Horizon at Sandy Point

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hearts of darkness

Surely there's the potential to violence that exists in every human being. Dig deep and you must find it: the rage that a parent hopes to tap into to defend a child; the force that one expects to conjure in the face of injust assault or unfair aggression. Dig deeper and assess the strength in your hands - could you use these to strangle, wield a weapon, stab and yes, kill - with justifiable rage? (What is justifiable rage?) Unless we have practised some form of martial arts few of us might actually think about being able to defend ourselves. But with crime on the rise, we are encouraged to assess personal strategies of avoidance, or - if it comes to it - weapons, in our homes, on our persons, in our cars. The most powerful of all weapons, we are told, is of course, the mind.

However agile and responsive the mind might be, it's still very hard for the the body to outrun the bullet, to dodge the pummelling fist, the slashing blade. When you think about it, in the extreme circumstance, someone will be injured, someone dislocated, maybe even killed. So, many of us live our lives to ensure that we circumspectly avoid that which brings us in the path of danger - the people we associate with, the burglarproofing in our homes, the places where we work, lime and send our children - as far as possible. For the most part, we set our lives in such a way that we keep the low profile, under the radar of notice and out of the range of possible violence.

Among us, though, there seem to be many who never anticipate violence, and even if they do, never see it in themselves as a response to aggression - even brutality - in others. They seem unable to anticipate, and are therefore unable to avoid it. Even in the extreme, these innocents do not defend themselves. And so we lay to rest countless women in abusive relationships and children who never knew what hit them, wounding and maiming families with the stain of blood senselessly spilled. How can the meek inherit the earth when they are being destroyed?

No, and don't tell me that these women and families destroyed by uncommon passion and unexpected rage were "stupid" to have remained in such relationships. For we can't ever know what is in the heart of another, only in our own hearts. And how but by the greatest danger, the ultimate sacrifices, are the most violent hearts to be redeemed?

And so, as Krishna tells Arjuna as he prepares for the battle that is life, (forgive my ultra-simple paraphrase of one of the greatest texts of all time and read it for yourself), we go forth in our lives armed with true knowledge, hearts detached from pain or gain, slow to judge, seeking rightful action, leaving outcome to the universe. ("To see one changeless Life in all the Lives, and in the Separate, One Inseparable.") If we need to fight, then let that need be resolved with the detachment of the ninja. If one is felled, then "amen" (so be it).

In this Divali time, let us hear Krishna's words to Arjuna on the field of battle:
Fearlessness, singleness of soul, the will
Always to strive for wisdom; opened hand
And governed appetites; and piety,
And love of lonely study; humbleness,
Uprightness, slowness unto wrath, a mind
That lightly letteth go what others prize;
And equanimity, and charity
Which spieth no man's faults; and tenderness
Towards all that suffer; a contented heart,
Fluttered by no desires; a bearing mild,
Modest, and grave, with manhood nobly mixed,
With patience, fortitude, and purity;
An unrevengeful spirit, never given
To rate itself too high; - such be the signs,
O Indian Prince, of him whose feet are set
on that fair path which leads to heavenly birth!
(The Song Celestial, Bhagavad Gita, from the Mahabharata, translated from the Sanskrit by Sir Edwin Arnold)


  1. Bunty said:
    What about Christ turning the other cheek?

    And what does the lesson mean, that it is better to be crucified, dead and buried, than to retaliate with violence.

    What about the teachings of Mahatma Ghandi on peace?

    "The way of peace is the way of truth. Truthfulness is even more important than peacefulness. Indeed, lying is the mother of violence. A truthful man cannot long remain violent. He will perceive in the course of his search that he has no need to be violent and he will further discover that so long as there is the slightest trace of violence in him, he will fail to find the truth he is searching for.

    There is no halfway between truth and non violence on the one hand and untruth and violence on the other. We may never be strong enough to be entirely non violent in thought, word and deed. But we must keep non violence as our goal and make steady progress towards it. The attainment of freedom, whether for a man, a nation or the world, must be in exact proportion to the attainment of non violence by each. Let those, therefore, who believe in non violence as the only means of achieving real freedom, keep the lamp of non violence burning bright in the midst of the present impenetrable gloom. The truth of a few will count, the untruth of millions will vanish even like the chaff before a whiff of wind."

    And yet we are afraid to stand up for peace and we revile those who do. Even Ghandi has fallen from his pinnacle of honour because of his message of simplicity.

    There may be something magic in the last line of his monologue above, but we will never find out until we practice what he preaches.


  2. I believe in Gandhi's non-violence, as I believe in Christ's turning the other cheek. Both of which seem to suggest that the only response to violence is to allow oneself to try to deflect the violence by being non-violent. However, I do believe that we must act in the moment as our hearts tell us. For some people, it means being prepared to fight, however dispassionately. For others, it means allowing oneself to be be killed rather than act violently. All theoretical responses...

  3. They say that being present and alert, and ready and able to defend yourself, is in fact a
    deterrent to the criminally minded. They don't want to get hurt.

    And it has been well documented that many times criminals put their intended victims to a test, to see how submissive they are. They may ask you for the time, or if you have a match, or a light for a cigarette. They watch to see how you respond, and how willingly you comply and get them what they have asked for.

    Something to keep in mind!

  4. All your comments are valid and it requires much more space than available to find an answer. Remember all those whom you have quoted spent a lifetime coming to their own conclusions. They also gave their lives for their beliefs. Are we?

  5. I think our lives are the books in which our beliefs are written. And yes, we are dying for/ with our beliefs. We make the difference in our sphere of influence - like ripples in a pond. The big monuments / exemplars of "right living" are only helpful if they allow us to think for ourselves.