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Ahimsa and Maladjustment

Posted on 1/21/2013 by Trish O' Sullivan in ahimsa nonviolence

Martin Luther King, Jr. used the term "creative maladjustment" in relation to the idea of going up against widely accepted injustice. We have become adjusted to violence. The ancient concept and practice of Ahimsa or non-violence can help us to wake up and become creatively maladjusted.

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr.'s  birthday commemoration and a good time to reflect on the practice of nonviolence as related both to the violent times that we live in and to our own lives. 

Ahimsa or nonviolence is the supreme virtue in the three great religions of India—Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.  It is the first Yama or discipline in Yoga, the first precept in Buddhism and the first great vow in the Jain moral code.   Ahimsa lays the foundation for all of the other precepts to be kept.  For example, the Buddhist precepts of truthfulness, non-stealing, control of sexual activity, and avoidance of intoxicating substances are forms of non-harm of both self and other. 

This non-harming ethic is said to benefit others not only through their ensured personal safety but also by the creation of a peaceful atmosphere wherein others are moved to give up their own hostility.

Unfortunately our society, at this time, does not provide a peaceful atmosphere.  We are exposed to so much violence that we are in danger of becoming adjusted to it, if that hasn’t already happened.   In one of his speeches, Martin Luther King talked about the dangers of becoming adjusted to harmful practices such as injustice and he encourages us to become maladjusted.  He said: 

        “As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who in the midst of his vacillations finally came to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free;

  Or as maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, could scratch across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions, 'We hold these truths to beself evident, that all men are created equal.  That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.  And that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

  And through such creative maladjustment, we may be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man's inhumanity to man.... “

All three traditions teach that nonharming must be practiced in thought, word and deed. I remember after 9/11 Zen Master Wu Kwang gave a talk in which he said that to conquer terrorism, first  “find the terrorist in you.”  

We can practice Ahimsa and derail that inner terrorist by mindfully maladjusting to violence in both our outer and innerworlds.   While we speak out against the violence in our society we also examine and reduce self-harming thoughts and deeds.  We can generate compassion towards others who suffer or who have harmed us through the realization that all harm comes from other's pain.  

This is why we have commemorative days for great people.  To remind us of the values that they embodied so that we can see our adjustments and wake up.  

Copyright 2012 by Trish O' Sullivan