Seven Pillars > Founder's Blog > Stop the Violence

Stop the Violence

Posted by Pir Zia Inayat-Khan on January 19, 2009

And it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. (Genesis 4:8-10)

Have you seen Albrecht Dürer’s engraving, Cain Slaying Abel? In a few deft lines it captures the whole surreal horror of the primal fratricide. One imagines a tenebrous veil falling over the sun. One imagines the Throne of God shaking in heaven, and all of the seraphim and cherubim weeping bitter tears.

Every time brother kills brother—as is happening right now in the Holy Land—it is an unspeakable violation of the beneficent order of creation, an outrage of cosmic proportions. But we hardly notice. Habituated as we are to a ceaseless flow of electronic entertainment jam-packed with murder and mayhem, violence has lost its edge for us. 

P.B. Shelley says that poetry “creates anew the universe, after it has been annihilated in our minds by the recurrence of impressions blunted by reiteration.” We need more of this kind of poetry. Poetry as fiercely truthful as Dürer’s engraving. Poetry that will open our ears to the rumbling of God’s Throne every time an infant’s body is lifted from the rubble. Then we will have no choice but to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper.

 

 

 

Comments
  • “Poetry that will open our ears to the rumbling of God’s Throne every time an infant’s body is lifted from the rubble. Then we will have no choice but to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper.”

    If only this were true. Intense violence, endless pain and suffering, murder, genocide, hatred - these fill God’s world, our world, every moment of every day. This is nothing new. It is the nature of life and death, the nature of this earthly existence. Perhaps ‘the ceaseless flow of electronic entertainment’ presents this to us in a distant, sanitized and abstract way, so we are touched less deeply, less powerfully. Before television, brutality, cruelty, death and betrayal were close at hand, close enough to see, feel, and smell, up close and personal, for every generation of humans except the most recent ones. Yet such direct and intimate knowledge did little to bring peace. Nor did the efforts of all the greatest saints, prophets, masters -and poets - of ages past.

    I’m not convinced that we have become habituated to the violence. Perhaps it is more that we have come to accept such violence as we see in the Holy Land, as we have seen in Rwanda, and Darfur, and Cambodia, in the Holocaust, and centuries before in the Americas, among other places - as an inescapable fact of life and one we are powerless to change. We feel the outrage. We feel the stirrings of conscience. We know such crimes against humanity are wrong, despicable, terrible. But what are we to do?

    To further muddy the waters of what, poetically, artistically, and dramatically (like on TV and in the movies), we would like to be crystal clear - right and wrong, good and evil - with distinct boundaries, reality is far messier, morally, ethically, spiritually, and practically.

    Even Gandhi said if someone is shooting at you it would be reasonable to shoot back. Violent action sometimes is noble, chivalrous, defensive and correct. To fail to act with violence in some situations is to fail to be our brothers and sisters keeper. When is violence self-defense, pure and noble? When is it indefensible aggression, tainted and evil?
    In war, especially modern, mechanized and digitized war, innocents are killed. But is a noble and necessary war any less so because of this?

    I wish that I knew what I could do today to bring peace to the Holy Land and to the world,too. What might that be? Outrage may bring some temporary sense of moral superiority, but outrage at who exactly?

    Is it not also true that, from a cosmic perspective, there is nothing but God, that all, even the brutal death of the innocent, the lifeless infant in the rubble, is part of God’s perfect plan? That it is only our limited, imperfect, human heart that feels outrage - not God’s heart?

    Many of us will have heard the story told of Ali, a story also told of other characters in other traditions. Ali had overpowered an opposing warrior in battle. Raising his sword to strike the killing blow, the helpless warrior spat in Ali’s face. Ali released the man, saying, ‘I cannot kill you in anger.’

    Violence committed in the grip of emotion - even righteous moral outrage - cannot be condoned.

    So are we to promote fierce outrage? Or are we to discover effective and accessible action and promote that?

    In regards to the Holy Land, in regards to Darfur - what might that action be? Where do I sign up? There is no place to sign up. There is no clear action to take. If there is, if someone knows, then please share.

    We are dying to know.

    Steven Bell
  • Cain continues to kill Abel and has done so throughout our known history.  It appears to be the nature of this reality -this killing.  Saying it is all God is simply saying again that this is the reality we reside in. Is the killing of innocents in a typhoon, a volcanic eruption, an earthquake, a flood any the less greivous?  We say “yes”, because it is naturally caused - impersonal. And we seem to be able to accept such killing being the result of natural catastrophes. But isn’t humanity just as “natural?” Aren’t we an aspect of natur?.  Pehaps we have become callous or perhaps we have learned that this killing, this horror is just another natural part of this life.  I don’t know. The Buddha said life is dukkha - suffering.  This apparently sensless killing is just another aspect of this suffering.

    J. Adam Milgram
  • Steven,

    I feel the pain of your heart, and sympathetic to the challenge you place before us – what effective actions can we take, what attitude should we adopt that will stop violence? I have wrestled with these questions and can share with you the experience that took me from paralysis and frustration to integrated efforts to seed peace and harmony.

    First I needed to find the seeds of peace in my heart in a way that is so deep it is palpable. This came from meditation and the perspective gained from retreats. To maintain my connection with peace and hope I found my heart needs to be strengthened daily so as not to be overwhelmed by the violence and cruelty in this world. I also protect myself by minimizing my exposure to gratuitous violence.

    I learned that sharing the experience of peace is enriching, so I found a community with which to share monthly prayers for peace. We sing, read poems, offer prayers, and hold silence. And we voice our pain, sorrow, anger and frustration. All of this is held, not fixed. Yet we leave this gathering renewed in our commitment to work for peace. This is a lifeline for me.

    While prayer and meditation are foundational, they are not enough. Action is needed to help me integrate work for peace into the physical world. My options are plentiful. Numerous non-governmental organizations provide services for those impacted by violence. I have fond ones that resonate with me and they benefit from my support. Volunteer opportunities exist where I can engage directly in assisting individuals who have been impacted by violence. My local community is a recipient of refugees from various lands – these refugees need help to rebuild their lives. Political action is also part of my equation. I have moved back and forth from direct action (voting, protesting and lobbying), to letter and op-ed writing, to creating group action opportunities (having co-founded an Amnesty International group years ago), to learning mediation (and offering these services to the local community), to boycotting products from countries and companies that engage in violence. Is this enough? No. G-d-willing more opportunities will be revealed to me.

    I can not agree with premise in your question: Is it not also true that, from a cosmic perspective, there is nothing but God, that all, even the brutal death of the innocent, the lifeless infant in the rubble, is part of God’s perfect plan? That it is only our limited, imperfect, human heart that feels outrage - not God’s heart?

    No – brutality, fratricide, violence are not part of “G-d’s perfect plan”. They are signs that show me that my work, and our development, is not complete. These acts of injustice motivate me to engage in inner and outer work, holding and manifesting a higher ideal for a better world. They call me to action and show me the value of working in community. They tell me to sign up – right here, right now – and to continue to seek new pathways for peace. Because G-d’s heart is our heart.

    Rabia Povich

    Rabia Povich
Add your comment
© Copyright 2008 Seven Pillars. All rights reserved.