Sunday, November 22, 2015


What would Buddha do, in the face of the violence we are witnessing in the world today?

"Evil" is a word not much used in Buddhism, at least in the fairly extensive reading I have done over the years; but to call such dreadful acts "unskillful" is surely less than adequate.

Violence, as I understand it, is justified when it comes to self-defense. A Buddhist is not required to cower before physical threats and accept the harm done to him.

But what kind action is called for in defense of others? In defense, let's say, of those women described in the NY Times article to which I offered a link yesterday--women abused and violated by ISIS "warriors"? Or the many thousands of innocents who suffer persecution, torture, execution at their hands? Or the victims--and the future potential victims--of their terrorist attacks?

In theory, I'm a pacifist. I hate violence, whether at the personal or the international level. I am shamed even by the small acts of physical violence I have committed in my life. (I'll admit it, on occasion I crush ants; and I swat mosquitos mercilessly.)

But we Brits, along with our allies, were right to face down the Nazi threat, its terror tactics, its slaughter of innocent lives. Comes a point where you cannot, morally, stand by when confronted with the worst of human behavior. When violent, military response is the only option left to you.

So where do we stand now, in the face of an organization committed to violent conquest and the suppression of everything we consider to constitute humanity? If he had bombs, would the Buddha drop them? If he had "boots" to "put on the ground", would he send them in? (Incidentally, it's despicable, I think, to reduce those human lives to military footwear. I've heard those words too often.)

I don't have the answers to these questions. But think it right to ask them. I am, after all, complicit in the affairs of humankind.

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