The Terror Koan

American Buddhists contemplate violence.

The image is seared into our collective consciousness: Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire to protest the war in Vietnam.

But as they counsel the nation not to act out of a desire for revenge, many leading Buddhist teachers are reluctantly conceding that even a religion devoted to peace recognizes that there are certain situations in which action is unavoidable.

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"We cannot just be a doormat," argues Gelek Rinpoche, a Tibetan lama based in the U.S. "As Buddhists, we cannot hurt a fly, but if the fly is hurting sentient beings, we have to stop it."

America's Buddhist teachers are calling on the country to eschew anger, to feel compassion for both the victims and the perpetrators of the violence, and to urge politicians to find and remedy the causes that give birth to hatred, but they are also struggling to reconcile a teaching devoted to ending suffering with a terrorist threat devoted to imposing just that.

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