Recently I received several teachings, one of which, while making the same point, uses different words, different phrasing, making the teaching more accessible and thus easier to implement. The other builds on that by again, while not making a different point than I’ve often made about the primacy of offering others joy, putting it in different words.. If you’ve been reading my posts, you know how important I think semantics can be in improving accessibility and understanding.
The first is that the things we experience that tend to upset us, whether it’s the actions of individuals or society, are an expression of someone’s or our collective suffering. If something is an expression of someone’s suffering, than how could one possibly be upset with the person as a result of the experience. There is no free will involved here.
The second teaching is that love is the greatest protector from suffering, with love being defined as a heartfelt desire for others to experience happiness. How can one not desire that everyone in the world experience happiness?
The obvious answer would be, “If you hate someone, it’s easy not to wish them well.” Ah, but if you believe in the first teaching I shared above, then how can you hate someone? You may be upset with their actions, but how can you hate them?
Even regarding someone who has done evil, how can you not wish that their suffering end and they thus experience happiness (which would also mean that their evil ways would end to the benefit of everyone). To wish them continued suffering or harm would be mean-spirited, revenge … not spiritual at all.
So if someone’s actions are an expression of their suffering and if all you wish is for them to be free of that suffering and experience happiness, you can and will harbor no ill will towards the person and wish them well.
If your ego-mind responds that people who do evil things shouldn’t get away with it, that that wouldn’t be justice, that misses the point. First they aren’t getting away with it, both because they suffer and because if it’s serious enough that they’ve broken a law society will exact some form of penance. But more importantly, if what someone does is an expression of their suffering and not their free will, they haven’t done anything, and so they haven’t gotten away with anything.
Our justice system is based on responsibility. We don’t treat the insane the same way as the sane because the insane, as legally defined, don’t know the difference between right and wrong, so it wouldn’t be fair. Similarly, since we each have our own learned definition of right and wrong, which can be quite different from the definition on which our laws are based, our whole context for thinking about right and wrong can be very different and in that sense we are by definition insane, not culpable.
This doesn’t mean abandoning our justice system, throwing our hands up, and accepting anarchy. There is in general nothing wrong with our laws. In a civilized, ordered society, people cannot go around harming others regardless what their definition of right and wrong is.
What needs to radically change is the concept of what the state does with those who have committed an offense. Bottom line. rather than seeking revenge or retribution, the in-custody time should be used to rehabilitate a person in the broadest sense, to enable them to free themselves from their suffering and thus alter their lives for the benefit of all. (See my post, “Prisons as Monastery not Dungeon” at PreservingAmericanValues.blogspot.com)