Turn the Other Cheek?

Last week in New Delhi, a radical group of Muslims bombed at market full of civilians. The Muslim militant group Indian Mujahedeen took responsibility. The group sent an email to the media five minutes before the first bomb went off. I realize this happens all the time and not just in India. The problem is that it is happening more. The other problem is that we are allowing it to happen more.

I’m safely tucked away in middle America. Not much happens here. But this is really beginning to trouble me. It’s not just because soon enough it will spread here (which it will) but it is a philosophical, spiritual problem. How do we deal with it?

In the Bible (Matthew 5:39), Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek to evil. This simple passage has changed the world in so many ways. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi practiced this core belief in their peaceful protests. Even in the face of death, they both turned the other cheek. When freedom riders were beat to death in the racist American south of the 1950’s and 1960’s, they did not fight back. Where did these people get the moral integrity to stand for peace when other stood for violence.

Obviously, the problem of evil is a very, very old one and anything can be evil to someone. However, I think we can all agree that blowing up a market full of families is truly evil. What would make someone do this? What is the psychology of these people. Is there any rationality at all? I hate these people but I want to understand.

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda

3 comments On Turn the Other Cheek?

  • Matt, What a deep vortex this perennial question puts us into, pulling us down to be sure, but could we make it spin the other way to lift us up, at least individually? One wonders. Is it not a two-world problem – the outer world of physical injury (and collective action, policy, etc.), and the inner world (the personal solitary world) where the reaction occurs, and keeps on turning. I’d like to think that the Great Teachings (particularly that large overlap between the teachings of Jesus and Buddha, and known in other traditions, too) do not constrain us from taking measures to protect physical life. Rather, is it not inner “salvation” (personal psychological healing, wholeness, etc.) that they speak to – mindfully restraining ourselves as a part of our own defense against falling into the downward vortex toward hate and continuing retribution, which then hazards both body and mind. “Forgiveness” (literally, in Greek, “letting go”) works the same way. Mindful non-reaction seems the best way, theoretically at least, to maintain personal equilibrium, but I admit I’m not wired that way. It remains for me a goal yet to be reached.

  • Gandhi was once asked if non-violence could work against Adolf Hitler’s regime. He didn’t have a clear answer. It worked against the British empire in India because the British liked to pretend that they were civilised people and reports of cruelty in Britain’s newspapers were driving their own people against the rule in India.

    Should we be violent or should we be peaceful? The illusion here is that one can’t be both.

    An Indian mythologist called Devdutt Pattanaik recently said on a TV show that spirituality and practicality are two wheels of a chariot that each of us is drving. The reins are in our hands. Lose any one wheel and you go around in circles.

    The idea is to live contextually. Turn right when the left seems difficult. Turn left when the right seems like no choice at all.

  • As the video on Mahabharata that I saw yesterday on your site said, Dharma is what one ought to do depending on the situation at that given point of time. It differs from person to person, depending on their nature.

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