The Tao of Christ

Nondual Nonviolence

June 25, 2022 Marshall Davis
The Tao of Christ
Nondual Nonviolence
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode I talk about nonviolence as an expression of nonduality. I explore the origin of violence by looking at the biblical story of Cain murdering his brother Abel. I see the solution to violence – including gun violence - in nondual awareness. 


In the United States we are struggling with violence. Gun violence in particular. In our little town in New Hampshire we have an online Google Group of which almost all the 1200 residents of our town are a part. The major topic of discussion these days is gun violence and gun control because of the recent mass shootings in our country. As a country we can’t seem to find a way forward to protect our school children from crazed shooters.

The problem is that many American think that guns make them safer. They think guns will protect us, even though it is clearly not working. Back in 2008 then presidential candidate Barak Obama made a comment on the campaign trail that went viral. I was living in a town outside Pittsburgh at the time. He was talking about people in small towns in Pennsylvania losing jobs.  He remarked, “And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” 

He got a lot of backlash from that statement. But he was not wrong that many people are angry and afraid and cling to guns and religion, and often the two go together. I remember years ago right after one of these mass shootings Charlton Heston held up a rifle at an NRA meeting, and said, "I'll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands." There are more and more cold dead hand these days. 

Today I am going to talk about nonviolence as an expression of nonduality. I am going to begin by looking at the fourth chapter of Genesis which speaks about the first murder. It is the story of Cain murdering his brother Abel. Once again, let me be clear that this is myth. There was no historical Cain and Abel. This is a mythic account meant to communicate spiritual truth about the origin of violence. 

There are different layers to this story. This is not just about two brothers. They represent peoples. It describes Cain as farmer and Abel as a shepherd. They represent these groups of people – shepherds and farmers - and the animosity that these people had for each other. In the American West we saw this historically in the feuds between ranchers and farmers. One wanted to protect their crops and the other wanted open spaces without fences to graze their herds.

These two figures of Cain and Abel also represent country people and city people. The chapter tells us that Cain founded the first city. Fundamentalists have a hard time with this story because it says that Cain got married and founded a city. Where Cain got his wife, if there was no other people only Adam and Eve and their two kids on earth? Who were all these people in the land of Nod who lived in the city? If you take the story literally you run into problems. But if you take it allegorically it makes sense. Cain and Abel are symbolic. 

The animosity between these two brothers symbolize the animosity that the ancient Hebrews, who were nomads and shepherds, experienced living in Palestine among Canaanite farmers and city dwellers. In the story God accepts the offering of Abel and not Cain’s offering. Preachers love to point out the little detail that it says that Abel offered the firstborn of his flock but Cain did not offer the firstfruits of the harvest.  Abel offered his best and Cain did not. They say that is why Abel’s offering was accepted and Cain’s was not. 

I don’t reject that interpretation completely. It makes a good sermon. But I think those details were added to the story later. I think originally Abel’s offering is pictured as being accepted because Abel represents the nomadic Hebrews who were shepherds, and Cain represented the Canaanites, who were settled agricultural peoples. This murder of Abel by Cain is described as taking place in the cultivated fields, and probably committed with a farming implement. So the Canaanite farmer is the bad guy in the story, and the Hebrew shepherd is the good guy. This indicates that this story originated very early in the history of the Hebrews, when they were nomads.

That is an historical interpretation. But at a deeper spiritual level this story speaks to human nature and the origin of all human violence. The violence that takes place between Cain and Abel is a direct consequence of their fall into dualistic thinking. The original storyteller made Cain and Abel brothers. They were family, which was a sacred bond. 

Yet their dualistic consciousness put them at odds with each other. Cain came to see their brother as an other. As separate and different. As a threat to his relationship with God, so he had to be eliminated. I think we see here the origin of violence between religions, which see each other as a threat.  

The source of violence is dualistic thinking. Instead of thinking of people as our neighbors and loving them as ourselves as Jesus taught, people think of their neighbor as different. And different is seen as a dangerous. Different is a threat to our jobs and our country and our lives and our freedoms. To feel safe again, those who are different need to be eliminated one way to the other.

That is the source of violence. That is the source of racial violence and class struggle. It is the source of religious violence and international violence. It is the source of war. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught that the cause of murder is anger in the human heart. Jesus’ brother James said that physical violence come from inner violence and greed. 

Jesus offered a nondual alternative to violence. Jesus taught the spiritual practice of nonviolence. He instructed his disciples to turn the other cheek, to go the second mile, and to refuse to return evil for evil. The earliest Christian movement was an intentional community that practiced unconditional love for all, even enemies. That was revolutionary, and it still is. 

Jesus understood the Kingdom of God as an alternative to political systems and military empires. Jesus did not come to lead an earthly kingdom. At his trial for treason Jesus made it clear that he had no interest in earthly government. He said, “If my kingdom were of this world my disciples would fight…. But my kingdom is not of this world.” The Church is to be a light to the nations, not a nation among nations. He did not envision any country as a Christian nation. It is an oxymoron. There is no such thing. 

Jesus’ solution to human violence was a radical one. At a moment of crisis and potential violence on the Mount of Olives at the moment of his arrest by the temple guard, Jesus told his followers to put down their weapons saying, “Put away your sword. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” He instructed his followers here and in the Sermon on the Mount NOT to defend themselves … or him. It is ironic that so many Christians ignore Christ’s clear teachings on this subject.

The only solution to the problem of violence is nondual awareness that sees the enemy as oneself. Then one can love one’s enemy because it is a form of loving oneself. We love our neighbor as ourself because our neighbor is ourself. There is only one Self. And that Self is God. In loving our neighbor we are actually loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. That was the core of Jesus’ social ethic. Everything else comes from that love, he said.

Nondual nonviolence is not a social policy, a political platform, or a national foreign policy. Jesus was not a social or political activist. He was spiritual teacher who offered a spiritual solution to the problems of suffering and evil in this world. 

There is no guarantee that the practice of nonviolence will keep you physically safe. After all, Jesus was arrested and executed. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi both practiced nonviolence and both were killed by firearms by assassins. Yet they did immeasurable more good than if they had taken up arms. Nonviolence does not make any promises that God will protect you. Then again neither do guns. Studies show that if you own a gun then you – or someone in your home - are more likely to die of gunshot than if you do not have a gun. So you are not any worse off practicing nonviolence. 

Nondual nonviolence is not a strategy for bringing about social change. As much as I respect and admire Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi, what Jesus was talking about was different. They practiced nonviolent resistance as a means to bring about social justice. Jesus’ nondual nonviolence was not a means to an end; it was an end in itself. We do it not to accomplish something, but because it flows naturally from union with God. Jesus taught nonviolent nonresistance as a natural expression of the Kingdom of God – of unitive awareness. 

Jesus’ vision for the church was to be an alternative community that modeled this ethic of nondual selflessness. Instead the Church became a dualistic institution aligned with the State. When that happened the Church lost its soul and forget its message. The institutional church became and remains part of the problem of violence in the world. 

The Church was intended to be like the Sangha of Buddha. A spiritual community that lived in the unitive awareness that Jesus called the Kingdom of God. It was meant to live a life of nonviolence and unconditional love. Some might call this idealistic, and from a worldly point of view it is. Jesus was crucified for living it, and if we live it we have to take up our cross and follow him. 

But when you look at where so-called realistic thinking and pragmatism has got us – a world with societies and nations filled with violence, which is now destroying our planet, then idealism doesn’t look like such a bad option. It is the only option that has a chance of succeeding in the long run. So nondual spirituality – not the dualistic religious systems which have helped to get us into this mess – but unitive spirituality is the only hope for ending violence, healing the human heart and this planet.