Practical implications

All that is nice and lovely, you will say, but how can it possibly leave any room for economy, politics and war, which is all you seem to be writing about lately?

I would start by making a reference to the Bhagavad-gita, where Arjuna asks the same question – “If all that is true, why do you ask me to commit this horrible act, o Krishna?”. I would say that the contradiction and the apparent incongruity is, again, due to semantics, where “compassion”, “love”, “unity” and other words mean one thing to a yogi, and quite another to common humans.

To humans, dharma would mean some kind of “harmony” where there would be no violence or strife, and everybody would be happy. To a yogi, dharma is a state of living God, and if God takes a form of affirming something that is good, or a form of destroying something that is evil and stands in the way of virtue, it is all the same. People somehow make an assumption that God wants all souls to “be saved”, or “achieve Nirvana“. That formulation is not aligned with dharma. Dharma would mandate that brahman overcomes illusion, that virtue is chosen and manifested, that truth and greatness are lived and shown. To accelerate this process will mean to accelerate choice – to either be of God, or not to be at all. This, then, translates into politics – there are systems of organizing worldly life that promote dharma more or less, which means that one must favour the political systems that favour the correct principles. It’s the same with economy; the system that rewards goodness, utility, advancement of knowledge and promotion of dharma must be established and favoured, and economy that increasingly rewards dharmic behaviour, and punishes adharmic behaviour, is a manifestation of dharma. Basically, if someone creates wisdom, beauty, goodness and so on, he should be rewarded with money, so that he would have more energy to do more of that in the world, and, conversely, if someone does nothing good and useful, and uses whatever he has to make lives of others miserable and to oppose dharma wherever it is manifested, he should be punished and money be taken away from him, so that he would lack energy to do things in the world, and would eventually starve and wither. Obviously, it goes against the expectation that the manifestation of dharma would be some kind of communism, where everybody would be treated the same and have the same, just because brahman is One in all. That’s not how things work. Brahman is not just “One”. Brahman is also sat-cit-ananda, reality-consciousness-bliss. To live dharma is to promote sat-cit-ananda, and if something is hindrance to sat-cit-ananda, meaning it is of illusion, ignorance and suffering, it is to be removed from existence, and not treated equally as a manifestation of God, just because God is one. The expectation of equality is a fallacy. What needs to be applied equally is the criterion of manifestation of brahman; the results, however, will differ greatly, and the same Krishna will be friend to the good and virtuous ones, and death and destruction to the evil ones. God doesn’t create some kind of sheep heaven where lions and cows eat yoghurt together. As Arjuna rightly said to Krishna, “it is right and proper that all saints and rishis bow before you in reverence, and all the demons and evil-doers to run away from you in terror”.

To provide another perspective, let’s refer to the Augustinian concept of righteous war, which sounds like a contradiction, if you are untrained in thinking with any kind of layered complexity. You see, St. Augustine would say that God formulated certain laws, and one of them is “do not kill”. However, what happens when you as a God-loving nation are faced with an enemy that will kill you, given a chance? You need to try to dissuade them and show them the error of their ways; basically use diplomacy. If that fails, you need to scare and intimidate them, to show them the fatal consequences of war against you; this is deterrence. If that fails, you need to weigh the amount of good and evil that will happen along both options – to either wage war, or not. If a situation where you don’t wage war results in more good than evil, then you should surrender; this is the case if war is to be waged over some irrelevant dispute, and the enemy is not inherently evil and does not intend to enslave, murder and impose a godless order upon you, but instead wants access to some natural resource. The principle is that war should never be waged over such things, and they should instead be solved by diplomacy and commerce. If the enemy is inherently evil, however, and wants to prevent you from living in accordence with the will of God, if he wants to enslave you or murder people, then this should be opposed, and war is to be waged as effectively as possible in order for such a threat to be removed. At the very moment the threat is removed, however, violence should cease, and all efforts are to be invested in repairing the damage caused by the war. St. Augustine mentions the bad examples from Roman history, where the victors continued to murder people out of spite and vengeance after the war was over, instead of proclaiming peace. Obviously, even if you think that killing and violence are evil, and are forbidden by God, you are to stand in the way of people who intend to murder and commit violence and oppose the will of God, and if violence is necessary in order to defend peace, you better learn how to be good at violence.

Buddhist view of war is very Augustinian, because Buddhism doesn’t see ahimsa the way Jainism does, as a central virtue. To Buddhism, what matters is to promote dharma and metta, reduce suffering and accelerate liberation from samsara. Violence is seen as a knife – it is usually an instrument of evil, if it is used for killing and maiming people, but if it is used by a surgeon and as an instrument of healing, it is good. Ahimsa in Buddhism is an important principle, but if ahimsa means opposing and destroying adharma by violent means, so be it. What is common to Christians and Buddhists is that they would find it universally objectionable to mistreat prisoners of war or terrorize a conquered population: they would try to promote goodness and preach the right way, and if they are faced with someone who doesn’t want to change and learn, and is a danger to others when released, they would likely just kill him, rather than torture him by prolonged imprisonment. Making the utmost virtue out of life itself is a materialist thing, and is foreign to all religions that believe in a transcendental reality.

What separates Buddhism and Christianity is their position on suffering. To Buddhists, suffering is outright evil and should be prevented and opposed if at all possible. To Christians, things are more complex. Yes, suffering is not pleasant, but suffering is also good against arrogance, because they noticed that people tend to turn to God and abandon their arrogant and godless way when they are sick and in pain, and they actually introduced forms of self-torture as prevention/cure against arrogance and godlessness, and this is actually a form of spiritual practice in some monastic orders. Also, suffering of Christ had redeeming qualities. The Christians will therefore not see a great evil if torture is used as an instrument of teaching arrogant and evil people that they are not gods. My opinion is that this is fraught with too many dangers to be used effectively against evil, because both from the position of Vedanta, where actions that are not of sat-cit-ananda are to be avoided, and from the position of Buddhism, where suffering is evil and metta is recommended, any kind of torture and humiliation of others is to be seen as evil, and always avoided. Unteachable evil people that are a danger to others might need to be killed, but if you approach this by turning yourself into a monster similar or worse than those you are fighting, you are not manifesting dharma, you are finding excuse for indulging your sadism.