Buddhism and Terrorism

by Wayne Codling, Time Colonist (Blog), September 11, 2011

What if President Bush were a fundamentalist Buddhist instead of a born-again Christian? How might he approach the problem of terrorism from the pratityasamutpada (Sanskrit term for "dependent origination") point of view?

Victoria, BC (Canada)  -- In deference to the ambiguity of the term “terrorist,” (Nelson Mandela, for example, was condemned as a terrorist), this post entry attempts to look at terrorism as a tactic with some moral basis.

Though logic and common sense mitigated against any thought that the waves of gratuitous violence visited upon Europe and the Middle East was likely to pass us by, North Americans have only recently become terrorist conscious. Despite several examples of domestic violence, it is the 9/11 events that have forced a direct confrontation with militant Islamic fundamentalists.

What causes terrorism? President Bush (43) explained this very simply, “they hate us for our freedom”; it’s “good versus evil.” Although George W. is correct in identifying religion as having a causative relationship with the problem of terrorism, the limited, triumphal moral sensibility which he exemplifies is not up to the task of guiding us to a solution.

What if President Bush were a fundamentalist Buddhist instead of a born-again Christian? How might he approach the problem of terrorism from the pratityasamutpada point of view? Pratityasamutpada is the Buddhist vocabulary of causation. It means “co-dependent arising” or “interdependent co-arising” and represents how Buddhist thinkers, not having recourse to a Creator God, discuss the limit or end-point of cause and effect.

A “Good vs. Evil” sort of dualism sounds plausible within a context which has long accepted as axiomatic that “we” are hated, feared and oppressed because of our proximity to the true God. This analytical mode finds purchase within both Christianity and Islam; both tolerate a certain militancy with respect to devotion married to a deep belief that Destiny lies completely beyond time itself. Both valorize martyrdom and holy war; both espouse a morality that justifies inflicting harm and nurturing a harmful intent as long as “we” are in the right. Each of our religious histories is replete with examples.

To say this in another way, morality within the Abrahamic religions is tethered somehow to a notion that, ultimately, “It is better to be right than to be kind.” It is fundamental that what is at stake in these traditions is eternity, an unchanging heaven or hell. The gate to heaven opens in response to certainty and righteousness. Doubt and sinfulness open the gate of hell: simple, straightforward and devastating. The morality that flows from such a notion is distinguished as a “meticulous” morality because it has at its base such a high component of fearfulness (/metus/ = Latin for fear). We fear fear, as an earlier American president observed.

Many Muslims assume that Western society today is defined and led by immoral, or at best, amoral people. Believing that a moral deficit is a weakened basis for effective response terrorists are encouraged. Morality is an environmental necessity to human society. Where a meticulous morality prevails we find a very militant protective reflex. So it’s not a trivial question for us. In order to protect our “freedom” we must become ever more repressive, ungenerous and adversarial; the very conditions which foster internal instability and external hostility. Fear is the vehicle that can deliver the triumph of the Hobbesian vision of human life and society. The “war of all against all” assumes the inevitability and thus the rightness of brutality. From a Buddhist point of view, it is remarkably foolish and shortsighted to create or permit situations of alienation to the point where individuals and collectives have no stake in the status quo and no reason to sacrifice for the common good. Nothing to lose and nothing to gain—ironically an almost sacred state in Zen lore. Yet, here it is a form of insanity that spawns new fears, such as terror in the workplace (“going postal,” Columbine). We have allowed ourselves to be led to this weakened state primarily through being unaware that the source of our vulnerability is not simply the conflict with evil others but is equally the logical result of the meticulous ethic. If we are to survive this attack we need to find a voice that can impel a cohesion equivalent to that experienced amongst those who have responded to a call; a voice that can renew a feeling of being a part of, or an heir to, something worthy. Such a voice will have to come from other than the current religious, social, intellectual or politically empowered elites. The voice of our religious traditions can scarcely be heard over the clamor raised by widespread abuse scandals. The voice of our political traditions is less and less concerned or able to exert authority without coercion and division. The exemplars of capitalism steal everything in sight the moment government regulations are weakened. That is why the spiritual response to this must be renewal, and we must resist the impulse to indulge in moral judgment. The whole clamor to claim the “right” is the problem, not the solution. The spiritual value of renewal eschews any notion of a non-inclusive human destiny.

Buddhist morality is tethered to the maxim, “It is better to be kind than to be right”—a reflection of the essential importance of ahimsa (Sanskrit, meaning ‘harmless’) and a reversal of the meticulous assumptions regarding the kindness/rightness dyad of morality. Since it is axiomatic that no act of terrorism is without harm, the scrupulous morality of Buddhism can provide no sustenance for the impulse to inflict fear and retaliation no matter how alienated, frustrated and hopeless a situation might have become. There would be sympathy and understanding perhaps, but always with that poised awareness of cause and effect that sees ill will (hatred) as a spiritual poison. The morality that develops from this divergent ideation is a “scrupulous” morality, denoting a moral code that is generated mostly from within; a weighed, measured, internally empowered sense of propriety. In Buddhist history, although the contending visions represented by the Arhat vow and the Bodhisattva vow have occasionally fueled some acrimony, there are few, if any, incidences of warfare or destruction that result from these two interpretations of the path. Why? Because the scrupulous morality of ahimsa has no concept of “holy war.”

Can a so-called scrupulous morality support or allow behavior equivalent to what is implied by “holy war”? I would argue that it can, and the equivalent moral action is very significant. Early in 1963 a Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc, set himself on fire on a busy Saigon street. He sat in meditation posture and remained silent and composed while his body burned. In the days following Quang Duc’s suicide, several other Buddhist monks did the same thing. In each case, witnesses were horrified at this sight. The impact of the self-immolations was worldwide and very nearly changed the course of history. Indeed this act has been admired as the only effective response to the terrorist tactics employed by the US-supported Diem regime. Quang Duc and the others rallied the cowed population by strengthening a more liberal, generous and accommodating view of governance. It was precisely because these monks were known to have so assiduously practiced “ahimsa” that this act of harmful intent was so powerful. Even while their bodies burned these monks did everything they could to minimize the terrible effects of such an act.

Buddhism is above all something that one does: it is a path, a way. It is called the Middle Way. The middle way is to construct an inclusive way of thinking about and reacting to the exigencies of life and living. The middle way uses meditation to intentionally bring composure into our everyday mind.

Today’s terrorist threat from without is a major test of our basic civilization. We undertake this test as an increasingly factionalized society; the factions set to squabbling over nuggets like seagulls on a tourist beach. But we can, if we want to, find a voice that speaks from our better natures. That collective voice starts with each individual and can best be found in the stillness of Buddhist meditation. The theory is that, since “our” better natures are the same as “their” better natures, we need only act from our better natures to give ourselves a chance for survival.

Source: http://blogs.timescolonist.com/2011/09/10/buddhism-and-terrorism/

Wayne Codling is a former Zen monastic and a lineage holder in the Soto Zen tradition as taught by the Japanese Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki-roshi (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind). He teaches Zen style meditation in various venues around Victoria, including regular, drop-in, no charge sessions each Sunday at the Vic West Community Centre and regular classes with young offenders at a correction centre. Wayne’s talks and some writings can be found on his blog (http://sotozenvictoria.wordpress.com), and practice questions are responded to at: http://zendog.ca.

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv