One approach to ending violence


From Ram Das, "How Can I Help?" p. 167.


"The train clanked and rattled through the suburbs of Tokyo on a drowsy spring

afternoon. Our car was comparatively empty - a few housewives with their kids

in tow, some old folks going shopping. I gazed absently at the drab houses and



At one station the doors opened, and suddenly the afternoon quiet was shattered

by a man bellowing violent, incomprehensible curses. The man staggered into our

car. He wore laborer's clothing, and he was big, drunk and dirty. Screaming,

he swung at a woman holding a baby. The blow sent her spinning into the laps of

an elderly couple. It was a miracle the baby wasn't harmed.


Terrified, the couple jumped up and scrambled toward the other end of the car.

The laborer aimed a kick at the retreating back of the old woman but missed as

she scuttled to safety. This so enraged the drunk that he grabbed the metal

pole in the center of the car and tried to wrench it out of its stanchion. I

could see that one of his hands was cut and bleeding. The train lurched ahead,

the passengers frozen with fear. I stood up.


I was young then, some twenty years ago, and in pretty good shape. I'd been

putting in a solid eight hours of aikido training nearly everyday for the past

three years. I liked to throw and grapple. I thought I was tough. The trouble

was my martial skill was untested in actual combat. As students of Aikido, we

are not allowed to fight.


"Aikido" my teacher had said again and again, is the art of reconciliation.

Whoever has the mind to fight has broken his connection with the universe. If

you try to dominate people, you are already defeated. We study how to resolve

conflict, not how to start it."


I listened to his words. I tried hard. I even went so far as to cross the

street to avoid 'chimpira', the pinball punks who lounged around the train

stations. My forbearance exalted me. I felt both tough and holy. In my heart,

however, I wanted an absolutely legitimate opportunity whereby I might save the

innocent by destroying the guilty.


"This is it" I said to myself as I got to my feet. "People are in danger. If I

don't do something fast, somebody will probably get hurt."


Seeing me stand up, the drunk recognized a chance to focus his rage. "Aha" he

roared. "A foreigner! You need a lesson in Japanese manners!"


I held on lightly to the commuter strap overhead and gave him a slow look of

disgust and dismissal. I planned to take this turkey apart, but he had to make

the first move. I wanted him mad, so I pursed my lips and blew him an insolent



"All right!" he hollered "You're going to get a lesson." He gathered himself for

a rush at me.


A fraction of a second before he could move, someone shouted "Hey!" It was

earsplitting. I remember the strangely joyous, lilting quality of it - as

though you and a friend had been searching diligently for something and he had

suddenly stumbled upon it. "Hey!"


I wheeled to my left; the drunk spun to his right. We both stared down at a

little old Japanese man. He must have been well into his seventies, this tiny

gentleman, sitting there immaculate in his kimono. He took no notice of me, but

beamed delightedly at the laborer, as though he had a most important, most

welcome secret to share.


"C'mere," the old man said in an easy vernacular, beckoning to the drunk.

"C'mere and talk with me." He waved his hand lightly.


The big man followed, as if on a string. He planted his feet belligerently in

front of the old gentleman, and roared above the clacking wheels, "Why the hell

should I talk to you?" The drunk now had his back to me. If his elbow moved so

much as a millimeter, I'd drop him in his socks.


The old man continued to beam at the laborer. "Whatcha been drinking?" he asked,

his eyes sparkling with interest. "I've been drinking sake" the laborer bellowed

back "and its none of your business!" Flecks of spittle splattered the old man.


"oh that wonderful" the old man said, "absolutely wonderful. You see I love

sake too. Every night, me and my wife (she's 76, you know) we warm up a little

bottle of sake and take it out into the garden and we sit on an old wooden

bench. We watch the sun go down and we look to see how our persimmon tree is

doing. My great grandfather planted that tree and we worry about the whether it

will recover from those ice storms we had last winter. Our tree has done better

than expected, though, especially when you consider the poor quality of the

soil. It is gratifying to watch when we take our sake and go out to enjoy the

evening - even when it rains.!" He looked up at the laborer, eyes twinkling.


As he struggled to follow the old man's conversation, the drunk's face began to

soften. His fists slowly unclenched. " Yeah" he said "I love persimmons

too...." His voice trailed off.


"Yes" said the old man"and I'm sure you have a wonderful wife."


"No" replied the laborer, "my wife died." Very gently, swaying with the motion

of the train, the big man began to sob. "I don't got no wife, I don't got no

home, I don't got no job. I'm so ashamed of myself." Tears rolled down his

cheeks; a spasm of despair rippled through his body.


Now it was my turn. Standing there in my well scrubbed youthful innocence, my

make-this-world-safe-for-democracy righteousness, I suddenly felt dirtier than

he was.


Then the train arrived at my stop. As the doors opened, I heard the man cluck

sympathetically. "MY, my" he said "this is a difficult predicament, indeed. Sit

down here and tell me about it."


As the train pulled away, I sat down on a bench. What I had wanted to do with

muscle had been accomplished with kind words. I had just seen Aikido tried in

combat, and the essence of it was love. I would have to practice the art with

an entirely different spirit. It would be a long time before I could speak

about the resolution of conflict.


We have to listen very carefully: for the uniqueness of each individual,

including ourselves and the various levels of our being; for the way in which

fear and polarization outside reflect what is within us all; for ways in which,

as Kabir says, we can "do what we do with another human being, but we can never

put them out of our heart."


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