Life is dear

All tremble at violence;
All fear death.
Seeing others as being like yourself,
Do not kill or cause others to kill.

All tremble at violence;
Life is dear for all.
Seeing others as being like yourself,
Do not kill or cause others to kill.

Dhammapada v.129-130, translated by Gil Fronsdal

What does this vivid imagery bring to mind for you? A dog cowering before an angry master? A fly zooming around to avoid the swatter? A child looking fearfully at a bully?

We are invited to reflect on how automatically we avoid conflict and violence. This may be our deepest instinct – to avoid getting hurt – and it’s companion is to ferociously protect those we love.

There is violence and cruelty in the world; there’s no denying it. We can try, as a society, to contain it, but we can’t eliminate it completely. What we can do is make sure we individually are not a source of violence, that our actions do not cause fear in others.

The word translated as violence here (danda) literally refers to a stick or rod, an instrument of violence. So the verses refer not just to murder, but to all forms of striking out at others.

It strikes me (no pun intended) that television has been taken over by murder mysteries. It’s hard to find a show that doesn’t include the murder of a human. Statistically speaking, our entertainment world is heavily skewed towards the violent. In real life, murder is exceedingly rare (thank goodness).

However, because of the nature of our world, living beings are killed all the time – for food and even for entertainment (also called hunting). The plowing and harvesting of fields kills innumerable tiny life forms; small fish are eaten by larger fish; birds eat small mammals (sometimes), and so it goes. It is impossible to live in the world without being aware that living things are being killed. What can we do? I think, just minimize the damage we ourselves do.

We are reminded to see others as having the same desire for life and safety that we have, even if they are unpleasant or misbehaving. The impulse to strike out at someone else may arise if we feel threatened by them, but also if we just don’t like them – if they cut in line (in person or in traffic), if they insult us or someone we care about. There are a hundred reasons why this “striking out” impulse might arise. When it does, can we remember that interrupting the flow of violence in the world starts with us? Can we look at other living beings and see their vulnerability and fragility, and interfere with them as little as possible?

P.S. I came across this relevant article today:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/20/opinion/brooks-when-the-good-do-bad.html?_r=1&hp

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