A Buddhist Look at Justice

Is life fair?

According to Buddhist teachings, life simply exists, and there is no deeper meaning attached to it other than what we choose to give it. To put it simply, "It is what it is".

Buddhists believe that our external situation is created by our minds and thoughts. Everything is based on mind, led by mind and fashioned by mind. Buddha believed that we all ultimately create our own view of reality. Not the physical facts of the world, but rather how we SEE the world and how we let the world affect us. Our interpretation of events is a big part of determining whether or not we are suffering or happy. Sometimes the severity of our dilemma is governed by how we perceive life.

When you’re a kid, they lie to you a lot. They tell you that if you're good and study and eat your vegetables, then your life will be rosy and wonderful. What they don’t tell you is about all the unfairness and injustices in the world.

I learned about injustice at a very early age. My education began with my abusive parents and continued when I was a teen and dared to become friends with the only two minority kids on my block. One was black and the other was Asian. They got beaten up a lot for their race and I got beaten up a lot for being their friend. That was when I learned about racism, the worst form of injustice.

But injustice isn’t always about the big things, like race or religion. Injustice mostly rears its ugly head in small, everyday events. Justice is defined as equality, honor and fairness. Most people feel that we don't have enough of those three things in the world, or would they use that oft quoted motto, “There’s no justice!”

“Why me?” We’ve all thought that at some point. “Why is this happening to me?” Or “This isn’t fair” or “What did I do to deserve this?” It’s the blameless vessel’s lot to feel victimized by the whims of fate.

But the tricky thing about feeling wronged is that this feeling is based on our individual view of what’s right. We all have our own take on what’s fair and on what should or shouldn’t happen. But there’s no divine chart which says “This is fair but that’s not” Shakespeare said “There is no good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Justice, or the lack of it, is highly dependent on our point of view.

No one wants to deal with all the trials and difficulties that life seems to enjoy throwing at us. “When sorrows come, they come not as single spies but in battalions.” These things are not pleasant but maybe we need them. As the Buddhist saying goes, “Justice or happiness without battle is an illusion”. Perhaps what we think of as injustice is a necessary part of life.

One of the Buddha’s titles is “He Who Can Forebear.” He was an example of someone who could courageously endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Someone who attains "Buddhahood" is the embodiment of the virtue of forbearance.

Another possible reason for the existence of injustice in our lives is to give us a cause to fight for. A courageous spirit needs a crusade. “Thrice armed is he that has a just quarrel.”

Would we have such role models as Gandhi, Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela to aspire towards if they had not seen injustice and bravely fought the good fight? There wouldn’t be many heroes in a just world, and we’d never know what miracles we are capable of, if there were no wrongs to right. As Emily Dickenson said, “We never know how high we are until we’re called to rise.”

Fighting injustice does not mean physical violence. It means changing what is unjust without compromising your integrity and morality. Buddhism is about peace as well as justice and fairness. Words can be weapons. Buddhist scholar Nichiren Daishonin said, “Do not spare your voice. When it comes to speaking out for justice, there is no need for restraint. We have to speak out with impassioned words. It is wrong to remain silent when confronted by injustice.” When we speak out against the injustices we see, we not only change ourselves, we change the world.

Misfortunes of all kinds will always occur. Something will always need changing for the better. But our ability to see a crisis as a test rather than feeling like a victim of injustice is what makes us better people in the long run.

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Comments 23 comments

Chasuk 6 years ago

I love the Daishonin quote. Thank you for providing it. Now I have another author to read.

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Glad you liked it, Chasuk. Nichiren Buddhism is a whole sect of Buddhist practice. One of many. Thanks for reading.

Chasuk 6 years ago

I'm confused.

You wrote, "Buddhist scholar Nichiren Daishonin said..."

Now you write that Nichiren Buddhism is a sect of Buddhist practice.

Did Nichiren Daishonin inspire a sect that was named after him?

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Yes, there is a sect of Buddhism called Nichiren Buddhism which was started in 12th century Japan by Nichiren Daishonin. He started out studying the works of Buddha as a scholar and then began his own branch of Buddhism.

Chasuk 6 years ago

Ah! I've never heard of Nichiren Buddhism.

My interest in Buddhism was recently rekindled by Stephen Batchelor's "Buddhism Without Beliefs."

Years ago, I was intrigued by Buddhism, but I found that there was too much religious accretion for my liking. I'm a secular kind of guy.

Did Daishonin add, or did he peel away?

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

I guess a little of both. In Nichiren Buddhism, there are no monks or priests. It's less formal. On the other hand, Nichiren Buddhism adds the concept of the "Gohonzon", which is the main symbol of worship, as the cross is in Christianity. The Gohonzon a scroll that the practitioner chants to. Chanting to it is supposed to summon up the protective forces of the universe and bring enlightenment.

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Very inspiring and interesting read. Thank you.

gg.zaino profile image

gg.zaino 6 years ago from L'America

"Truths" are universal sure! ... 'Justice and Injustice' or 'Right or Wrong' as you point out Robwrite, are conditions requiring balance. One cannot exist without the other.

I believe it becomes almost impossible for the enlightened individual, Not, to speak out against Injustice.

Unfortunately, the belief system of the masses arise from prescribed societal notions and norms. The Ego drives the masses with a false dream of the planet. The norm is a breed of insanity that thrives on ignorance and confusion. The Ego dies hard, but when defeated, I don't believe one can ever return to that false world.

I'm not gifted in the ways of Buddhist belief Robwrite, but i seem to lean heavily in the direction of that teacher and the message of peace within.

From what I've read here and there, on attaining spiritual enlightenment through this teaching. I find it doesn't fall too far from my own outlook.

I view existence as a consistent battle. A conflict of balance between the true souls purpose, and that of the world according Ego.

I'll be back Robwrite! ... great message - B@peace

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Glad you liked it, HH. I'm always happy to hear from you.

And gg, you're right. We are an ego-driven society. The ego is hard to defeat but once you get passed it, you see the world differently.

The best people (Gandhi, MLK) will always speak out against injustice.

Thanks for the kind words, gg.

Marlin 55 profile image

Marlin 55 6 years ago from USA

Great words Rob. It is always important to remember not to allow the ego to lead. It can only bring destruction.

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

True, Marlin. It's our ego that usually leads us into unhappiness. Glad you liked the article.

telltale profile image

telltale 6 years ago

Interesting! Am Buddhist, and try to be as tolerant as possible, but sometimes, it's almost impossible, due to unfairness and injustice thrown at us. In a country where no authority admits there is racism, but there is, and race bias is so rampant. Also difficult to speak out, not because of fear for myself, but more because of harassment to family members, and they have draconian laws of no trial or trial without justice - they just lock you up and literally throw away the key. Good Hub!

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

It sounds like a terrible situation, telltale. I know it's difficult to see the purpose in hardship but be strong. All tyrannical regimes come to an end eventually as long as there are people who will speak out against injustice.

soumyasrajan 6 years ago from Mumbai India and often in USA

Very interesting and inspiring article Robwrite! As we often learn in India through stories and teachings of Buddha, rishis, monks and people like Gandhi that nonviolence preached by Gautama Buddha is not for weak people. It has to be followed by people with strength. Struggling against an injustice has to be integral part of strength. Teachings of Buddha or for that matter any spiritual aspects one learns does not result in a weakness, it always makes a person strong together with becoming calm.

You have expressed all these ideas so well, I felt I learnt quite a bit from your article and comments by you and others. I did not know any thing about Nichiren Buddhism. I also find very inspiring all quotations in your article, for example that of Emily Dickenson, “We never know how high we are until we’re called to rise.”

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Thanks for the kind words, soumyasrajan. You're right that non-violence is not for the weak. It takes a lot more strength to refrain from violence than to lash out. Thanks for reading.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I admit ignorance of Buddhism although one picks up inklings of it here and there.As you describe it, there would seem to be much to learn from them.

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

There is, dahoglund. I've found it very useful in my life.

IntimatEvolution profile image

IntimatEvolution 6 years ago from Columbia, MO USA

Nice work Rob, really good. I sent a tweet out about it. Cheers!

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Thanks, Intimate Evolution. Glad you liked it.

tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

Namaste, Rob! Wonderful, wonderful Hub, thank you! I have loved the writing of Bernie Glassman and especially "Infinite Circle" for some time. The Buddhist concepts seem to speak to me. Glad to read more about it from someone who clearly knows!

Thanks for sharing

Love and peace


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Thanks for the kind words, Tonymac. It's good to hear that Buddhism speaks to you. It has a lot to offer.

Lucy 4 years ago

Great comparisons. Written form a horrible experience and now you can help others through religion.

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Lucy; My goal is to help others. I hope I can someday.


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