Musings on Self-Defense

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
Post Reply
User avatar
Posts: 17
Joined: Sun Dec 06, 2009 7:08 pm
Location: Tennessee, USA

Musings on Self-Defense

Post by Bonsai » Fri Dec 11, 2009 5:00 pm

There is another thread on this (self-defense), but I couldn't draw any conclusions from it. I read this morning about a case of an Oklahoma woman defending herself from an intruder. You can hear the 911 call ... 9873.shtml.

So with that situation, a few thoughts come to mind. Does she have negative karma for her actions of killing a man? Is that negative karma outweighed by her actions of saving her own life in the last possible measures of self defense?

In the other thread, what Buddha said seemed to have been more concerned with acting out of anger. Looking at the non-violence section of accesstoinsight, it seems that Buddha wasn' concerned with self-defense, but people who live lives of violence. We have to remember that violence and self-defense are two different things.

Violence: An act of aggression.
Self-defense: The act of defending yourself.

The idea of ownership outside of your body and mind is a reason for violence. As in property, friends, material items, and etc. This is my property, these are my friends, these material items belong to me. And since we all have this idea of Mines, we come into conflict with each other which causes suffering. This is my material item, but you tried to steal it from me. Or he has something I don't. Or these are my friends, yet they didn't support me. Or this is my land, yet you are on it. All of this causes suffering and I understand that.

Then there is ownership of your body and mind which is a reason for self-defense. Murder, Rape, Assault, Imprisonment, these are things that attack the body. Even if we don't care about ownership of items outside the body, we are still attached to our bodies. Yet from what I read, we must get rid of this attachment. The body is temporary and to be attached to it is to grasp. Grasping causes suffering.

Now you could say that the woman who defended herself was defending her property, but that isn't taking account that the intruder knew she was there, and she was probably more concerned with protecting herself. An aged woman, she couldn't just run away. Also, there was no anger in her actions, as the 911 tapes show. She was sad, talked on the phone for 10 minutes, didn't want to kill the man, and cried and prayed when she did. She did do it to protect herself.

Yet, in the Pali Canon, there seems to be nothing about self-defense (according to my google searches ;) ) and going by the lack of anything tangible in the other thread. Buddha seemed more concerned with the 'taking of lives', which implies murderers. People who actively take life, or rather people who actively react with violence. Buddha didn't seem concerned with someone defending himself, or at least I still haven't came across that yet.

With that said, taking life creates negative karma, yet I can only assume that taking a life out of fear for your own protection creates less negative karma than taking a life out of anger. Or maybe I am wrong on that. Maybe defending yourself is the same as attacking. Then there is the Middle Way. If we take that into account, then the opposite ends would be to either attack in violence, or to do no harm at all. The Middle Way would be self-defense; neither attacking, nor laying down to be attack.... Or maybe the opposite ends are attacking, and defending? Maybe laying down, doing neither is the Middle Way?

Hmm...Anyway, this post was more musing than anything. As said, I am a new student of Buddhism, so maybe the answers exist in a Sutta out there. Please correct if I am wrong about something, and feel free to make things clearer for me or suggest anything to read. :)

An attempt to clarify my rambling into questions:

1. Does Buddhism allow for self-defense, as long as it isn't done out of anger or fear, but out of wisdom.
2. Even if it is done out of wisdom, does that self-defense cause negative karma.
3. Is self-defense allowed by the Middle Way?
4. Does the 'Greater Good' exist in Buddhism?

PS: I found this-" onclick=";return false;. Will give it a deeper read through, but it seems to answer some questions...

Also, my internet may cut off at anytime since I am switching to fiber optic next week, so I may not be able to respond. ;)

User avatar
Posts: 996
Joined: Fri Jan 23, 2009 3:23 pm
Location: Laurel, MD

Re: Musings on Self-Defense

Post by Lazy_eye » Fri Dec 11, 2009 6:42 pm

Difficult questions, Bonsai! And I don't know how to answer them. One thing I might say, though, is that I don't get the sense that Buddhism is about "allowing" or "disallowing" anything. Rather, it's about consequences -- this action creates that result. Some actions are wholesome, some unwholesome, some mixed. It sounds like this is a "mixed" case.

Let's imagine that you had to hurt someone in self-defense. Isn't it possible -- even likely -- that the event would continue to haunt you, even if you felt it was justified by the circumstances? The point I'm making is that an action might bear unpleasant fruit despite the fact that we consider it necessary. We might still decide it is necessary even though there is the possibility of negative kamma. There's no judge up in the sky to hand us a "get out of kamma free" card; it all comes about through cause and effect relationships.

Samsaric existence offers many such dilemmas.
Last edited by Lazy_eye on Fri Dec 11, 2009 10:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Posts: 1690
Joined: Mon Jun 01, 2009 9:48 am
Location: Bavaria / Germany

Re: Musings on Self-Defense

Post by acinteyyo » Fri Dec 11, 2009 8:15 pm

Hi Bonsai,

when it comes to self-defense, I have to ask two questions.

1. What is it that shall be defended?
2. Is it worth to be defended?

best wishes, acinteyyo
Thag 1.20. Ajita - I do not fear death; nor do I long for life. I’ll lay down this body, aware and mindful.

Posts: 281
Joined: Thu Dec 03, 2009 12:56 am

Re: Musings on Self-Defense

Post by seanpdx » Fri Dec 11, 2009 8:25 pm

I'd point out that the Buddha was not a deontologist. His interest was not in action per se but in intention, and redefined kamma to reflect this. Intention is action. "Cetanāhaṃ, bhikkhave, kammaṃ vadāmi"

User avatar
Posts: 416
Joined: Sun Nov 22, 2009 5:56 pm
Location: Norfolk, England

Re: Musings on Self-Defense

Post by Laurens » Fri Dec 11, 2009 8:54 pm

From a biography of Ajahn Chah by Ajahn Jayasaro:

"He [Ajahn Chah] had one experience where he was in his glot [??] in the forest and these wild dogs came. It was very freightening cause you've just got a very thin cotton curtain between you and all these very fierce wild dogs, but again this idea of taking refuge in Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha and then making this vow "If I've created bad kamma, if I ever hurt you or any of you or killed in a past life then take my life, if not then please leave me alone." This is kind of a way of facing up to these kinds of fears and dangers that he and many forest monks will adopt. This putting your life on the line and saying "yes I'm willing to die, if I've done anything in the past which has a kammic debt that I have to pay off otherwise please leave me alone." "

This is a truely wise form of defence (at least from a Buddhist perspective) - facing up to the danger head on with the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha as your refuge and accepting what may happen according to your kamma. It takes more strength to do this than the kind of strength a martial art will give you.

Best wishes
"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

Carl Sagan

User avatar
Posts: 6555
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 10:31 pm
Location: Ellan Vannin

Re: Musings on Self-Defense

Post by Cittasanto » Fri Dec 11, 2009 9:30 pm

What was her intention, violence or self defence?

There are allowances in the vinaya for monks to defend themselves in order to escape, but the intention must not be to hurt them, but rather to escape.

there is a difference between using violence and intending violence! if someone intending violence uses violence towards us and we can not escape we may need to use violence to escape.
Blog, Suttas, Aj Chah, Facebook.

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.
John Stuart Mill

User avatar
Posts: 17
Joined: Sun Dec 06, 2009 7:08 pm
Location: Tennessee, USA

Re: Musings on Self-Defense

Post by Bonsai » Fri Dec 11, 2009 11:56 pm

seanpdx and Manapa, yeah, I agree that intention is very important, even if the outcome is similar. And of course not making the choice to defend yourself or others out of anger... And lazy_eye, I will definitely think about 'actions' and consequence...

Considering my own history, I have been violent before. There was only one time when I was the physical aggressor (tried to be a bully in elementary school, got beat up, became friends with the guy afterwards). Yet even when I didn't start the conflict, I definitely didn't take the chance to stop it. I could have walked away or I could have attempted to calm the other guy down. Instead I acted out of fear and allowed my anger to decide my actions. In other words I was just as responsible as the kids I fought with. I definitely didn't practice Right Speech back then either.

Anyway, thanks for answering all.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 54 guests