Monthly Archives: May 2011

Walking the path of nonviolence

The Buddha taught of nonviolence to all things. In short, to “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”. Jesus preached of turning the other cheek. A nice ideal, but practical? अशोक (Ashoka the Great) became a Buddhist after seeing the sufferings of war:
What have I done? If this is a victory, what’s a defeat then? Is this a victory or a defeat? Is this justice or injustice? Is it gallantry or a rout? Is it valor to kill innocent children and women? Do I do it to widen the empire and for prosperity or to destroy the other’s kingdom and splendor? One has lost her husband, someone else a father, someone a child, someone an unborn infant…. What’s this debris of the corpses? Are these marks of victory or defeat? Are these vultures, crows, eagles the messengers of death or evil?

Yet Ashoka’s state had to deal with the real world. Negotiations with enemies, brokering peace is fine, but what is that backed with? What if someone threatens you despite you being nice to them?

Being nice all the time is not an evolutionary stable solution – we have evolved in a competitive environment, and the best strategy from our gene’s perspective is to produce a mixed strategy of limited conflict (i.e. it is better to share, but sometimes it makes sense to take a risk, even of death, enter into a conflict, and grab the spoils). Is this an excuse for violence though? Should we not aim for peace? Perhaps the best way of thinking about it is to borrow from a Daoist* perspective on statehood, which is to always try for a diplomatic / nonviolent solution first, and have war as the last resort. What if, instead of invading Afghanistan, the US and her allies had focused on intelligent ways of homeland security (no I don’t include fondling kids or even adults in that), and on promoting mainstream Islam and education and health in Afghanistan, with only targeted killings of those who pose a threat. It’s hard to be nice to a bomb-maker and the hundreds or thousands he might kill simultaneously – would love to know how a Buddhist grapples with this version of the trolley problem

*Like mainstream Buddhism, or indeed any religion, Daoism also makes mystical claims in addition to social science / psychological claims (not that the latter are well-supported, though at least Buddhism encourages testing of ideas – vaguely scientific). I am not religious, but interested in what religion has to say about the human condition 🙂


A little about me:
I kept an older blog here, but didn’t really feel I had much to say, in a longer format anyway—I have been on Twitter, but now want to have a space to write longer rants / insights. Life has also been keeping me very busy—since my last post on that blog, I have changed jobs twice, first to work as a lecturer at the University of South Australia, then recently as a senior research fellow at the University of Wollongong‘s SMART Infrastructure Facility. I also now have a beautiful lovely daughter, one Chloe Audrey Berryman / 沈自华.