During the civil wars in feudal Japan, an invading army would quickly sweep into a town and take control. In one particular village, everyone fled just before the army arrived - everyone except the Zen master. Curious about this old fellow, the general went to the temple to see for himself what kind of man this master was. When he wasn't treated with the deference and submissiveness to which he was accustomed, the general burst into anger.
"You fool," he shouted as he reached for his sword, "don't you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!"
But despite the threat, the master seemed unmoved. "And do you realize," the master replied calmly, "that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?"
Drenched in the blood of martyrs and saints, heroes and villains is the brutal, and sadly sometime necessary human activity of conflict. Whether it takes a singular form, one person versus one person, or a much larger rage of one culture versus one culture, somewhere, before reason was set aside and emotions took the rank of general, there was lost a beautiful and fleeting opportunity for one side to stand naked before compassion and take the difficult road of understanding and reconciliation. Conflict itself can be violent or non-violent, verbal or physical and is one of the most difficult experiences we us as humans must endure. It is the ultimate expression of extreme beliefs we all take.
Everyday, we all in someway or another participate in small scale conflicts, pushing our notions and concepts over others, or enduring others aggression towards us. We may say we can rise above the fray and be above conflict, but we all know it is neither as easy nor practical for us to follow the lead of the Zen Master in the story above. When it comes to conflict, it maybe difficult at times to figure out what the right thing is to do. So, do we stand our ground no matter the cost or do we give in realizing their may not be a absolute right or wrong?
For there may not be much we can, as singular people, do to defuse large scale conflicts and war, but as individuals, as Buddhists, we can most certainly seek a mindful understanding of personal conflicts, whether at work or home, with friends or strangers. When one side see's an attempt of the other side to reach out a hand of friendship and a kind smile, many volatile situations will resolve quicker and with much less hardship than those that make no attempt at reconciliation. However, nobody expects you to relinquish your point of view or conception of a certain situation, and to do so would just lead to you being stepped on and taken advantage of in future dealings. As in all things, a balance is key.
As tired as you maybe of hearing it, we all know there is almost always a middle way. With right effort and compassion, I see we can indeed become a shepherd of compromise, a voice reason, even in the face of intolerance or ignorance. Perhaps we can point out our similarities and the areas we agree rather than exaggerate the places we do not. 'Hate begets hate' and as Booker T Washington said " I would permit no man, no matter what his colour might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him. " I promise you, when you make an effort to be kind, listen, compromise, you will shock yourself how far the virtues of consideration, charity and grace do go.
Martin Luther King Jr said
"On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, "Is it safe?" Expediency asks the question, "Is it politic?" And Vanity comes along and asks the question, "Is it popular?" But Conscience asks the question "Is it right?" And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of good will to come together with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "We ain't goin' study war no more." This is the challenge facing modern man."