World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Turn The Other Cheek

The pacifist ethic to bear insults without complaint and to turn the other cheek is related to the ethic to love one's enemy. Here the emphasis is as much on the individual's internal attitude as it is upon the other's welfare. If a person responds to evil in anger or self- defense, he becomes attached to the evil and it can dominate him. The anger and hatred of his attacker is transmuted into his own anger and resentment at being a victim, and he loses his balance and spiritual strength. But by bearing and accepting insults and abuse without diminution of his own goodwill and mental concentration, he can stay above the hatred and preserve a foundation of spiritual independence and self-possession. Ultimately, it is only by preserving his spiritual subjectivity in the midst of the insults that a person can have the strength to love his enemy and win him over. We include several striking examples: from the Lotus Sutra of a monk who is victorious through never disparaging his abusers, and the prophet Isaiah's servant of the Lord.

The concluding passages also deal with the justice of turning the other cheek. They assume an inexorable principle of Divine Justice, pp. 183-91, which will set things right and even vindicate the victim's passivity. Paul argues that worldly retribution would mitigate the punishment of God, hence, by not acting, the believer will heap burning coals upon the head of his adversary. The Sutra of Forty-two Sections likewise speaks to the demerit which will come to the evildoer when his insult is accepted without responding. The victim, on the other hand, gains merit through enduring persecution and building the virtue of patience.

Let there be no injury and no requital.

Islam. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 32

One should choose to be among the persecuted, rather than the persecutors.

Judaism. Talmud, Baba Kamma 93a

Victory breeds hatred, for the defeated live in pain. Happily live the peaceful, giving up victory and defeat.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 201

For behold, they had rather sacrifice their lives than even to take the life of their enemy; and they have buried their weapons of war deep in the earth, because of their love towards their brethren.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Book of Mormon, Alma 26.32

In wars to gain land, the dead fill the plains; in wars to gain cities, the dead fill the cities. This is known as showing the land the way to devour human flesh. Death is too light a punishment for such men who wage war. Hence those skilled in war should suffer the most severe punishments.

Confucianism. Mencius IV.A.14

Those who beat you with fists, Do not pay them in the same coin, But go to their house and kiss their feet.

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Shalok, Farid, p. 1378

You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

Christianity. Matthew 5.38-41

Those who are insulted but do not insult others in revenge, who hear themselves reproached without replying, who perform good work out of the love of the Lord and rejoice in their sufferings... are "as the sun when he goeth forth in his might."

Judaism. Talmud, Yoma 23a

Chi K'ang-tzu asked Confucius about government, saying, "Suppose I were to slay those who have not the Way in order to help those who have the Way, what would you think of it?" Confucius replied saying, "You are there to rule, not to slay. If you desire what is good, the people will at once be good."

Confucianism. Analects 12.19

Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 32: On Muhammad's long-suffering and generosity, see Hadith, p. 569. Baba Kamma 93a: Cf. Pesahim 25b, p. 415. Dhammapada 201: Cf. Yogacara Bhumi Sutra 4, p. 482. Mencius IV.A.14: Cf. Tao Te Ching 31, p. 889.

Then they came up and laid hands upon Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest, and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword."

Christianity. Matthew 26.51-52

Brethren, if outsiders should speak against me, or against the Doctrine, or against the Order, you should not on that account either bear malice, or suffer resentment, or feel ill will. If you, on that account, should feel angry and hurt, that would stand in the way of your own self- conquest.

Buddhism. Digha Nikaya i.3

Kuan Chung... could seize the fief of P'ien with its three hundred villages from its owner, the head of the Po family; yet Po, though he lived on coarse food to the end of his days, never uttered a single word of resent- ment. The Master said, "To be poor and not resent it is far harder than to be rich, yet not presumptuous."

Confucianism. Analects 14.11

Monks, even as low-down thieves might be carving you limb from limb with a two-handled saw, even then whoever sets his mind at enmity is not a doer of my teaching. Monks, you should train yourselves thus, "Our minds shall not be perverted, we will not utter evil words, we shall abide cherishing thoughts of good, with minds full of goodwill and with no hatred in our heart. Beginning with that thief, we shall abide suffusing the whole world with thoughts of goodwill that are extensive, exalted, and immeasurable, without hostility and malevolence."

If you, monks, were to attend repeatedly to this exhortation on the parable of the saw, would you see any form of ridicule, subtle or gross, that you could not endure?

Buddhism. Majjhima Nikaya i.129

Matthew 26.51-52: But see also Matthew 10.34, p. 886, and John 2.13-16, p. 891. Digha Nikaya i.3: Cf. Vachana 248, p. 793. Analects 14.11: Kuan Chung had such prestige that no one called him 'presumptuous' when he injured others; it was much harder for the head of the Po family to avoid resentment than it was for Kuan Chung to keep up the air of probity. Cf. Nahjul Balagha, Saying 201, p. 850; I Ching 40, p. 849.

For what reason was he named Never Despise? Because he paid respect to and commended everybody he saw, monks, nuns, men and women disciples; speaking thus, "I deeply revere you. Wherefore? Because you are walking in the bodhisattva way and are to become Buddhas." That monk did not devote himself to reading and reciting the sutras, but only to paying respect, so that when he saw afar off a member of the four classes of disciples he would specially go and pay respect to them, saying, "I dare not slight you, because you are all to become Buddhas." Amongst the four classes, there were those who, irritated and angry and low-minded, reviled and abused him, saying, "Where does this ignorant monk come from, who takes it on himself to say, 'I do not slight you,' and who predicts us as destined to become Buddhas? We need no such false predictions." Thus he passed many years, constantly reviled but never irritated or angry, always saying, "You are to become Buddhas." Whenever he spoke thus, they beat him with clubs, sticks, potsherds, or stones. But, while escaping to a distance, he stilled cried aloud, "I dare not slight you. You are all to become Buddhas." And because he always spoke thus, the haughty monks, nuns, and their disciples dubbed him Never Despise.

Buddhism. Lotus Sutra 20

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a disciple, that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary. Morning by morning he wakens, he wakens my ear to hear as a disciple. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.

Judaism and Christianity. Isaiah 50.4-8

If an evil man, on hearing of what is good, comes and creates a disturbance, you should hold your peace. You must not angrily upbraid him; then he who has come to curse you will merely harm himself.

Buddhism. Sutra of Forty-two Sections 7

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals upon his head."

Christianity. Romans 12.19-20

Lotus Sutra 20: This is recognizably a story about a preacher of Mahayana doctrine being abused and beaten by Hinayana monks, but it could apply to any of the many sectarian struggles in the history of Buddhism. The sutra goes on to say that by thus exercising forbearance upon being beaten and reviled, his accumulated sins are washed away and he ultimately attains the highest goal. Romans 12.19-20: In Qur'an 5.27-32, p. 417, Abel refused to strike back when Cain sought to kill him for fear of God and divine punishment; and he recognized that Cain would ultimately be the loser for killing him.


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