Det danske Fredsakademi
Kronologi over fredssagen og international politik 28. januar
2013 / Time Line January 28, 2013
27. Januar 2013, 29. Januar 2013
/ The U.S. hydrogen bomb accident at Thule in Greenland, 1968.
/ L'accident US bombe à hydrogène à
Thulé au Groenland, 1968
/ El hidrógeno EE.UU. bomba accidente de Thule en
/ Der US-Wasserstoffbombe Unfall in Thule in Grönland,
Reciprocity And Karma
By John Scales Avery
The principle of reciprocity is an ancient one in human history,
and it is thus embedded in our emotions. It is an important part of
human nature. Reciprocity is the basis of non-market economies, and
also the basis of social interactions between family members,
friends and colleagues. In hunter-gatherer societies, it is
customary to share food among all the members of the group.
“Today I receive food from you, and tomorrow you will receive
food from me.” Similarly, among friends in modern society, no
payment is made for hospitality, but it is expected that sooner or
later the hospitality will be returned.
According to Wikipedia “Reciproocity in Social Psychology
refers to responding to a positive action with another positive
action, rewarding kind actions. As a social construct, reciprocity
means that in response to friendly actions, people are frequently
much nicer and much more cooperative than predicted by the
self-interest model; conversely, in response to hostile actions
they are frequently much more nasty and even brutal.” As
Wikipedia points out, reciprocity can also be negative, as in the
case of escalatory cycles of revenge and counter-revenge.
The Buddhist concept of karma has great value in human relations.
The word “karma” means simply “action”. In
Buddhism, one believes that actions return to the actor. Good
actions will be returned, and bad actions will also be returned.
This is obviously true in social relationships. If we behave with
kindness and generosity to our neighbors, they will return our
kindness. Conversely, a harmful act may lead to vicious circles of
revenge and counter revenge, such as those we see today in the
Middle East and elsewhere. These vicious circles can only be broken
by returning good for evil.
However the concept of karma has a broader and more abstract
validity beyond the direct return of actions to the actor. When we
perform a good action, we increase the total amount of good karma
in the world. If all people similarly behave well, the the world as
a whole will become more pleasant and more safe. Human nature seems
to have a built-in recognition of this fact, and we are rewarded by
inner happiness when we perform good and kind actions. In his
wonderful book, “Ancient Wisdom, Modern World”, the
Dalai Lama says that good actions lead to happiness and bad actions
to unhappiness even if our neighbors do not return these actions.
Inner peace, he tells us, is incompatible with bad karma and can be
achieved only through good karma, i.e. good actions.
In Buddhist philosophy, the concept of Karma, action and reaction,
also extends to our relationship with nature. Both Hindu and
Buddhist traditions emphasize the unity of all life on earth.
Hindus regard killing an animal as a sin, and many try to avoid
accidentally stepping on insects as they walk.
The Hindu and Buddhist picture of the relatedness of all life on
earth has been confirmed by modern biological science. We now know
that all living organisms have the same fundamental biochemistry,
based on DNA, RNA, proteins and polysaccharides, and we know that
our own human genomes are more similar to than different from the
genomes of our close relations in the animal world.
The peoples of the industrialized nations urgently need to acquire
a non-anthropocentric element in their ethics, similar to reverence
for all life found in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, as well as
in the teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi and Albert Schweitzer.
We need to learn to value other species for their own sakes, and
not because we expect to use them for our own economic goals.
Today a few societies still follow a way of life similar to that of
our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Anthropologists are able to obtain a
vivid picture of the past by studying these societies. Often the
religious ethics of the hunter- gatherers emphasizes the importance
of harmony with nature. For example, respect for nature appears in
the tribal traditions of Native Americans. The attitude towards
nature of the Sioux can be seen from the following quotations from
“Land of the Spotted Eagle” by the Lakota (Western
Sioux) chief, Standing Bear (ca. 1834-1908):
“The Lakota was a true lover of Nature. He loved the earth
and all things of the earth... From Waken Tanka (the Great Spirit)
there came a great unifying life force that flowered in and through
all things, the flowers of the plains, blowing winds, rocks, trees,
birds, animals, and was the same force that had been breathed into
the first man. Thus all things were kindred and were brought
together by the same Great Mystery.”
“Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky, and water was
a real and active principle. For the animal and bird world there
existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them.
And so close did some of the Lakota come to their feathered and
furred friends that in true brotherhood they spoke a common
“The animal had rights, the right of man’s protection,
the right to live, the right to multiply, the right to freedom, and
the right to man’s indebtedness, and in recognition of these
rights the Lakota never enslaved the animal, and spared all life
that was not needed for food and clothing.”
“This concept of life was humanizing and gave to the Lakota
an abiding love. It filled his being with the joy and mystery of
things; it gave him reverence for all life; it made a place for all
things in the scheme of existence with equal importance to all. The
Lakota could despise no creature, for all were one blood, made by
the same hand, and filled with the essence of the Great
A similar attitude towards nature can be found in traditional Inuit
cultures, and in some parts of Africa, a man who plans to cut down
a tree offers a prayer of apology, telling the tree why necessity
has forced him to harm it. This preindustrial attitude is something
from which the industrialized North could learn. In industrial
societies, land “belongs” to some one has the
“right” to ruin the land or to kill the communities of
creatures living on it if this happens to give some economic
advantage, in much the same way that a Roman slaveowner was thought
to have the “right” to kill his slaves. Preindustrial
societies have a much less rapacious and much more custodial
attitude towards the land and towards its non-human
We have received many gifts from modern technology, but if we are
to build a happy, sustainable and war-free world we must combine
our new scientific techniques with humanity's ancient wisdom.
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