The woman caller to Larry King's show echoed the question hauntingmany Americans when she asked the panel of religious leaders what sortof afterlife awaited the suicide pilots who killed thousands of innocent people. Rimpoche Nawang Gehlek, a Buddhist lama, watched the television screen, eager to hear what King's guests would say.
"There were a number of Christian ministers on the show and Muslimscholars, and there was Deepak Chopra," says Rimpoche, referring to thepopular spiritual author. "Some of them said, 'They're with God.' Deepak said, 'I don't know where they are.'"
Gehlek's round face breaks into an enormous smile. "I was glad tohear that, because if the terrorists went straight to heaven afterkilling 5,000 people, I am troubled by that. I'd like to see them inhell for a while."
He quickly offers the Buddhist definition of hell.
"There is no such thing as a doomed soul in Buddhism. But there issuch a thing as a prolonged period of suffering over many lives broughton by negative karma. Karma truly means 'cause and effect.' Theterrorists, by killing so many people, are creating a negative karmathat keeps them in hell for a long time through many lifetimes ofsuffering."
Gehlek nods his head sadly. "I think there is a 99.9 percent chancethey are in a not-so-comfortable place right now. ...They've really gota lot of work to do for a long time."
Gehlek, one of the most revered Buddhist teachers in the West, washere last week to discuss his new book, "Good Life, Good Death: TibetanWisdom on Reincarnation" (Riverhead Books). Educated by the samemasters who taught the Dalai Lama, he is believed by Buddhists to be one of the last living reincarnated lamas who was fully educated in Tibet. He became an American citizen in 1995 and lives in Manhattan and in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he teaches Tibetan history at the University of Michigan.
Gehlek's book is lighthearted and down-to-earth, a primer on theBuddhist perspective for living a good life and preparing for a gooddeath by coming to terms with negative emotions--such as anger,attachment, hatred and jealousy--that "restrict our freedom, block ourjoy and cause us to experience suffering."
In an interview last week, Gehlek said anger and hatred, inparticular, are timely topics. "I'm seeing more anger in people and there is nothing wrong with anger. We're all human beings and anger is a very human thing to feel. Here I am, 60 years in this love-compassion business, but I noticed anger in myself on Sept. 11."
The antidote to hatred is compassion, including compassion towardthe terrorists, says Gehlek.
He nods his head vigorously. "Yes, I know what Americans think thatmeans. Compassion doesn't have to be 'love and light.' A lot ofAmericans feel compassion means you can't even hurt a fly, but if a flykills human beings, we have to kill the fly."When you look very carefully at how the terrorists' minds work, youcan find a way to feel compassion toward them. It's easy to be educatedto become a pilot, but they couldn't educate their minds because theywere brainwashed by extremist minds. They are totally confused,controlled by their ignorance and brainwashed beliefs. They lost theirhuman ability to love themselves."
It is an act of compassion to root them out and, if necessary, killthem, says Gehlek. "Sometimes love and light alone won't work. We mustprotect the terrorists from bad karma. To let them keep killing is toguarantee them many, many lifetimes of suffering. Going after them isnot about revenge. It is not even about justice. We are protecting themand us."
Many Americans do not believe in reincarnation. Gehlek says heunderstands their doubts.
"With reincarnation, the big question is, 'Do we know for sure?'Scientifically? No. I myself had a very hard time accepting the ideathat I had a previous life, that I was this important lama before. But I could never ask anyone in Tibet because of my fear of rejection. InTibet, we accept reincarnation the way you Americans accept hamburger."
He laughs heartily. "I'm still training. I still can't say, 'Yes, itis so.' But I've developed an understanding. I came to a point in mylife where I could not deny reincarnation. I do study. I do research. Ianalyze. I cannot deny it at all."