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Buddha, Jesus, and Osama bin Laden

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The biggest news, by far, over the last day is the death of Osama Bin Laden.

Susan Piver, a Shambhala meditation teacher and author of Wisdom of a Broken Heart, wrote a very eloquent post today here: .

She invites us to look at our own reaction to the situation:

Was there even a hint of vengefulness or gladness at Osama bin Laden’s death? If so, that is a real problem. Whatever suffering he may have experienced cannot reverse even one moment of the suffering he caused. If you believe his death is a form of compensation, you are deluded.

Susan considers her own response, and writes:

rather than cheering on this day, I’m going to rededicate myself to the idea of brotherhood towards all, even those that want me dead—and not because I’m some kind of really good person. I’m not. Because I know it’s the only way to stay alive—in the only kind of world I want to inhabit.

I noticed that my own first thoughts about bin Laden’s death and watching reactions to it are informed not by Buddhism but by my root religion, Catholicism. Which is strange to me, because I rarely “think like a Catholic” any more. After getting pretty disillusioned with Catholicism in my 20s, I never really looked back. But I guess twelve years of Catholic school instilled some pretty deep values in me.

Because my first thought was: Wow, we are still stuck in an Old Testament view of justice: an eye for an eye. More than 2000 years later, we still haven’t grocked what Jesus was teaching. Hmmmm. We are slow learners.

So I went to look it up. Here’s the original teaching, from Matthew 5.38-48:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

A deep bow to you, Jesus.

About Maia

I've been practicing and studying the Buddha way since 1994, and exploring the question "What is engaged Buddhism?" since the late 90s. As former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, Turning Wheel, I had the honor of meeting and working with many practitioners of engaged dharma, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Alan Senauke, and Robert Aitken Roshi. I write about socially engaged Buddhism on my blog, "The Jizo Chronicles," as well as on the theme of personal and collective freedom on my website, "The Liberated Life Project." Through my Five Directions Consulting, I offer support to individuals and organizations who aspire to integrate awareness into their work.

7 responses »

  1. And this quote is making the rounds, from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

    “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

  2. Mary Sherman

    Actually, I was awoken at 6am to the news that my father had passed away. As far as bin Laden goes..I don’t care except for the fact that he was a human being and if there’s any response, it’s more about my embarrassment at the “booyah” attitude of most Americans and our Presidents’, “justice has finally been served” routine. Clearly, the message continues to be there is justification for killing under the “right” circumstances.
    It is shameful and nothing has been resolved.
    I’m going to begin tonglen for my Dad and won’t hesitate to include bin Laden.

  3. I have to dissent. Not that I think a party over bin Laden’s (watery) grave is in order. I see his death as just another turn of the wheel in a long cycle of you-got-me so I-got-you. We are not outside of cause-and-effect. We may seek that as a goal, but in observing human nature, we know that the mass of humanity, which does include ourselves, will seek vengeance for a great injustice. There may be no clear rights and wrongs, and we will never know the calculus by which to measure if this prevents more carnage than his disciples cause in retribution. But as I look back at Hitler, I wish Dietrich Bonhoeffer or some of the other plotters had been successful in killing that SOB, and so saving thousands or millions of lives. My hope is that this man’s death will result in less, rather than more, suffering. I don’t think we should harshly judge those who see his death as a good thing; their reaction is normal. I can do without the gloating, and the suggestions that his body should have been officially and for a prolonged period disrespected before his burial at sea (I sometimes read some crazy blogs). No rejoicing here, but if he was a continuing force for attacks against innocents, I’m glad he’s out of commission. I’d have liked to see him stand trial, personally. But this is okay, too.

    • John, respectful dissent is always welcome here. I agree with you that no one is outside of cause-and-effect (aka karma), including Mr. bin Laden.

      My feelings and this post came more through watching with some degree of sadness the gloating that actually did go on in a lot of the U.S. on Sunday night and Monday morning.

      You might appreciate this post by Rev. James Ford, who is a Unitarian Universalist minister as well as a Zen teacher, where he explores the facet of karma as it pertains to this situation:

  4. Thanks, Maia, for being supportive of dissent as well as for the pointer to Ford’s blog.

    He quotes Vonnegut’s “So it goes.” The other quote from Saint Kurt that came to mind yesterday was from Timequake: ” We have been sick for a long time, but we’re better now, and there is work to do.”

    The killing of Osama bin Laden is just another cause, another effect. The feelings that arise from that event, the same. The combination of the act he committed on 9/11 and our national response to it is like discovering an allergy to shellfish or a bee sting: we discover that there is something within us that could kill us as it tries to protect us, and we didn’t know it until we were stung, or ate the wrong thing.

    Bin Laden grew up a child of privilege. He had every advantage a prince could have. Perhaps there were other factors that turned him to the dark side. But given his capacity for generating big, expansive tragedy, I am, within the limits of what can be known about possible futures, satisfied that he and his capacity for harm are gone.

    I wonder about the judgmental tone, the finger-wagging: like the reader who told Ford he should stop teaching the dharma because he expressed particular feelings. Almost feels like such people want to be less like the Buddha and more like Spock.

    One of the things I like about the focus on cause-and-effect, especially as articulated by Batchelor in Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, is that focusing on that law brings with it instant recognition of how little we can know of what caused what, and what will be the effect an act. Telling someone that they ought not to be teaching, or that, if they had even a glimmer of a particular feeling, it’s a “real problem,” seems to be saying that there is a right way and a wrong way to respond to something, rather than watching the responses with interest and learning from them.

  5. Pingback: A Few Last Thoughts on Bin Laden and Karma « The Jizo Chronicles

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