Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Fairness and Justice

In societies in which there is one overarching world view, fairness and justice are complex issues. Interpretations of the law, in Judaism, always include the minority opinion, a way of saying that fairness and justice are contingent, not absolute, principles.

In a society in which there is multiplicity of perspectives and world views, different views compete and fairness and justice can become functions of power.

Spiritual practice goes nowhere if it follows this path. Everything gets lost in interpretation, conceptual thinking, unacknowledged prejudice and bias, etc.

In spiritual practice, we have to dispense completely with appeals to justice and fairness, precisely because they are open to interpretation and dependent on position. And if we claim access to a higher truth, we are, in effect, claiming the power and the right to decide for others.

Aside: I dislike and avoid the notion that spiritual truth is a higher truth, in terms of society and the world, etc. Spiritual practice is based on a principles that run counter to many principles of society. To claim that spiritual practice is a "higher truth" is another form of prejudice. Instead, I have to acknowledge that the principles on which I base my decisions are different from the principles that a person in a social context may base his or her decisions.
I now rarely try to persuade people to adopt a specific perspective, Buddhist or otherwise. Rather, I seek to help them find what is true for them in the world they experience. As we explore this together, appeals to justice or fairness are almost always stories that hide or protect unacknowledged hurts or pains. As they open to those pains, people frequently find clarity on their own and know what to do, not because it is "fair" or "just" or "right" (these are, in the end, somewhat childish motivations), but because, when everything, inside and out, is included in awareness, often only one course of action is indicated — the direction of the present, to use Uchiyama's phrase.

In other words, the illusion of choice is an indication of a lack of freedom.


  1. This is an interesting post, but it seems to be lacking something, because I am not quite sure what you’re talking about.

    What societies with overarching worlds views do you mean? You mean someplace like Iran or North Korea? I’d say that in those places fairness and justice is pretty black and white. I think if you examine the situation more closely you’ll discover that it is in the societies with multiple world views, as I would describe the US for instance, where you find fairness and just to be complex.

    You say “Spiritual practice goes nowhere if it follows this path.” But what path are you referring to? The path of multiplicity of perspectives and world views? That seems like a fairly good path to go down. That does not seem to jive with your following statements where you seem to be arguing for a multiplicity of views.

    I agree that “Spiritual practice is based on a principles that run counter to many principles of society.” That’s one reason why, in Buddhism at least, we sometimes talk about a higher truth. But then you don’t indicate what kind of spiritual practice you’re referring to. there are many different kinds, and not all are equal. Is there any one in particular you think needs dispense with fairness and justice? Or all of them?

    If I understand you correctly, I’d say it would be pretty horrible thing to dispense with fairness and justice. That would actually go against one of the main reasons why I engage in a spiritual practice.

    I don’t know if you are a Buddhist or not, but in Buddhism ethical living is a critical element. Maybe it semantics or something, but I’d consider fairness and justice as part of ethical living. What gives you the impression that claiming access to a higher truth leads to “claiming the power and the right to decide for others”? According to whom? And what do you mean by “spiritual truth?”

    If you “have to acknowledge that the principles on which I base my decisions are different from the principles that a person in a social context may base his or her decisions,” well then, hopefully you are basing your decisions on something “higher” or “purer” than what most in society base their decisions on.

    “Higher truth” is just a phrase. If you get caught up in the literal meanings of these things, or merely go by the images they conjure up for you, you’re just going end up being confused. You need to look for the meanings behind the words. To aspire to a “higher truth” really only means trying to rise above the fray, so to speak, it does not necessarily mean seeking to establish some sort of truth that all must follow.

    However, if you think that it’s better to help people only find what is true for them in the world they experience, you’re not really going to be able to help anyone. What we usually think is true for us is an illusion. The aim of Buddhist spiritual practice is help people dispel their illusions, not perpetuate them.

  2. A bunch of us decided to infuse a public place with the energy of peace, so we walked into a downtown Washington, DC bookstore and this is what happened. Hope you like it!

  3. Thanks for your post. Interesting. I did want to comment on the bookstore event. I've seen these before, and they make me cringe. Kind of exhibitionist rather than peace-infusing, to me. (Sorry for veering off topic.)

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