Enlightenment as rationalization for inaction is pacifism as pathology.

Sometimes I find myself getting angry at the heads of corporations or at politicians who design and implement murderous policies. But then I always have to realize that I am part of the problem, because I, too, drive a car. I realize that most of all I need to have compassion for politicians. They must suffer, simply being who they are.

What about compassion for the murdered?

The comments around the circle took me back a few years to a panel discussion I heard at an environmental law conference. The panelists were Buddhists, addressing much the same topic, and saying much the same thing. There was talk of compassion for wounded wretches who wound us all, of taking pleasure in the dailiness of our lives, of living simply, but not much talk about how to slow or stop the destruction.

Afterwards, a woman from the audience stood to ask her question: “Everything you say makes perfect sense, but what do you do if you are standing in front of someone who is aiming a machine gun at a group of children, or is holding a chainsaw in front of a tree?”

The members of the panel on Buddhism blew it. Each in turn stated that the most important thing is to have compassion for the killer, for me to see the Buddha-nature in each of us.

That was a very fine, enlightened position, I thought, but one that helps neither the children nor the trees, nor for that matter the murderers. Nor, in fact, does it help the bystander. Enlightenment as rationalization for inaction. Pacifism as pathology.

As Shakespeare so accurately put it, “Conscience doth make cowards of us all.” — A Language Older Than Words