Buddhism and the Principle of Ahimsa—Non-Violence…

If violence is the answer, then we’re asking the wrong questions. That should be the simplest lesson of all to learn in life, for any human with the capabilities of reason—but it’s not. This is a lesson that we must learn continuously, over and over and over, not to resort to violence when confronted with a confrontational attitude, and not to ‘take the bait’ when offered, because it will surely lead to no good end. ‘Taking the bait,’ of course, is a response to a form of provocation which pretends to be harmless, but which is designed specifically to evoke a response, often negative.

So violence is more than an act. It’s an attitude, and it often has nothing to do with physical violence, but still it’s violence—mental violence? Spiritual? Psychological? Yes, all that and more. Because once it infects your mental state, then the harm is already done. That’s the trauma. Any physical distress is almost superfluous unless it’s lasting. But physical pain is only real when you are in it, and so is difficult to describe. Death is the ultimate act of violence, of course, and the highest sin in any and all religions—Buddhism included. If you can’t resolve your differences with someone without killing them, then we are indeed a sorry species—at best.

So violence occurs on multiple levels and with incremental consequences: psychological trauma, physical pain, and death. And, short of death, I’m not sure which is worse, the trauma or the physical pain. Because physical pain tends to go away, or at worst, it comes and goes, but trauma tends to stick around for a long time, in which you are ‘haunted by the memories,’ so to speak. This is not something easy to cure, to be sure, the persistence of memories which can cause pain to the psyche, chinks in the armor of some sacred mental state, which is best left unperturbed to begin with, and stroked to maintain optimum equilibrium, whenever possible.

But is equilibrium enough? Doesn’t the grasping ego want to be satiated and saturated with ego-fixes and ego-strokes until full to over-flowing? That’s the nature of ego, of course. Enough is never enough, and there is always room for more—somewhere. But in Buddhism enough is always enough, even when you are far from full of it, ego-strokes or whatever. Because Buddhism is a renunciative religion, so in fact less is always more, regardless of the nature of the phenomena. Some people sit in caves for years just to prove that point.

We Westerners often chase the Ultimate High, as if that will cure us of all ills, when in fact it only adds new ones. Have you ever fasted, even for one day? That will get you high, all for the lack of the usual filler material which stuffs your gut in and out almost every single day of your life. But can’t it make you uneasy and unsettled at times? Of course. Don’t the psychedelic drugs all do that? I hear that they do. But fasting is all for the price of—free. And it does nothing to harm the planet. And it trains you to have command over your bodily process, so that you are not just a slave to circumstance.

Buddhism is all about control—self-control. But since that’s a naughty word among many New Age adepts, the concept must be used carefully and with much circumspection. Because we are certainly not talking about control of others or being controlled by others. But self-control is a sublime attribute of the best Buddhist monks (some of whom I’ve discussed this very subject with) and is available to any layman for practical benefits in everyday life for the very reasonable price of—free. Isn’t it funny how our highest virtues of liberty and cost-effectiveness converge on the single word ‘free?’

But look at the original statement again. Violence isn’t an issue we should ever have to deal with. We are simply asking the wrong questions. Perhaps we should be asking no questions at all. But it is in our nature to do so, especially we Westerners with inquisitive minds. These inquisitive minds unfortunately often come with belligerent natures. It is the most original sin to want to win, and from there civilization goes downhill quickly and often. Why do we insist on winning, first I myself, then we ourselves, from pride of self to family to race and nation?

Admittedly it is better than the opposite, as often attributed to Arab Bedouins: “I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers,” but still—we can do better than that, can’t we? I hope so, because the future depends on it. There is not so much land left to escape to. For all its faults, I still think that the human race is pretty special. The only thing we need to conquer is ourselves. And some words are best left unspoken, for the good of all concerned…