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Can Meditation Stop Violence?

Dalai Lama MediatationThere’s a quote from the Dalai Lama that struck me as rather odd. It’s about meditation and ridding the world of violence.

Here’s the quote:

“If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”

It’s a nice sentiment, but is it true? There are lots of questions that instantly arise. What is meditation? Can it really be taught – if so, by whom and to whom? What if the kid doesn’t want to, or can’t, learn to meditate? What if, like most kids, they’d rather play in the dirt and squash bugs?

And what about the quality of meditation – does this matter? Is an 8-year-old going to truly reach the levels required to eliminate violence? Are kids’ mental faculties even capable of such a spiritual achievement? And what is violence? Is spanking violent? Is hunting violent? And not all violence is man-made. Tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes are all violent. Will meditation help here? The questions are endless.

Now, to the Dalai Lama’s defense, this is a spiritual quote from a peaceful and holy man. Thus it may be a vision for peace rather than an empirical guide to rid the world of violence. But even as a vision, does it cut it?

Here’s a few opinions from other bloggers:

John C. Bader writes:

I do not see this quote as misleading… I see this quote as empowering. The world in many ways is already wrought with violence and suffering. The point is, if everyone in the world would just stop for a moment and take a deep breath; if everyone in the world became mindful of the controlled chaos that is life for one minute a day – sensing the gift of energy and love when our thoughts and attention are centered away from fear and fantasy – anchored soundly in the present – Yes, there would be less violence. When we stop to meditate we allow the gift of space, clarity and responsiveness to arise from our True Nature. From these qualities arises wisdom and love – not violence and tyranny.

Be Scofield writes:

The first and most obvious problem with his statement is the ambiguity of what violence actually constitutes. Takes these few examples: spray painting over a sexist billboard, using violence to defend against rape, eating meat, the prison industrial complex, throwing tear gas canisters back towards the police who fired them, the capitalist system, racial microagressions, stealing food to support oneself…etc. Many would argue that abortion is violent. Would this be eliminated with meditation? There are so many forms of violence and ways that we all participate in systems that are violent that it would be nearly impossible to reach a consensus on who’s criteria of violence gets to be used. How can one eliminate something if we can’t agree on what it is that is being eliminated?

One could argue that if we all truly meditated and understood our interconnectedness, we’d never want to harm one another. To this end, the Buddha says this – “If you truly loved yourself, you would never harm another.” I agree – but the question is how. How do we get there?

Part of the problem is “we.” The Dalai Lama is relying on human initiative to achieve the end of violence. He’s suggesting what many propose in a variety of forms – “If WE just do this, “If WE just do that.” This is the classic save ourselves approach. He’s suggesting that WE can save ourselves from the violence and destruction that WE cause. Our history suggests little hope of this becoming a reality. Hence it’s rather naive to think WE can.

This is where the Gospel of Jesus Christ stands in stark contrast. It says we CAN’T do it, but that God loves us so much that He’s going to do it – and that it’s happening right now. A Gospel pronouncement, in Jesus’ day, was often used for political and military announcements. It brought “Good News” – e.g., we just won a great victory and we can now live in peace under Caesar, for example.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is saying the same thing. God is here (in Jesus Christ) and that He will make all things new and right. That through him, his love, his sacrifice, his Gospel – we are saved from ourselves and from destruction. Our need for a savior, for someone to help us out of our quagmire of lust, greed, pettiness, selfishness, and the utterly twisted and rebellious thinking that distorts our minds is clear. When we dive into Jesus, we find trued Hope (not one based on our efforts, but on God’s) – we discover Life, Ultimate Reality, Love – Peace.

Not even Jesus, the world’s greatest teacher, was naive about evil, violence, and destruction. He understood it well and faced it head on. He delivered the decisive blow to it at His resurrection. His Kingdom continues to grow to this day.

Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson


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  1. Beautifully said Ted.

    Here’s my take on mediation, how even in the midst of violence and cruelty we have a center and a refuge.

    • Ted Olson says:

      Thanks Debra – great thoughts. Pure and simple. Silence and solitude is so key to deeper understanding; yet, so few of us practice it.

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