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11/03/201417:56(Xem: 1395)
Violence And Disruption In Society:
A Study Of The Early Buddhist Texts

Elizabeth Harris



It was claimed at the beginning that the advent of the nuclear bomb had issued in a new era of violence and that Buddhism should be able to address this development. The foregoing analysis started from a study of the Buddha's awareness of violence in his own society and passed to questions concerning the condemnation of violence, the roots of violence, and the possibilities for its eradication or reduction. Each of these issues has relevance for the present age, although it has been pointed out that many conditions have changed between the sixth century B.C. and the twentieth century A.D.

One area in which difference can be seen is in the nature of warfare. In the Buddha's time, professional armies were used to settle conflicts. Although civilians were no doubt killed as victorious armies took their plunder, it was the army itself which bore the brunt of the slaughter. Today the cost in civilian, animal and plant life in any future nuclear war is thinkable only in terms of the most horrific nightmare. The duty of the Cakkavatti King might be to defend his people. Yet no nuclear weapon can be used in defense. If it was, it would prove the Buddhist view that the use of violence leads to escalation. The slim, ever-shaky defense that nuclear weapons provide is MAD -- Mutually Assured Destruction -- an uneasy, computer-controlled peace feeding on fear and the willingness to annihilate millions in retaliation, if the other side dares to be the aggressor.

It would seem that, in nuclear weapons, man has created something out of his greed which now makes him victim. The analysis given earlier about the effects of papanca and the process of perception is relevant here. Some people might see the development of ever more sophisticated weapons of destruction as the result of objective, scientific probing into the nature of reality, in this case the use of the atom. An approach more in accordance with Buddhism would be to see the root as tanha, mana and ditthi: the craving for power over the material world and over other people; the wish to protect self and judge other groups as inferior; the clinging to one ideology whilst condemning all others. The result of tanha, mana and ditthi is papanca, the proliferation of ideas which turn the so-called perceiver into the victim of obsessions bearing little relation to the empirical. Nuclear and chemical weapons are horrific projections of the human mind. It has come to the point where they possess the mind rather than the mind the weapons. Humanity is now the victim.

Within this atmosphere, one may ask how effective change in the individual is and whether the few who work to conquer tanha, mana and ditthi can act as leaven within the whole. The obstacles are great today as they were in the Buddha's time. The Buddha saw the puthujjana as a person hard to convince or change, given the strength of craving and views. Today, ideas have a charismatic force. Nationalism, ethnicity and religion, for instance, push groups towards violence. They form ego-feeding, identity-creating creeds which are hard to break down. In such situations, empirical evidence shows that some who try to show the alternative force of metta become the victims of violence, at least in the frame of their present life.

Two insights from the foregoing study are relevant here: the reaction which took place in the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta and the interdependent nature of the environmental and the psychological. In the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta, the truth that violence leads to greater violence and crime to ever-deepening bestiality eventually pierces the consciousness of some members of society as they see what is happening around them. Some realize that change is possible through a change in thought patterns. A reaction takes place after the trough of bestiality has been reached. Today, there are those who are "turning around," who are realizing how destructive and bestial is the present and potential violence in the world. However, for just as long as the external environment remains tension-creating, the rise of violent tendencies will continue. Similar injustices exist today as are mentioned in the Kutadanta Sutta, but their scope has altered and widened to include relationships between blocks of countries as well as within countries. In most countries of the world, the poor are becoming poorer. Between countries, the richer nations are becoming richer at the expense of the poorer. The warning which the Buddhist texts give is that such conditions breed violence and that the arm of the law or the gun will not curb it. Only change at the level of the root causes will create more peaceful conditions. This is one of the gravest challenges which the world faces, since it points to a complete re-drawing of the world economic system. The formidable obstacle in the way of such change is tanha in those with power or economic might -- for profit, influence and a luxurious lifestyle.

One reaction of the individual to the above tension is complete withdrawal into a life of inaction. This was evidently a temptation in the sixth century B.C. It has been a temptation across all religions throughout the centuries. The mistake is to confuse renunciation and inaction, detachment (viraga) and apathy. The life of renunciation aims at detachment from raga, dosa and moha, but the result should not be apathy but rather greater compassion (karuna) and loving kindness (metta). In the Samanamandika Sutta, a wanderer, Uggahamana, declares that the one who does no evil deed with his body, speaks no evil speech, intends no evil intention and leads no evil livelihood is the recluse who has obtained the most worthy end. The Buddha responds:

"This being so carpenter, then according to the speech of Uggahamana a young baby boy lying on its back would be of abounding skill, of the highest skill, an unconquerable recluse, attained to the highest attainments. "[95]

In contrast, the Buddha lays down the importance of developing wholesome qualities, not merely abstaining from what is unwholesome. The demands of the Eightfold Path are stressed, demands incumbent not only on the monk but on all followers:

"As to this, carpenter, a monk is endowed with the perfect view of an adept, he is endowed with the perfect intention of an adept, ... the perfect speech ... the perfect action ... the perfect mode of livelihood ... the perfect endeavor ... the perfect mindfulness ... the perfect concentration ... the perfect knowledge of an adept (sammananena), he is endowed with the perfect freedom of an adept." [96]

In a violent world, therefore, the duty of the Buddhist disciple is not inactive withdrawal or apathy but culture of the mind to root out personal defilements so that perception and judgment can be unbiased and objective; cultivation of positive qualities which will create harmony and peace; and, most important, a readiness to speak out and act against what is blameworthy and in praise of what is worthy of praise.
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