger to cultures of violence. As a youth, his father -- a local monarch -- insisted that he train to be a warrior. But the Buddha kept his own counsel.

Years later, after the Buddha left his father's palace to become a spiritual seeker, he encountered the armies of two adjacent kingdoms massing on the banks of the Rohini River to clash over disputed water rights on the occasionally parched plains of northern India. Did the Budddha linger to side with the kingdom that was historically allied with his homeland? Did he walk away?

No, the Buddha didn't walk away from this highly charged situation. He did something rather interesting. He walked up and down the assembled ranks of both armies, and talked to the soldiers. He then essentially mediated the situation. He had asked questions of both sides about the significance of the water rights in question and the value of the lives of the young men in each army and the amount of treasure it took to assemble troops, warhorses and equipment in place on the field of battle. He then reported to each side the attitudes of the other side. It proved that neither side thought it was worth viewing the water rights as an "all or nothing" issue, and shared water rights were successfully negotiated.

The Buddha did not always succeed in such efforts, but in many instances -- including disputes within his spiritual community -- he was able successfully to sow seeds of empathy, of being able to know and see deeply into other people, not limited only to what is wrong within them but what his right, what is healthy. He did not gain these insights through the use of drone aircraft thousands of feet above the earth, but by meeting with people and spending time with them, exploring their deepest, most genuine desires and aspirations. And this often led to defusing and disarming difficult situations. Are we even capable of such empathy today, in the wake of Bush-era political leaders who made fun of empathetic people, implying they are are weak?

Were the assembled armies along the Rohini River made stronger by avoiding violent conflict? Or would they have been stronger after battling each other, contributing their blood to the Rohini? Is our nation stronger or weaker in the wake of the war in Iraq?

What compass was the Buddha following? How would his source of guidance approach the subject of drone warfare?

Next installment: "The Buddha On Love"

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