Thought for the Day - Akhandadhi Das - 11/10/2012

Good morning. After hearing the proposals to amend the law regarding the use of force against burglars, I lay awake wondering how I might react to a break-in. In those early hours, I could feel a real chill from every unfamiliar noise. Would I second-guess the intruders: Are they after just money and valuables; or is my family at risk?

And, if I did accost and seriously injure them, would I not feel myself a double victim – once for the burglary; and twice for having been obliged to defend myself and loved-ones? I would certainly want the law to understand my action and to forgive it. And, that seems to be the impetus to clarify the current legal position. But, as some lawyers have commented, it’s already the case that action taken in the thick of a burglary is judged in the context of the trauma – and not as a “paper exercise undertaken six months later,” as one judge put it.

But, although I would like my hypothetical action understood and pardoned, I don’t want to be told that it is right or good.

In the Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna is encouraged to take action against warring opponents. He acknowledges the Vedic principle, that it is lawful to confront any of the six types of aggressors – one of which, plundering, involves intrusion, theft and potential violence – similar to burglary of an occupied home.

But, Arjuna is resistant: It may be acceptable, he says, but even so, “sin will overcome us. No good can come from it.” Arjuna refers to paap or sin, not as a moral value, but in the karmic sense of the reaction that accrues from any act of violence. In Hindu terms, any incident of anger or violence stains our psyche. We are never the better person for giving in to it. If it is unavoidable or necessary – so be it – but we should recognise that it leaves a scar on our consciousness.

Secondly, the karmic consequence of using or even threatening violence is further violence. It may be risky and seemingly inglorious to acquiesce to a burglar, but the alternative may be even more dangerous. If the message is that we’re all ready to maim intruders with baseball bats and kitchen knives – will not burglars arm themselves accordingly and be much more likely to attack the victim householder first?

Arjuna knew the crimes of his aggressors, but, if possible, he wanted to reduce the extent of violence – not exacerbate it. He understood that progress in human society can be measured by how well we employ methods other than violence to resolve our issues. Yes, there are times when force may be inevitable – but, he warns: it never produces good in the long-term. Even if we call it reasonable and lawful, violence always hurts those who use it.

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