By Gerald “Strib” Stribling
Because everything in life is relative, there are no absolutes—even when it comes to the Buddha’s Five Precepts.
Are you so committed to Buddhist non-violence that you wouldn’t kill the rabid dog that’s about to bite your daughter?
My milieu is the Buddhist Ogichidaa, which is one of the reasons I have never felt really comfortable around most other western Buddhists. These Ogichidaa are mostly men, who are devoted to the tenets of Buddhism, but whose backgrounds, inclinations, experience and training make them the kind of people most other people can’t understand: they are willing to do whatever it takes—at risk of bodily harm, death, or imprisonment—to protect innocent people from being harmed. These are police officers, active duty military and veterans, bouncers and students of the martial arts (not to mention more than a few monks) that are men of deep Buddhist convictions and believe that it is their duty, Buddhist or otherwise, to be protectors. Ogichidaa is a Cree Indian word frequently mis-translated as “warrior,” when its meaning is really “protector.”
A few winters ago I was out on the street, trying to find my little car beneath a pile of fresh snow. I live only three doors down from a nice little corner tavern. As I was pushing snow off the roof of my Scion with a little house-broom, I noticed an old brown car turn onto my street and stop at the side door to the tavern. All at once, a man burst out of the bar, opened the driver’s side door of the brown car, pulled the driver out into the snow, and proceeded to start kicking the crud out of him.
I yelled for the guy to stop. He ignored me. I yelled louder for the guy to stop, and he said “Fuck you!”
I used to be a U.S. Marine, and I’ve had many adventures in my life, some of them technically scary. I am also a Buddhist. I don’t do fear. And I am very unused to disrespect. I guess I lost my temper a little.
“Why don’t you come down here and say that?” I bellowed, and began immediately and resolutely to march toward the men, brandishing my little aluminum-handled broom like it was a quarterstaff. I wasn’t really thinking about what I would do once I reached them. If the assault continued, I figured to smack this guy in the back of the head with the business end of the broom, basically to get his attention. And if he came after me…well, I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.
I wasn’t 10 steps down the snowy street when both of the men jumped into the brown car and took off! I live on a one-way street, and they actually had to pass by me to get away. As they approached me, the driver gave me a “thank-you” thumbs up. The guy in the passenger seat, the ersatz thug, stared straight ahead, not daring to make eye contact with me. It was hilarious.
I’d just seen the movie Gran Torino, and I’ve always been a Clint Eastwood fan. I can mimic his voice pretty well. As the car crept by I said, in my best Clint Eastwood voice, “Get out of my goddamn neighborhood.”
How many Buddhists do you know who would turn around and walk the other way if they came upon an assault? We can’t blame them, most people are the same way. That’s why you can’t really trust most men. Just do not justify cowardice under the mantle of “Buddhist pacifism.” Buddhism addresses this, for it is through meditation that fearlessness is cultivated.
Conventional wisdom borne of the mainstream alarmist media has us pissing our pants and quaking in our boots. But if you compare crime statistics over the last 50 years, we’ve never lived in a safer America. Did you know that somewhere between 800,000 and 1.2 million violent crimes are prevented or foiled each year because of the private possession of firearms? It’s a violent world out there, and it has always been so. I don’t go looking for trouble. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to be anyone’s victim, unless I’m hurt or killed in defense of another person.
Buddhist monks invented the martial arts as a way to protect themselves and innocent others. It is not widely known, but I have witnessed it: even Theravada monks study the martial arts. The Buddha himself had enormous courage, and when he faced down the notorious serial killer Angulimala, he saved the lives of countless of his future victims. He didn’t have to resort to violence—he was the Buddha.
I am not the Buddha, and neither are my Ogichidaa friends. We do have considerable powers of persuasion to decelerate potential violence because we’re level-headed and not afraid of much of anything, and that kind of confidence shows. Bullies are caught off guard when you smile at them, it makes them think that you’re trouble. And when all else fails, it’s a comfort to know that you can dislocate the elbow of anyone dumb enough to take a poke at you.
I think that the fullest realization of loving-kindness would be to lay down your life so that another may live.
In the Marines we were indoctrinated to believe that the lives of the men on either side of you are more valuable than your own life. And I believe that the Buddhist concept of no-self (anatta), once you’re past pondering whether or not you exist (you do), is all about unselfishness—unselfishness unto death.
We have nothing to fear, but fear itself, said the greatest U.S. President in history. You can’t do anything about violence in society while you’re hiding under your bed.
Meditation Like Your Life Depended On It: Buddhist Practice and the Development of Fearlessness, by Gerry Stribling (Amazon/Kindle, $1.99).
Editor: Dana Gornall