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A Few Last Thoughts on Bin Laden and Karma

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George W Bush Monument_5

Photo by Broc Blegen/Flickr Creative Commons

In the past two weeks since the news of Osama bin Laden’s death has come out, the blogosphere has been out full speed with writing on this topic. In the Buddhist world, here are some of the posts that I’ve noted:

And I wrote about it here on the Jizo Chronicles and touched on it in my Liberated Life Project site, though from a different angle.

A number of us are referencing the Buddha’s teachings on nonviolence and karma. The reactions that are arising in response to these articles are quite vociferous, and Susan’s article seemed to get the brunt of it.

Some of us writers are being accused of a holier-than-thou attitude if we express that we are taken aback by the celebrations that happened on the night the news came out. It seems that some people are feeling judged because they feel a sense of relief that bin Laden has been killed. And many wonder if not killing bin Laden would have been tantamount to allowing a madman to continue killing innocent people…so what else could we do?

Here’s the thing — when I note the teachings from the Buddha and Jesus in regards to violence and retribution, I’m not being judgmental or moralizing (and I would presume this is true for others).

This is really about karma. And the law of karma is like the law of gravity… it’s something you are welcome to question, but it is simply the way things work. It just ‘is.’ (I wonder – does this make me a fundamentalist Buddhist? Because I really believe this…)

If you buy into the basic Buddhist truth of interconnection, you must also accept the fact that no action can be taken without it in turn creating a series of other actions and having some effect on the whole.

I like what Barbara O’Brien has written:

Karma is essential to Buddhist understanding of morality, but not because it is some kind of rewards-or-punishments system. It isn’t. Karma makes no judgments, nor is it directed by some cosmic intelligence who knows if you’ve been naughty or nice. The Buddha also taught that karma is not fate. It does not bind you to a pre-determined future because of something you’ve done in the past…

With every choice we make, we create our lives. Our choices also impact countless other lives. The more you appreciate this, the more mindful you become of the choices you make. For this reason, karma is essential to Buddhist understanding of morality.

The teaching from the Buddha is quite simple:

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.  (Dhammapada)

Teachers from other spiritual traditions say the same thing in different words, but that’s the essence of it.

I’m not saying this is easy, not at all. It’s one thing to say it; it’s a whole lifetime and beyond to learn how to practice it. There are remarkable examples of people who have actually lived from this truth (Martin Luther King, Jr.; Mahatma Gandhi) and transformed hatred into love, but it doesn’t happen often.

As the Buddha would say – hey, don’t take my word for it. Keep trying out it to see what is true for you. Do we really think that bin Laden’s death will make the world a safer place? Well, let’s see how that goes.

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.

5 responses »

  1. Thanks Maia! Helps to hear your calm response. I’ve been greatly troubled by all the glorying in this execution – like all executions, it only serves vengeance, not justice. i posted your Dammhapada quote on Facebook.Also like what you said about karma – I’ve always felt the same way, can’t really explain it in terms of agency, but I believe it is true. It’s probably the only thing I “believe” in that way… life experience seems to bear it out.

  2. Thanks to Genju of 108ZenBooks for reminding me about Adam’s well-written post over on Fly Like a Crow:

  3. I knew two people who were killed in the Tanzania American Embassy bombings, so my take is probably a bit different than others. Bin Laden had the world at beck and call when he inherited millions of dollars from his families businesses in Saudi Arabia. Instead of using his wealth, his power and his privilege for good, he turned his ire on the West and on Israel. 9/11 only represents a fraction of the death and destruction this man reeked. Many may not agree with the US invasion of Iraq, or even our support of Israel, but no actions the US or Britain took in the 1990’s warranted his reckless and bloody attacks. I could list out no less than 30 attacks he orchestrated against almost exclusively civilian targets.

    He was a coward who got others to do his bidding for him, and he hid behind caves and walls and other people. His actions demand justice; we knew where he was, and the SEAL team were ordered to take him alive if he surrendered. Obviously he did not, and he died a coward, just as he lived. To leave that man be, in his million dollar Pakistan estate, knowing the carnage he inflicted upon innocent civilians, would have been criminal. It was our only course of action, and it was the right one in my opinion.

    Was it awful the celebrations out in public? Yes, definitely. Does this offer a tiny particle of closure for those who lost friends and family to the actions this man did? Probably.

    • Kyle, thanks for sharing these thoughts.

      In no way do I mean to be an apologist for Osama bin Laden. His actions are responsible for thousands of deaths. And he certainly doesn’t fit into the mold of someone who has been abused who then perpetrates that pain on others–you’re right in noting he came from a privileged background.

      And yet I believe the principle of karma still holds true.

      This does not mean that no one should have done anything about bin Laden and simply allowed him to continue to generate plans and inspire others to do harm. I wish that the SEAL team had taken him alive, but that didn’t happen and I don’t judge anyone for that.

      In a way, I feel like this is less about bin Laden than it is about our human situation. What happened on September 11, 2011 may be directly connected with him, but it is so much bigger than the ideas that came from one man. There was a growing movement of anti-American feelings long before Osama… he did not create it nor will it end with his death. I think it behooves us as Americans to look more deeply into why that is, and how we might change the causes and conditions that give rise to that rage.

      • Oh I agree, I’ve seen and been confronted by anti-Americanism online a lot, even from other Buddhists. In some ways, I think it is a popular view to see the US as the big bad neighbor on the block, and some of the criticisms are quite valid. But in comparison to the atrocities that occur on a daily basis in places like the Sudan, Burma, China, Pakistan, North Korea, the US is certainly not the big giant evil that many enjoy pinning on us. My wife is Canadian, and I’ve gotten quite a bit of flack from her a few of her friends who don’t like “Americans” and feel she shouldn’t have married me. I think the hate goes both ways. While the US has its share of housecleaning to do, many of the anti-Americans out there, who hold rather pedantic and cultural reasoning for disliking the US should re-examine their motives as well. Hate is one big circle.

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