Question: Seeing two jets fly into the World Trade Center towers on September 11 was a powerful shock. Many of your students admitted feeling immediate and fierce anger with a wish for vengeance. Does such a reaction indicate that our understanding and expression of bodhicitta is weak? Can we gauge the depth of our Buddhist practice by our immediate response to this event?
Lama Lodu Rinpoche: Anger is an indication that your bodhicitta is not very well developed. But just because you experience anger it doesn’t mean you can’t change your reaction through deeper reflection. When something like this happens it is natural to first experience shock. Next, you can review your experience and make the conscious attempt to deepen your understanding. You can bring your feelings back to yourself and examine your own angry response, as well as re-examine the situation itself.
It is important to think about who has made you angry and why they have done what they have. If you do this honestly—without self-righteousness—you will see that they have the same motives you do: to achieve happiness and escape suffering. In their ignorance, they believe their actions will help free them from suffering. The key point is that it is precisely this ignorance that drives such terrible, mistaken actions.
If you use wisdom and skillful means to examine the nature of reality, and if you employ loving kindness as a tool of perception, you will immediately have compassion toward the ignorant beings who have caused such suffering to others and to themselves.
We can definitely use our reactions to such events as a measure of our practice. If there is no negativity in our reaction, this is an indication that our practice is mature. If our practice is shallow, we will be certain to feel anger, frustration and bewilderment.
Question: Since the suicide bombers believed their cause to be righteous, can any merit be ascribed to them?
Lama Lodu Rinpoche: Ignorance brings about rebirth in the animal realm. Ignorant action is the action of harming other beings and it will result in negative rebirth time and time again. There can be no positive gain whatsoever, nor any merit from such actions.
Question: So a righteous intent in itself creates no merit?
Lama Lodu Rinpoche: The problem lies not with their intent, but with their ignorance which was the basis of their intent. Regarding actions such as killing oneself and others as righteous reflects such deep ignorance that any good intent is nullified. Though the intention to plant a seed may be good, if the plant arising from that seed is poisonous, then what grows is poison.
Question: But if bin Laden and his followers are willing to give up their lives for what they think is righteous, isn’t that some evidence of selflessness?
Lama Lodu Rinpoche: Willingness to sacrifice oneself and others in this way is not selfless, but actually selfish because they still so strongly maintain a belief in a self to sacrifice.
Question: Could bin Laden ever purify his actions through religious practice?
Lama Lodu Rinpoche: Probably not, simply because his view, his understanding, is so obviously distorted. Whether Islam has purification techniques both powerful and efficacious enough to neutralize such complete ignorance, I don’t know. But even if these exist he has obviously abandoned the true tenets of his religion, created his own version and used his personal power to influence others toward negativity.
If in attempting to capture bin Laden we cause him fear and some suffering, we must weigh his relative suffering against the benefit to millions by his arrest. America has wealth, technology, freedom and universal education. This country is a refuge for people all over the world and should be protected from terrorism.
Question: What should be done with bin Laden after he is captured?
Lama Lodu Rinpoche: Of course, my opinion as a Buddhist priest will not sway official approaches to this problem, but I would let bin Laden live. Keep him completely sequestered from human society. Give him television, books, magazines. Let him be comfortable. Don’t torture him.
Question: Why should he receive such relative comfort?
Lama Lodu Rinpoche: He is a human being, no matter how negative his actions. He has human rights – the right to breathe, eat, sleep in relative comfort. Compassion is a much more effective tool than torture in dealing with human beings.
Question: What can we as Buddhists do if we feel our government’s policies are in error, that they are creating more suffering, and causing further torture of beings?
Lama Lodu Rinpoche: We can work to bring peace to our own minds and to generate loving kindness toward both our government and the terrorists equally. Our government’s motive is to defend our country against what the terrorists have done, so we should not be angry toward it. Negativity can only generate negativity, so anger toward the government accomplishes nothing.
To live truthfully in mind, body and speech is far more beneficial than any political action, either in support of or against the government. Both flag-waving and demonstrating for peace are going to alienate one side or the other, so how can either action be of benefit? If you act against anyone—whether it be your own government or the terrorists—you will only be contributing more negativity.
Being religious means not taking sides and manifesting true compassion to all beings without exception—even our enemies.
The events of September 11th have had such a great effect on us because the results are so visible and audible to us. But it is important to remember that in the various realms, suffering of this magnitude and even greater is taking place every single moment among different kinds of beings, although we cannot see or hear it. So don’t think only of human suffering but extend your consciousness and your compassion to every realm of living beings. Remember also that the suffering that beings endure is the result of our own karma, not something that is forced upon us by others. Those who lost their lives in this event have surely taken lives in the past. Those who suffer must surely have caused suffering in the past. And those who are defending our country now have surely in the past been aggressors.
Because we are human and have not been born in these terrible realms, we have a great opportunity to act rightfully and carefully. We must discipline our speech, minds and bodies so that we do not contribute more suffering to these realms. We have the unique opportunity to make things better, not worse.
Question: Is it possible to determine what action or set of actions ripened for those who lost their lives on September 11? Was it the result of individual karma, collective karma, or this country’s karma?
Lama Lodu Rinpoche: Certainly there was individual karma involved for those who died in the buildings; there is collective karma for the families who are affected by this event; and of course the whole country has related karma as well. The karma of all three groups has a related cause. Those who died, those who suffered loss, and those who are reacting to or defending against the situation—all these causes and effects are inter-related.
The best way to benefit ourselves, those who died, and those who have survived is to remain positive in speech, mind and body, and to generate love and compassion toward others. When you feel this, you naturally experience comfort and well-being, which brings your mind to a kind and confident state. When you are in this state, you automatically perform positive, beneficial actions: you feel good; you generate goodness; and other people respect, value, and respond to you. By creating this peace in yourself and your surroundings, you are truly contributing to world peace.
“As long as the sky remains Sentient beings will remain And I will remain with them To dispel their suffering” (Shantideva)
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