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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.