The Origins of Violence


Yet again we are confronted with the horror of terrorism. The recent attacks in Paris are sadly another example of similar events throughout the world. Let’s not forget Lebanon is also mourning it’s dead. Unfortunately there will be more like this to come…

To feel compassion and sorrow for the victims of the Paris and Lebanon attacks should be our first and foremost response. Other feelings will follow. Anger at the perpetrators, resentment towards those we deem responsible for the broader situation. No doubt we will tell ourselves stories about why we think it is all unfolding this way.

The buddha said that when we speak or act with hatred it is like picking up a hot coal and hurling it at our target. We burn ourselves in the process. No good can come of using our anger for destructive purposes. Anger can be positive and it is better we use it’s energy to clarify our intentions and bolster our efforts to create peace and harmony.

And yet we will inevitably ask ourselves; why must humans behave this way? What drives such violent behavior?

As a way of answering these questions the buddha spoke of how all things arise. In the Maha-nidana Sutta he said to his fellow bhikksus –

‘This is, because that is.

This is not, because that is not.
This ceases to be, because that ceases to be.’

There is nothing particularly dramatic in this teaching and yet it serves to underline not just our own interdependence, but the interdependence of all events and all things. Nothing happens and no thing exists without a prior supporting cause and each event or objects that exist now will create the events and objects of the future. We cannot step outside this closed system. We are all part of what is happening.

If we can truly see all of humanity as connected and interdependent we can try to look at global issues that take into account all of our collective needs. There may be many causes for the turmoil in the middle east yet we need to look clearly at the roots of what fosters a movement that targets innocent people walking on the streets of their cities. We also need to look at the roots of the exploitation of people who have, for centuries, been colonised and oppressed. By seeing each side as closed systems – the good guys or the bad guys, dark and light…we will fail.

We also need to be honest about the fact that the origins of the violence we see in Paris and Beirut come about through ideologies that support oppression, whether through rapacious capitalism or theocratic fascism. As Voltaire said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” We need to call out bad ideas where we see them, otherwise there is no hope of things changing. Courage is needed to stand in the middle and speak out against the deathly sociopathic views of both extremes.

With the realisation that the roots of violence and suffering lie in hatred, ignorance, and greed we must start with the intention to foster the opposite  love, clarity and generosity. If we can choose to live our lives this way and realise our connection to all things we can begin to rid the world of some of its greatest problems.

Jay Roche


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