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Justice - Liberation And Compassion


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3. How did Jesus seem to define “justice’ by his words and actions? What did those things have in common?


4. What are the different ways that one might define the word “justice”? “Injustice”? How can enforced peace infringe on the justice for others?


5. What do you believe the church’s responsibility should be in confronting injustice in the world or in your community? Why?


Justice is about equality, particularly reciprocity. This can take the form of vengeance, as in "an eye for an eye", or it can focus on compassion and empathy, in which case an eye for an eye "makes the whole world blind" as Ghandi observed. I think it meant the latter for Jesus. To use an example from a well-known social activist and peacemaker, Thich Nhat Hanh once said he didn't think Jesus would take sides, even against the powerful. This comes from a view that we all co-create the world in which we live, and because of dependent co-arising, what affects one eventually affects everyone. In this view, the best way to help the poor or disenfranchised isn't simply to make it "us versus them" against the rich and the elite.


In Latin America, liberation theologians speak of God's preference, or "option", for the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. But I do not think God wants us to take sides, even with the poor. The rich also suffer, and in many cases more than the poor! They may be rich materially, but many are poor spiritually, and they suffer a lot. I have known rich and famous people who have ended up committing suicide. I am certain that those with the highest understanding will be able to see the suffering in the poor and the rich.


God embraces both rich and poor, and He wants them to understand each other, to share with each other their suffering and their happiness, and to work together for peace and social justice. We do not need to take sides. When we take sides, we misunderstand the will of God. I know it will be possible for some people to use these words to prolong social injustice, but that is an abuse of what I am saying. We have to find the real causes for social injustice, and when we do, we will not condemn a certain type of people. We will ask, Why has the situation of these people remained like that? All of us have the power of love and understanding. They are our best weapons. Any dualistic response, any response motivated by anger, will only make the situation worse.


When we practice looking deeply, we have the insight into what to do and what not to do for the situation to change. Everything depends on our way of looking. The existence of suffering is the First Noble Truth taught by the Buddha, and the causes of suffering are the second. When we look deeply at the First Truth, we discover the second. After seeing the Second Truth, we see the next truth, which is the way of liberation. Everything depends on our understanding of the whole situation. Once we understand, our life style will change accordingly and our actions will never help the oppressors strengthen their stand. Looking deeply does not mean being inactive. We become very active with our understanding. Nonviolence does not mean non-action. Nonviolence means we act with love and compassion.


Living Buddha, Living Christ
, pp.79-81


If you look at cases where the poor led a revolt to overturn those who had oppressed them, it led to continuing resentment and instability, because each side that is overthrown or driven out will want to get even. A true and lasting solution, from this perspective, requires cooperation and reconciliation from all parties involved in the problem, which won't come about if the hostility of divisiveness persists. That is why, for example, the current Dalai Lama continues to pray for the Chinese and their leaders and to make proposals for the future of Tibet that take their concerns into consideration rather than only the grievances of his own people. This is similar to Gandhi's approach with the British in India, even though the circumstances with the Chinese in Tibet are not the same.


That is not the same as saying that these or other similary-minded spiritual leaders and peace activitists do not identify with the poor and outcase or that they do not seek to demonstrate solidarity with them. Instead, it means that they also identify with and extend their compassion to the dictators, the juntas, etc. To go back to a Christian example, someone once asked Theresa of Calcutta (a.k.a. "Mother Theresa") how she was able to spend so much time among people in such dire circumstances. She said that she had realized a long time ago that she had a Hitler inside of herself. It was because she was able to be honest about the part of her that identified with the worst in humanity that she was able to find the humility and patience necessary to sustain her compassion as she identified with the disenfranchised.


The liberty and love expressed in the Gospels aren't restricted to any one group. That's the tough part. I acknowledge that Christ's message created conflict, but it was not because he was pitting one group against another but rather because he was challenging everyone to question their assumptions about their identity and what it mean to really get in touch with the Kingdom of Heaven/perceive the Divine. It isn't that the rich and powerful are any less deserving of freedom from their false views and limitations, but rather that they are less likely to give them up because the perceive themselves as benefitting from such "worldly" structures (hence the comment about the camel and the eye of the needle - Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:24-25, Luke 18:24-25). The same lesson was offered in the parable of the rich man preparing a banquet as told in Luke chapter 14. As at the time and place those you dined with indicated what class/status you identified with, he naturally invited others of equal status. But they all made lame excuses why they couldn't make it...


Jesus replied: "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.' Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.' Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.' "


"The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'


" 'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.'


"Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.' "

In other words, the man had his servants grab anyone and everyone they could find, including the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. And let's not forget that when he has his servants go out one last time, the people they were dragging in from the lanes would have included folks like tax collectors, foreigners, prostitutes, etc. It isn't that the rich and powerful were not invited, they simply found excuses not to go.


We can get an inkling that this is relevant to our discussion because right after this Jesus is quoted as talking about the difficulty of following him and of having to be willing to let go of our preconceptions and risk the beliefs and constructed self-image of ourselves that we have become used to and even attached to (to make sure he gets the point across he shocks the audience with pronouncements such as "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple" in verse 26). From my understanding, Jesus isn't really asking people to hate themselves or their families, but rather to break free from their preconceived views, even those of themselves and those closest to them. Leave that old view of reality behind. Learn to see instead with the perspective of Christ, i.e., as a human fully in touch with his relationship to/as an aspect of the Divine. It was considered anathema to disagree with or risk the disfavor of your family, but Jesus is saying, Yes you have to be willing to make a choice that your family does not approve of. "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple" (verse 33).


This same story of renunciation, taking it back to the Buddhist angle, is found in many places in Buddhist cannon, but nowhere more notably than the story of Siddhartha Gautama himself, who left his life of luxury as a prince, cut off his hair (very symbolic), and put on the robes of a wandering seeker. Neither the Buddha nor Christ, from what I can tell, are asking us to all become homeless street people in dirty robes, estranged from our friends and family and begging for alms, but rather to recognize what attachments are reinforcing the delusions that are keeping us from seeing our true nature (i.e. what misguided views are keeping us feeling separated from God).


IMHO, the Church's responsbility should be to work with Buddhists, Hindu, Jainists, Sihks, Muslims, Jews, Earth-Centered traditions, Humanists, and anyone else who shares a kindred vision to the one expressed here in which a global community of true justice, rather than retribution, can also function as a community of healing.

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  • 4 years later...

I know this thread is old, but I still think it's worth discussing. :)


As you state, concepts of "justice" vary from person to person, culture to culture, and also situation to situation. For example: I am almost always fully against the death penalty; once in a while, a case will come to light that makes me question my usual stance - perhaps there are cases where the death penalty is truly the best type of "justice."


"Justice" is a concept that has been in our papers recently as well, following the violent summer our city has. Canada currently has a Criminal Youth Justice Act (previously the Young Offenders Act), which applies to youths under 17, if I recall correctly. Because a good amount of the violence in our city (not just this summer) is commited by people to whom the CYJA applies, many adults are now starting to question its validity. The CYJA allows for lighter sentences for youths - chances at rehab programs, less time in custody, halfway houses instead of hard prison, that sort of thing. Their names and pictures are often not released to the public, so as not to prevent them from having a future - this is true even in cases of violent crimes. Personally, I don't find this to be "justice" for those who are harmed/killed, or for the community. While I don't believe a young person's future should be marred by something stupid like graffiti or shoplifting, I question the validity of a "justice act" that allows violent teenagers to protect their identity.


I think, when considering ideas of justice, in each case it's important to ask, "Who benefits?" Is it about an individual's rights, or the community's best interests? Is there a way to cover both?


I don't think justice usually means equal retribution. Our society has come a long way from the days of "an eye for an eye." However, I do think some form of restitution is important. I think it's important for people to understand that they have caused someone harm (physical, emotional, financial, etc) and to serve some sort of punishment, whether that is time in prison, financial restitution, community service, or something else.

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The CYJA allows for lighter sentences for youths - chances at rehab programs, less time in custody, halfway houses instead of hard prison, that sort of thing. Their names and pictures are often not released to the public, so as not to prevent them from having a future - this is true even in cases of violent crimes. Personally, I don't find this to be "justice" for those who are harmed/killed, or for the community.


So, what do you think the purpose of justice should be? Giving the victims 'justice' sounds a little like retribution.



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"Justice" sounds like retribution when it's as basic as "an eye for an eye," which I don't believe in.


However, I do think that when people do something to cause harm to another person, they should have to suffer some consequences. If you take the life of someone else (or cause them so much damage that their life is forever altered in a way they didn't choose), I don't think you should be able to just walk away from it.


It's not about "making it fair," but about having an understanding that actions have consequences. It's an easy enough concept - we teach it to children from the time they are born. If you do something that is harmful, there will be consequences you probably won't like.


If a 16-year-old kid decides to shoot someone, they should face strong consequences. A slap on the wrist shouldn't cut it. If you take someone's life, should you not have to sacrifice at least part of yours? I'm not talking about the death penalty, but I am talking about adult prison time, instead of a juvenile centre with a revolving door - the victim's life should be worth more than that.

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