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
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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