Excerpted from Gelek Rimpoche’s Essence of Tibetan Buddhism, 8/25/2013
It is very common knowledge, no mystery, what violence and non-violence are. But there is much more to violence than the physical, such as verbal and emotional violence and abuse. All kinds of things are there which are equally hurtful and painful. Sometimes it is even part of the culture for people to do it. Intelligent and younger people, such as your selves, may not do it. But if you look at the older society, sometimes they look down on women or kids or different races. Racism, etc., are actually violence.
How sophisticated and detailed it is – as you all know. You always have to be aware of it and move through it. Particularly, when you are moving through with violence, sometimes some cultures will do something funny. Some abuses may not even be recognized as abuse by a certain culture. We see it all the time everywhere. But you, an intelligent, great human being, have to be aware of it. If we don’t have the awareness, it is our fault. Even if we have awareness and cannot manage and are overtaken by addiction, then it is the addiction’s fault - which is our fault. We let ourselves be controlled by our addictions. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. It should never occur.
We have to convince ourselves and make sure we don’t leave the dirty activities of violence for future generations to clean up. That’s what we are doing today and it’s not right. It is our mess and we have to clean it up. We have to make it right. I have to make it right, it is my mess. Whatever it takes, I have to do it. Likewise, it is our mess, we have to take responsibility. Making it right is one of the important points of non-violence.
Within non-violence, sometimes there is violence too. If you go into detail, there is. Even though the Gandhi movement tried to be totally non-violent, there were self-sacrifices many times. Watch the movie “Gandhi” you will see how many self-sacrifices they made. That is also violence. Harming yourself and harming others, all of it is violence. During the Vietnam War, Vietnamese monks burned themselves for the sake of the poor people, for the sake for their religion, for the sake of themselves. And it is not that this is not happening today. It is happening.
Whatever the purpose may be, the means should not justify the end. This is very dangerous. Many of us would like to justify the means because of the expected end result. That is sometimes very abusive and sometimes becomes very violent. It is done in the name of non-violence, in the name of a good purpose, good reason. We all have to be very alert to that. One should not sacrifice other people for your own personal comfort as well as making people suffer for saving one’s own embarrassment. All of those are violence to me.
If you look at it that way, it is very difficult for us to be free of violence. Violence comes here and there and it is like the iron dust picked up by a magnet. All will go to the magnet. As long as we have ego functioning within us we pick up all of those, like a magnet picks up metal dust. This has been harmful, is harmful and will be harmful. One should be very aware of it, as much as possible. It can never be perfect straight away, but do as much as you can. Try to improve day by day, because this is the essence of spiritual practice. This is the essence of virtue. This is the foundation of all development, joy, happiness.
We always make mistakes here, because of our addictions. This is how addictions are harmful. They are really cutting the life tree of spirituality within the individual. The root of your spirituality, the life of spirituality is severed by violence. Although it looks like you are hitting somebody, like you are the winner; but in reality we are losing. Whoever is engaging in violence in any form is losing and severing the life of spiritual development.
So it is really important. Please remember, violence is not simply using weapons. It is not simply physical. There is mental, spiritual, emotional, physical, verbal violence. In every part of our life there is violence and abuse. Luckily today everybody at least knows that rape is not good. There are cultures in which people do rape so much and they think they are doing great. To them, it is a matter of laughing about it.
But all of them are violence. Violence comes in a variety of ways. We entertain them with a variety of excuses and finally, it severs the head of your spiritual tree. If it is like a banana tree and when you lose your head once it won’t grow again. So it is really important. You need awareness, alertness, and conscientiousness. We should bring them all together and keep our violence down.