The words of this French philosopher-monk are very important right now.
Mattieu Ricard is an amazing thinker whose work inspires me. Recently I've been reading his new book: Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World. The book is a rich source of inspiration and hope for the work I do every day as an advocate for survivors of abuse and trauma.
In the wake of the devastating attacks in Paris that occurred not 24 hours ago, I went back to review the parts I've highlighted. I came across this quote which seems of special importance right now:
"Like the sun that shines equally over both the “good” and the “bad,” over a magnificent landscape as well as over a pile of trash, impartiality extends to all beings without distinction. When compassion thus conceived is directed at a person who is causing great harm to others, it does not consist of tolerating, or encouraging by inaction, his hatred and his harmful actions, but in regarding that person as gravely ill or stricken with madness, and wishing that he be freed from the ignorance and hostility that are in him.... In other words, it is not a matter of contemplating harmful actions with equanimity, even indifference, but of understanding that it is possible to eradicate their causes the way one can eliminate the causes of an illness." (p. 28)
"...it is not a matter of contemplating harmful actions with equanimity, even indifference, but of understanding that it is possible to eradicate their causes the way one can eliminate the causes of an illness."
The aftermath of these horrific attacks, and the ones that will unquestionably follow in other parts of the world, will doubtless lead to renewed calls for war. There are already commenters in every type of media blaming the attacks on: Muslims, Islam, the of flood refugees from the conflicts in the Middle East and other parts of Africa, and any other "enemy" they can line up in their sights. The rhetoric of war is almost inescapable - even the Pope has framed these attacks as a "piecemeal World War III."
But perhaps Ricard's words can help to provide us with at least a glipmse of an alternative path to what will surely be more years of suffering and bloodshed. War, killing, and death provide no avenue of escape from this chaos. Far too often we allow our fear and our anger to turn those we identify as our enemy into caricatures of evil. This makes it easier to engage the enemy in battle, but it makes peace that much harder to win. But the men and women who point their weapons and trigger their bombs in our midst are not some evil "other." Whether we wish to accept it or not, they are humans as well. If we wish to find a way to end this cycle of bloodshed we must find a way to acnowledge this truth. I harbor no illusions that the words of one Buddhist monk will turn aside the tide of war that seems to be rising. Nor do I want to be misunderstood as simply saying something trite like war is never the answer. Rather I hope Ricard's words can help some of us see that the cycle of war, just like the cycle of abuse, will never be broken until all people acknowledge the simple fact that violence will always engender more violence - even when done in the name of a "just" cause. So long as there are more acts of abuse committed and condoned in the world than acts of healing and restoration, we will continue to suffer from the illness to which Ricard alludes.
Photo Credit: "Mat in Tibet-D4784s" by Konchog - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mat_in_Tibet-D4784s.jpg#/media/File:Mat_in_Tibet-D4784s.jpg