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THE RENDERING HARMLESS DOCTRINE OF COMPASSION

A BUDDHIST APPROACH TO VIOLENCE

Charles Day*

www.desmoinesmeditation.org & click above on “More from this Publisher”

The Rendering Harmless Doctrine offers a way to honor and reconcile the
duty to defend oneself, family, nation, and world with the religious and
humanitarian principles of compassion, forgiveness, non-violence, and
pacifism.

All responses to personal, community and global aggression should be


motivated by understanding and compassion—not anger, revenge, or
retribution—with the intention of rendering aggressors harmless—not to
harm or punish them. Motives, methods, and goals should be compatible
with ending the suffering that causes and results from aggression and with
restoring peace for all concerned, perpetrators as well as victims.

The Doctrine is based on three assumptions. First, individuals—not gangs,


mobs, cells, or nations—are responsible for assault, mayhem, terrorism,
atrocities, genocide, and war. Second, these individuals, acting alone or as
members of groups or leaders of nations, can cause such horrific harm that
reasonable persons are morally obligated to stop them, using peaceful
means and legal authority whenever possible. And third, history
demonstrates, religions teach, and social and psychological studies confirm
that anger begets anger, aggression begets aggression, and war begets war.
Responding with anger and aggression causes, aggravates, and perpetuates
the cycle of anger, violence, and aggression.

If any government fails to protect or aggresses against its own citizens, or


attacks or supports aggression against another government, appropriate
legal authorities should collectively decide whether, when, and how to
intervene. Civil disobedience, economic sanctions, containment, regime
change, occupation, and other measures should avoid harming the innocent,
while rendering harmless those responsible for the aggression.

In the criminal justice system, capture, arrest, trial, sentencing, incarceration,


and rehabilitation should be based on protecting the innocent, accepted
principles of law, restorative justice and restitution, mitigating circumstances,
and the psychological and criminal history of the individual. The risk of
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recidivism and the severity of its consequences, rather than revenge or
punishment, should determine conditions of probation, imprisonment, and
parole. Capital punishment should end.

Only after all diplomatic and peaceful efforts fail, might harm regrettably be
risked in apprehending dangerous individuals, criminals, terrorists, and
tyrants and turning them over to the appropriate authority for justice. Non-
lethal weapons and tactics should be used. Military and police operations
should protect civilians, apprehend responsible leaders and combatants,
avoid infrastructure and collateral damage, and prevent war.

The Rendering Harmless Doctrine appreciates that victims suffer and may
desire revenge and retribution. But it holds that only when these negative
emotions are governed by understanding and compassion, with the intention of
rendering aggressors harmless without hurting them or others, will the cycle of
anger and violence end and peace prevail.

*Charlie Day can be contacted at 515-255-8398, charlesday1@mchsi.com,


or www.desmoinesmeditation.org. He is a retired psychologist who teaches
meditation and Buddhist philosophy in Des Moines, IA. He welcomes
distribution of this essay. 1-3r9-2