At a personal level, I'm still undecided on the issue of violence and coercion as a means to defend oneself and others. As a Buddhist, I've often wondered how one should "fight back" when forced into a situation that requires resistance, be it physical, psychological, or otherwise. Pacifism unto itself often seems unsatisfactory, particularly when an offending person or group causes great suffering.
Consequently, is there such a thing as "fighting the good fight?" When you are "in this world" but "not of it," how far should one go in harming others when acting in self-defense? Considering the transient nature of existence, does it matter? Should one sacrifice oneself to avoid harming others? Can one truly remain compassionate at all times? There are no easy answers.
Mohandas Ghandi once said, "I am prepared to die, but there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill." He believed that non-violent measures could be refined and expanded upon. "Things undreamt of are daily being seen, the impossible is ever becoming possible. We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence," he said.
During the Vietnam war, Buddhists were being persecuted by the Deim regime. In a remarkable incident to protest religious persecution in 1963 Vietnam, a 67 year old Buddhist monk by the name of Thich Quang Duc burnt himself alive on a busy street in Saigon. I'm sure many of you have seen the famous pictures, including the cover of a Rage Against the Machine album.
Considered a fanatical religious suicide by some, others interpreted Thich Quang Duc's act quite differently. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hnah had this to say about the self-immolation:
The press spoke then of suicide, but in the essence, it is not. It is not even a protest. What the monks said in the letters they left before burning themselves aimed only at alarming, at moving the hearts of the oppressors, and at calling the attention of the world to the suffering endured then by the Vietnamese. To burn oneself by fire is to prove that what one is saying is of the utmost importance…. The Vietnamese monk, by burning himself, says with all his strength and determination that he can endure the greatest of sufferings to protect his people…. To express will by burning oneself, therefore, is not to commit an act of destruction but to perform an act of construction, that is, to suffer and to die for the sake of one’s people. This is not suicide.Thich Nhat Hanh goes on to explain why Thich Quang Duc’s self-immolation was not a suicide, which is contrary to Buddhist teachings:
Suicide is an act of self-destruction, having as causes the following: (1) lack of courage to live and to cope with difficulties; (2) defeat by life and loss of all hope; (3) desire for nonexistence….. The monk who burns himself has lost neither courage nor hope; nor does he desire nonexistence. On the contrary, he is very courageous and hopeful and aspires for something good in the future. He does not think that he is destroying himself; he believes in the good fruition of his act of self-sacrifice for the sake of others…. I believe with all my heart that the monks who burned themselves did not aim at the death of their oppressors but only at a change in their policy. Their enemies are not man. They are intolerance, fanaticism, dictatorship, cupidity, hatred, and discrimination which lie within the heart of man.It'll be interesting to see if the need for passive resistance remanifests itself at some point in the future and the extent to which it might be used.