On the death of Osama Bin Laden

by Chap. Mikel Ryuho Monnett, BCC, The Buddhist Channel, May 12, 2011

Ohio, USA -- In the Jataka Tales, the story of the previous lives of he who would eventually become the Buddha, there is a tale of the Buddha having been once a ship’s captain *.

One night, while standing watch, he catches one of the passengers attempting an act that would kill all on board the ship. With no other choice available (and the responsibility of all the others lives being upon him as Captain), he kills the man to prevent him from killing the others.

As a consequence, he and the attempted murderer become karmically linked, following each other through rebirth after rebirth, lifetime after lifetime, until eventually their karmic trail would lead the one to become the Buddha and the other to become Ananda, his attendant, from whom we get most of the Buddha’s teachings.

At that point, the negative karma had been extinguished and both men had accumulated enough positive merit that they were able to attain enlightenment. But it had taken a long time.

I thought about this when I was watching President Obama detailing the hunt for and eventual execution of Osama Bin Laden on 60 Minutes last night. Faced with an organization that had as one of its tenets the continued death and destruction of  American citizens wherever they might be, he acted  as he had vowed to act if elected President.

The oath of office requires the President to “defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, both foreign and domestic”. And while Obama may have disappointed many of us in his execution of the latter (the coward Dick Cheney has still not faced prosecution), in the former he acted as he said he would .

Taking into consideration the possibility of ‘collateral damage’ (the military euphemism for civilian casualties), Obama authorized a ‘surgical strike’ (commando raid) even though it had considerably less chance of success than a drone strike (bombing the compound). Obama knew that an unsuccessful raid would  for all intents and purposes effectively end his presidency and his chance for re-election (the spectre of Jimmy Carter being foremost in his mind), but he chose that option anyway. It was a gutsy call and no amount of Republican revisionism is going to change that (although that won’t stop them from trying).

Still, as a Buddhist chaplain I can’t help wondering about the karmic consequences of that decision. To be locked in a karmic bond with the madman responsible for 9/11 would seem to me to be an extraordinarily sad fate, like that of Lazarus in the classic Star Trek episode “The Alternative Factor”: “to be trapped through eternity with a madman at his throat”.

But even if the Christian Obama believed as Buddhists do - that to take this action would bond him forever to Osama Bin Laden until such time as both had exhausted their negative karma and achieved enlightenment - I still think he would (reluctantly) make the same decision Like Siddhartha the sea captain, the responsibility was his, the decision was his, and the consequences were his to assume and he did, for the good of his people.  That’s what makes a great cakravartin.

I’m still waiting for the arrest of the coward Cheney.

Chap. Mikel Ryuho Monnett (B.A., B.A., M.A., BCC) is a member of the Zen Peacemaker Order and the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. A long-time student of Ven. Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and Joan Jiko Halifax Roshi, Chaplain Monnett received his B.A.s from The Ohio State University in 1987, and his M.A. from Naropa University in 1999. A writer, lecturer, and ardent advocate of Buddhist chaplaincy, he is a member of the Buddhist Chaplains Network of the ACPE and previously served as the Heart Services Anchor Chaplain at Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University Medical Center in St. Louis, MO. A specialist in disaster chaplaincy, he was twice deployed to major catastrophes in the U.S. as part of a spiritual care team. He currently lives in Ohio with his wife, Tara Gidwani.

* Editor's Note: This parable is likely attributed to the "Upayakausalyasutra", a Tibetan source. Refer to "Buddhism and War" by Paul Demiéville

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