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:
- “Osama bin Laden is Dead: One Buddhist’s Response” by Susan Piver
- “Bin Laden and Some Thoughts on Karma” by Norman Fischer
- “Osama bin Laden’s Death: A Buddhist Reaction” by Nathan Thompson
- “A Small Reflection on the Death of Osama bin Laden” by James Ford
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.