Violence and Self-Defense

Matt asked a question about violence and self-defense that I wanted to answer more generally. But I want to be clear that, in doing so, I don’t offer myself as somehow a spiritual teacher, because I’m not enlightened and not in a position to make such a claim.

My paramguru, Sri Ramakrishna, used to say that a person who is not fully cooked does not have God’s authorization to serve as a spiritual teacher. I am not even lightly cooked so I definitely do not have God’s authorization and would not want the karma that comes with making false claims about oneself.

Rather I offer my most mature opinion.

The question is whether violence can and should be used in defense of, say, one’s family’s lives.

Before answering that, I need to make two comments on my understanding of the operation of natural laws. The first concerns our interpretation of comments such as “the natural law is perfect in its operation.”

Our understanding of “perfect” is often something that is pure, unblemished, all one thing. So, for example, a bar of gold is perfect because it is 100% gold. Any admixture of another element would be considered a blemish.

But my understanding of perfection in relation to the law of karma does not mean that it assesses whether an action is one thing, pure, unblemished, etc. My understanding is that perfection means that the law can take into account any amount of mixture, admixture, blemish, lack of uniformity,  any number of variables – and arrive at an evaluation that is absolutely fair. Its ability to account for all variables fairly is what makes it perfect.

The second comment is around our understanding of concepts. We often have an all-or-nothing understanding of concepts. So if I suggest we relinquish violence, others may hear that as a total, absolute, complete and final relinquishing of all violence. No, it is meant more as a general relinquishing of resort to violence. It is not meant to suggest that in a very specific set of dangerous circumstances, where, say, a life is threatened and the only safety lies in violent self-defence, that violence is to be avoided.

Granted that we’d like to make the number of circumstances in which violence is sanctioned as small as possible, some will exist.

In 1970, my wife’s grandfather was threatened by a man wielding a knife. I disarmed the man with a circle kick to his hand and delivered a kick to the face that stopped just an inch short of the man’s nose. Just to be clear: I did not actually deliver a kick to the face; I stopped short of contact.  The purpose of stopping the kick short of the man’s nose was to indicate what I could but did not do. I used violence, but I used the minimum violence needed to defend my grandfather-in-law’s life. (The man fled.)

Anyone who has studied karate will know that all exercises start off with a defensive move. The karate practitioner is not taught how to initiate or attack; only how to respond. And this lesson translates into action. Not knowing how to initiate an attack against another, I was never conditioned, never tempted to attack.  My karate was always something I kept in reserve and only resorted to under much duress and then being careful not to injure the other.

Another example: Mahatma Gandhi, when asked if Indians should join the British forces in World War II or watch the British go down to defeat, said that India had enjoyed British protection for many years and that it would be ungrateful of India not to help defend Britain. Gandhi himself participated in, I think it was, the Boer War – albeit as an ambulance driver. But he participated nonetheless.

Non-violence is generally to be preferred but it may not be possible under every circumstance; for instance, it may not be possible or desirable if an assailant intends to kill one’s family. The law of karma, however it be deemed to operate – whether through Lords of Karma or operating as an abstract force – is capable of taking into account our intention, our alternatives, etc. It does not operate, as far as I’m aware, in an undiscriminating or lockstep manner.

Our beliefs that the law is perfect in being concerned with purity and that violence is never allowable stem, I think, from the limitations of our 3D or dualistic consciousness. The weight or burden we carry as a result of having a 3D consciousness does not allow for the drawing of subtle, refined distinctions. We tend to think in terms of blacks and whites.

We sometimes tend to think of God anthropomorphically and have been raised often to view him as punitive. None of this, I’m given to understand, is accurate. But it leads us to view the law of karma as a mechanism of entrapment and a blunt-edged tool, when it’s my understanding that it’s neither.

Again, does a commitment to non-violence mean that we would have no police or defense forces? Not as far as I can see. It would mean that our armed forces would tend to exhaust all alternatives to violence before they resort to it and then only if it is needed. But we are used to reports of police and soldiers committing brutal, often oppressive, arbitrary acts and so it is hard for us to conceive of a defense force operating in this manner.

Would the police need to be willing to sacrifice their lives before resorting to violence? I don’t think that would make much sense or be enforceable.  Their general commitment would be to peace and non-violence but there would be circumstances imaginable in which a resort to violence would be considered acceptable.

A resort to violence could be imagined occurring in 3D, but it would be unlikely to occur in 5D for the same reason that an out-of-body traveller who cannot stand the vibrations of one plane must return to a lower plane – usually, the body. Life is set up that only what is appropriate to a dimension can go on there: violations of appropriateness lead to a person (at least on the other side of life) having to leave that dimension.

So the fact that we renounce violence in our affairs does not mean that we must stand idly by while our wife or daughters are murdered. It is more our general intention and high resolve, but it is not an absolute circumstance.

Here is SaLuSa on the matter. Notice that he begins by urging us to remain non-violent generally but then goes on to admit that violence in defense of one’s own or another’s life may be subject to the law of grace:

“We ask you all to be part of the movement for peace, and not engage in violence no matter how much you are incited. Live to your highest ideals and you will not go wrong, and in so doing will show the way for other people.” (SaLuSa, Oct. 4, 2010.)

“We would never condone violence.”  (SaLuSa, May 21, 2010.)

“To take the life of another soul in any circumstances is a violation of spiritual laws that clearly state ‘thou shalt not kill.’ You will of course come up with situations where it happens in the defense of yours or another one’s life, and we would say that the Law of Grace can be exercised in some such circumstances.” (SaLuSa, Jan. 5, 2011.)

Does my answer have any status or validity above and beyond being simply an opinion? No, it does not. This is the way it seems to me, but “seems” only.

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