Some thoughts on NYC

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9/13/2001 6:46 PM
1 out of 153

Hi all,

Like most of you I have been wrestling all week with the question of how we, as buddhists, should respond to the horrific events in New York. After a lot of reflection I have no answers, but perhaps a few small ideas that may be helpful to some:

1. Examine your own reactions

brburl said in a recent posting that we should "watch our identifications with nationalism and the resentments arising from that and see them". I totally agree. War always brings with it a tide of emotions that can easily swamp reason and principle. The news media will be full of calls for revenge, retribution and punishment. That's a natural human reaction. I had a client in one of those buildings and their corporate headquarters is under several tons of rubble. That makes me mad. As a buddhist I should "let those feelings in and not serve them tea" (Shunryu Suzuki). Easy to say, damned hard to do. I need a lot more time on the cushions.

2. Remember that we are all suffering together

P-E-O-P-L-E are suffering on all sides of this situation. The people of New York are suffering unspeakably. We as Americans are suffering the loss of some of our cherished freedoms, the most important being the freedom from fear. Muslims across America and Europe are suffering from religious and ethnic backlash. The people of Afghanistan are suffering and bound to suffer much more in the days ahead, as are the U.S. soldiers who will inflict this suffering under the orders of their commanders. The agony of our shared experience of suffering has the potential to draw us together as a world community. Through small acts of compassion and understanding we may be able to contribute to this desirable goal even as the world around us erupts into violence (and it will, regardless of how many letters the Dalai Lama writes). "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." (Margaret Mead I think, not sure).

3. Be mindful

I remember many years ago my father came home in tears because of an incident at work. He had a friend he had worked with for many years who was black. Someone in his office had told a racial joke using the "n-word" and my father had laughed. Shortly afterwards his friend walked around the other side of the cubicle, looked hard at him and walked away, their friendship over forever. Dad was raised in Virginia in the 1940's where that word was commonly used and it didn't hold the same meaning for him that it did for his friend. By his lack of mindfulness he participated in bigotry and cultural genocide. I never heard that word from him again, but on that day he came face to face with his own unexamined cultural baggage. The temptation in coming days will be to go along with the crowd, to use terminology like "towelhead" and "those damned Ali's". As a buddhist I will, with grace, decline to use those terms. My colleagues who are of the Islamic faith, or who are of Arabic descent, will get invited to lunch more often. Those who invoke racial slurs in my presence will not get a laugh or smile. I will simply walk away.

9/13/2001 6:48 PM
2 out of 153


4. Meditate a lot more

If ever there were a time to sit for world peace this is it. We often say that our search for enlightenment is for the betterment of all sentient beings, but I think if we are really honest a lot of it is just rebranded spiritual materialism. Hey friends, I've got news for you. The world is staged for an unprecedented amount of suffering in the wake of this inhuman act of violence. If anything the Buddha ever said is true and useful we should be on our cushions daily seeking an end to it, with real tears, drops of sweat and great compassion for the innocent. A number of nations have made poor choices that will produce negative karma in abundance. The consequences will be visited on the poor and disadvantaged as they have always been throughout history. How we respond to that is the measure of our authenticity. There is no simple rule book to guide us through the haze. We are all stumbling toward enlightenment together.

Hopefully some of this will be useful to you, but at least it has helped me to write it all down. If you find it less than useful feel free to disregard everything I've said. But may we all find a path to peace in the midst of this horror. Yesterday I put up an American flag in front of my ranch, as we have all been directed to do by a joint act of Congress. Today I'm off to the cushions.

Peace is every step, even now


9/13/2001 10:48 PM
3 out of 153

Shik--Beautifully said. Thank you.


9/14/2001 11:18 AM
4 out of 153

I don’t know for sure the steps America should take next. America’s situation is not much like the Buddha’s story of the man who is shot in the eye with an arrow and is seeking revenge rather than caring for his eye. We are doing whatever can be done to care for and rescue the hurt. We are like a man shot by an arrow and knows the person who shot it will shoot another and another and another. What are we to do, roll over an die? How do we defend ourselves without forcing the person shooting at us to stop?

I wish for peace but am not a pacifist. Like a doctor trying to save a patient he must kill the virus. When the world agreed to stop people from dying of smallpox we eliminated the smallpox virus (We killed it – a sentient life form was exterminated) and stopped the suffering. Is there another way to stop terrorism (in the short term)? America will only pursue a peaceful solution if in fact it can be convinced that there IS a peaceful solution. From those who plead for non-violence I hear no solutions – only distain for violence. I also have an aversion for violence, but do not see surrender as a better option. Surrender will lead to even more suffering.

When a criminal commits a crime we do not surrender and allow the criminal to continue simply because we have a distaste for the violence it would take to subdue the criminal. Why allow a criminal to inflict countless suffering on people when the police can with an limited amount of violence capture and imprison the criminal? The same is the case with a terrorist. I see no better option then the prudent use of force to capture or destroy the enemy. I reach this conclusion with regret and if any of you can tell me how to stop the suffering (again – in the short term) inflicted on the world by terrorist or common criminals without the use or threat of force I would love to hear you answer.

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