Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:
Our idea of justice is based on the idea that there’s a beginning point to a story. From that point, you figure out who did what first, and then who did what second, and then at the end of the story you figure out how things should be apportioned in terms of guilt or lack of guilt, based on which actions were justified by what went before and which ones weren’t, so as to bring things into a proper balance.
But in the Buddha’s vision of time, there’s no beginning. As he said, you could trace back, back and back and back, and not find a conceivable beginning. The beginning point, he said, was inconceivable. Not just unknowable, inconceivable. You can’t even think it. And we’ve been through the ups and downs of time so many times, through so many universes, that, as he said, it’s hard to meet someone who hasn’t been your mother or your father or your brother or your sister or your son or your daughter in all that time. The stories are very long.
So if you’re going to start apportioning blame and trying bring things into balance, where do you start?
There’s a famous story concerning Somdet Toh. A young monk once came to him to complain that another monk had hit him, and Somdet Toh said, “Well, you hit him first.”
The monk replied, “No, no, he just came up and hit me over the head and I hadn’t done anything at all.”
Somdet Toh said, “No, you hit him first.”
Back and forth like this for a while and then the young monk got upset and went to see another senior monk to complain about Somdet Toh. So the other senior monk came and asked Somdet Toh what was up, and Somdet Toh said, “Well obviously it’s his karma from some previous lifetime. He had hit the other monk first at some point in time.”
And of course that might have been after the other monk had hit the first monk first — so it goes back and forth, back and forth like this.
So when you see mistreatment around you, the first question isn’t “Is this just or unjust?” The question is, is the person dishing out the mistreatment behaving in a skillful way or unskillful way, and what can I do behaving skillfully to put a stop to unskillful behavior?
From: Justice vs. Skillfulness
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu