Ancients and Contemporaries ~ timeless wisdom about violence

With so much talk of the Dao, Buddha and darkness… Here are a couple quotes about the darkest thing: violence.

But first, since we’re talking about violence … how about a song, in a different context. Bif Naked‘s Violence

The use of force is a last resort. One aspect of violence is that it is unpredictable. Although your initial intention may be to use limited force, once you have engaged in violence the consequences are unpredictable. Violence always brings about unexpected results and almost always provokes retaliation.
~ Dalai Lama

Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.

Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?

He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.
~ Lao Tse, Dao de Jing
  Chapter 31
  Stephen Mitchell, trans

13 Responses to “Ancients and Contemporaries ~ timeless wisdom about violence”

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  1. Michael says:

    They are correct about violence, especially the Dalai Lama and its unforeseen consquences, but do notice that they both accept force – as a last resort.

    If so, then force should be used as ruthlessly as possible without limits as to where that force will be used. Kill the enemy where the enemy is. Do it fast. Get the whole thing over with as quickly and efficiently as possible. This will help limit the unexpected results and unintended consequences. War is not politically correct. It is war. If at war, one best win it.

    • Tweet says:

      Hi Michael!

      Oh, I don’t think Lao Tse would like that at all. “…only with the utmost restraint.”

      I think the Dalai Lama would agree.

      My favourite part is…

      He enters a battle gravely,
      with sorrow and with great compassion,
      as if he were attending a funeral.

      We’re always too eager to go to war.

  2. Michael says:

    Yeah, well, when it comes to waging war, I’m with Sun Tzu instead. You have better chances of winning. After that one can ruminate and philosophize at will. Losing a war certainly didn’t help the Dalai Lama and his fellow Tibetans, did it? Where is he waxing spiritual now? India? NYC? Paris?

    • Tweet says:

      To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
      ~ Sun Tzu, the Art of War

    • Peter says:

      Nice find, Tweet. 😉

      Hi Michael… thanks for your comments!

      The Dalai Lama… I seriously doubt he could have won that war, with or without Sun Tzu’s tactics. Nonetheless, by virtue of the conditions thrust upon him, the Dalai Lama has been thrust into an unenviable role he has accepted gracefully and vigorously. The “war” for Tibet is by no means settled. The evolution of a more peaceful humanity is both making great strides, and suffering significant backlashes from forces opposed to it. The Chinese occupation of Tibet has placed the Dalai Lama at the forefront of each endeavour.

      To everything there is a purpose, and a season.

  3. Michael says:

    Oh, I’m loving this. Nice quote from Sun Tzu, but you do know that 99% of his writing is pure strategy. Both strategy and the physical forces to execute those strategies is what is usually required to win a war. There are very, very few who will not resist (mind you, Ghengis Khan had few resisters: he threatened complete and utter annihilation of cities and lands if they did not completely capitulate. Hardly what I’d call “supreme excellence” despite the fact that he succeeeded in the maxim of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting). I do not believe we are even close to evolving to a more peaceful humanity. I believe more people desire it, but it is not the political and military reality of our world. China’s will shall prevail in Tibet: at the barrel of a gun. That is Tibet’s reality for a long time to come.

  4. Michael says:

    Case in point is last week’s news that Canadian CF-18’s had to intercept Russian bombers (and they aren’t carrying confetti bombs, but nuclear payloads) near the coast of Newfoundland. Russians pulll this shit on us every few months as a probe of our air defenses (yes, we NEED those gorgeous F-35 aircraft). The Cold War never left; it merely reinvented itself.

  5. Peter says:

    In 1984, no one suspected that forces internal to the Soviet Union existed that would, by the end of the decade, result in the utter collapse of that oppressive system of government, and its entire empire, with hardly a shot fired.

    Had any of Sun Tzu’s battle strategies been engaged in an attempt to realise a ‘regime change’ in Moscow, the result would almost certainly have been a nuclear conflagration. No winners there. I am sure even Sun Tzu would agree. He’d probably even applaud the Dalai Lama’s strategy regarding Tibet.

    No one would’ve expected that a diminutive, bespectacled, robed man who’d come to prefer spinning thread over politics would be the architect of the peaceful overthrow of arguably the greatest Empire of the period. But he did, and India gained its independence without a civil war.

    The Troubles in Northern Ireland had been raging for decades, with hatred broiling over in ever escalating cycles. Until people who desired an end to it prevailed over those who wished to continue it, and the violence all but stopped with a shaking of hands between sworn enemies.

    Apartheid ended in South Africa not at the point of a gun, but by the political and social withdrawal of that weapon under internal and external pressures.

    The American Civil Rights movement was a largely peaceful engagement of often hostile and violent social, political and military forces, which nonetheless won out despite its lack of military strength, and its distaste for any violent confrontation.

    Gandhi’s triumph was unprecedented. It stood alone for decades, but has been joined by other examples of peaceful revolution and transformation. I think not only are we close to evolving, we are in the process of doing so — and always have been. And, I think, despite the recent escalations of violence in some areas, it’s a process that’s accelerating. The violence is a backlash by elements who favour domination by violence. Similar escalations preceded the peaceful outcomes in South Africa, Northern Ireland and, I believe, India.

  6. Michael says:

    Peter, I think you write a compelling argument. Unfortunately, I don’t believe it’s conclusive. I very much prefer your opinion to mine. I also have to envy the faith you’re exhibiting in the human race with your generous and hopeful words. Regrettably, history will continue to repeat itself. The corptocracy has zero interest in a peaceful and stable world. Same goes for religious zealots in power.

    Even with the examples you used to promote your hopeful belief, there are a couple of holes. Northern Ireland ceased its sectarian violence over several decades of negotiation. Notice that its success coincided with a prospering economy. Currently, the economy in Northern Ireland is tanking and sectarian violence has been oon the rise. Perhaps most people there decry this violence, but it will remain as its ugly underbelly for awhile, especially so if the economy is not doing well.

    The American Civil Rights movement had two opposing philosophies, of which the peaceful group spearheaded by Martin Luther King Jr. apparently seemed to prevail. Yet, Malcolm X and the Black Panthers were vociferously preaching armed revolution and/or guerrilla warfare to achieve their aims of racial equality. Despite that, though, the primary reason violence did not prevail in the civil rights movement was the significant realization that if violence was used, white America would crush their aspirations with extreme violence. Their only hope to gain equal rights and recognition was through legislation, of which Lyndon Johnson did indeed put through the beginning pieces of it. If violence was predominant though, I’m ready to bet that Johnson would have legislated nothing and brought in the troops instead.

    I believe peaceful resolution of differences and comnflicts will be in our future, probably centuries away, but for the moment, we live in a world of North Korea with a cuckoo government that have nuclear weapons, an Iran run by a theocracy with deep nuclear aspirations (incidentally, I believe it was the amabassador of the United Arab Emirates who publicly said that a nuclear Iran was not in the best interests of the region and that, if need be, force should be used to prevent them from realizing their nuclear dream), and South America is looking at a potential doozy of a war between Venezuela and Colombia (The US are entrenched allies with Colombia). Next is the oil and other resources question. You think this will be determined peacefully? Don’t count on it. The United States, arguably the most militaristic nation on the planet will do whatever it takes to preserve its global interests. Look how they support Taiwan militarily directly in China’s face. This also brings up the notion of the emerging giant of China with its fifteen million man army.

    Next up is that glorious “War on Terror” which every government is salivating on as a means of controlling everything and everyone under the umbrella of “national security”. This is being done under the gun, not the pen. If anything, they’re using their pens in order to use more guns. Remember that.

    I think we have progressed enormously in technology. I even believe we have progressed tremendously in the advancement of human rights, but only in a philosophical manner that is not yet actualized amongst many areas in the world. The human race is advanced, but its wisdom is not keeping pace with its ideas. One day it will, but I honestly don’t expect it to be within my lifetime.

  7. Peter says:

    I don’t think the argument is conclusive either — there is no conclusive argument on this matter, no matter which side is taken. There are contra-indications on all sides. That said…

    Violent response to threats or conflict is a very human response. But it’s no longer the only response possible in large political conflicts, as it once very much was at the end of our great-great grandparent’s lives. The term ‘political revolution’ once meant guns and blood. Now, not necessarily. That’s not being hopeful. That’s observing an evolution already underway.

    There is also a growing awareness and aversion to the way capitalism and coroporatism is currently structured.

    I’m not saying there are no serious issues to be dealt with. I’m also not saying that as a global society we are ready to resolve all these issues peacefully. I really don’t think we’re even nearly ready to enter wars with the solemn grief Lao Tse espouses. But I can see the forces at work that may someday create such a world. And I am not alone. There is a small but active and growing groundswell of like-minded people as well.

    Do I think it will happen in your or my lifetime? No.

    On the other hand, if you’d asked me in 1984, “Peter, can you think of a world without the Soviet Union? Is there any way short of World War III and total nuclear annihilation that the Soviet Union will fall?” Well, I’d have made the same response.

    So, I can be realistic and observe that our governments and other forces beyond our control will continue to resort to violence to settle their quarrels. I can also be realistic and choose not to participate in those choices and argue against them while espousing and following the wisdom and leadership of those who decry violence and forward the notion that peaceful methods can and do resolve conflict.

    Here’s a question for you: why is it important whether it happens in your lifetime?

    Are you not already working hard to promote, in a very personal way, things that will happen in your children’s lifetime? And, beyond that, your grandchildren’s? Aren’t you trying to teach them how to live life well, so that they’ll know how to prosper and be safe after you’re gone?

    So, why not play an active part in espousing a world in which your children and grandchildren and generations after them will live more prosperous and gentle lives? Look what Gandhi started. Lech Walensa. Nelson Mandela. Stephen Biko. A few housewives in Northern Ireland. All against tremendous odds. No one could have imagined how it would turn out, and there were tremendous hardships along the way. In the time after, hardships continue. Sometimes things return to the old ways in lesser or greater degrees. But battles have been won without a weapon fired against all expectation. So, to quote another ‘hopeful’ figure, “Yes, we can.”

    We can, we have and we should. So, who do you want to back? The leaders of the old way? Or the leaders looking to the future? Where would the world be now if everyone had written off Walesa, Ghandi and Mandela with the observation, “Not in my lifetime” under the assumption that the apparently indominable power of the Soviet Union, the British Empire and the Apatheid system would ultimately prevail.

    I’m a big fan of the Dalai Lama — even literally, on my facebook account I get one quote from him every day, and haven’t seen Tibet mentioned once, so far as I can recall. One might think that the conditions of his people and country would be first and foremost in his mind. I think he understands that as goes Tibet, so goes the world; as goes the world, so goes Tibet. Ultimately, we can’t really begin to resolve the problems of the world until we resolve the primary cause of pain and suffering in human existence: the urge to resolve conflict or establish dominance through violence.

  8. Michael says:

    Of all the posts you’ve written on this thread, this is the one I find myself agreeing with you almost 100%. I believe you have found our common ground: the point at which your optimism meets my pessimism!

    Of course, I want to see a better …world; a kinder and gentler world. I think everyone from our generation would appreciate living in a peaceful and equitable world. In fact, I’d like to see a world without locks because everyone could be trusted.

    In answer to your question about this occurring in my lifetime, please know that it’s not important. I would like to see it but have long accepted the fact that I won’t. I would, however, like to know that my children will live in a safer world. I don’t believe they will, and that bothers me. I care not for myself, but I care very deeply about those coming directly after ourselves. After all, isn’t it our responsibility to make it better for those coming after us?

  9. Peter says:

    ‎=) Common ground is a precious thing. And so the world gets a little better, two people at a time.


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