By Ty Phillips
“All creatures tremble before violence, therefore do not kill or cause others to kill.”
The Buddha spoke these words, recorded in the Dhammapada. Within the pages of the Majjhima Nikaya he is recorded as having said that if anyone should act upon you in violence, “with hand, stick, or knife,” that we should harbor no ill will and speak no evil word. Within some 400 scriptures—within the greater Buddhist cannon—not a single phrase can be used to condone or justify violence.
What does this mean to us as practitioners within the confines of America?
Is it enough to say we try to be mindful (a practice largely removed from its root source of the Buddhist path in our culture) or that we buy organic, vote liberal and maybe have one token black and gay friend? All of these choices are actually superficial. These are actions that get us attention, make us feel better about ourselves and serve the larger aspect of our ego.
What does it really mean to be a Buddhist in our country, in this day and age, in light of Ferguson, the CIA Torture Report, the ongoing wars and the power big business has over this country? In most cases, voting liberal or republican is probably going against the dharma. Often we use our mindfulness practice to get ahead, not give up our grasping (and the black and gay friend sounds like a bourgeois statement if I have ever heard one).
This isn’t to say these issues as a whole aren’t important in some way or that we should abandon them or that it is the motivation behind all of our behaviors. It requires great diligence on our parts though.
The Buddha made it clear, that even small evils or evils ignored, can fill a vast ocean drop by drop. Drop by drop, purchase by purchase, excuse by excuse, justification by justification, we are far removed from any semblance of morality and right path. All of these statements that are blasted across the radio waves and TV screens declaring Support the Troops, Pledge of Allegiance, Patriotism, God Bless America, Freedom of Speech and all of what we say it means are in fact everything the Buddha stood against.
When the Buddha left his life behind, he left behind his son Rahula (fetter). I think it more likely that the name his son was given is telling in not that he abandoned his actual family, but that Rahula symbolized attachment to place, status, and familial bonds. Looking at the eightfold path and his comments on being in the world but not of it, we are forced to not only take a look at both the American interpretation of Buddhism, but also at America as a whole and our place as upholders of the dharma.
As we stake our claim in life, our Rahula is similar; status, job, place in our family, and city. Yet we claim to uphold the dharma, in the American way. This isn’t dharma then. Like Jesus after him, Buddha also said that we cannot be torn by two masters—one of spiritual and one of material pursuits. We also cannot be torn between political allegiance and dharmic practice; between condemning torture and yet engaging and profiting from the capitalistic system that drives it.
In her speech on 12/8/2014 Hilary Clinton made comments about having understanding and empathy even for the worst of our enemies. The reactions that I saw to her speech were at the very least, depressingly overwhelming. Americans called for her beheading, referred to her as female anatomy, as a bitch, as a camel lover supporter and ad infinitum.
What we see as terrorists are beheading Americans in a foreign land, blowing up the trade centers and committing other horrific acts is that they had a cause.
As the Buddha said, “this is, because that is.” Terrorism against the United States did not originate out of thin air. Our policies of defending “freedom” (I,e, financial assets) has led to the invasion and relocation of millions. What we are seeing is a final retaliation against our colonial aggression. Yet when empathy and understanding is called for, we see only the symptom—never the cause.
As I mentioned earlier; yes, there is a place for a standing army; to defend the citizens of a given nation from outside hostilities; to remain within the confines of their own soil for the betterment of its people. When not engaged in conflict, which we never have been, it should be put to use on projects serving the common good—infrastructure, water and building projects and humanitarian aid. A police force as well is a necessity; to serve and protect citizenry of given townships and cities. To help with education and projects serving the poor; not as a roving arm of inter continent political enforcement.
So what is our duty as citizens and Buddhists?
First and foremost, all and any ideas of nationalism and capitalism have to be forgone. The ideas of competition for profit are in direct conflict with Buddhist ideals; “Riches make men greedy, and so are like a caravan leading down the road to perdition.” This means also shunning a system driven for the pursuit of economic aim as its priority. This means civil resistance and non- cooperation with policies of war, torture, colonialism and conquest.
These decisions are more than voting and organic shopping. Dharma is not a separate space and time set aside each morning and evening. It is the full engagement of every thought and action that we are in.
“Giving up limited pleasures, one sees far reaching happiness.” We must be willing to forego wants in order for a world to obtain its needs. We must be willing to act not only in mental protest but in the protest of abstention as well. Every action we wish to see outwards, upheld by government and policy, we must be willing to enact in daily life. It can be done. We can accomplish these things together. It only takes the willingness to start that initial step.
“Hatreds do not ever cease in this world by other hatreds, but by compassion. This is the law eternal.”