The outpouring of jubilation over the death of this murderer was disturbing to many, including myself. I have no doubt he was guilty of inciting, if not inflicting, great sorrow on the world. But does his death really solve anything? Does rejoicing in his absence make our world safer, or happier? Some say we are at a greater risk now because of the actions taken to hunt him down. The truth is, we were never safe. It is a hollow victory, an illusion, at best.
Friends have asked me what the Buddhist perspective is on the killing of Bin Laden, and I've been somewhat surprised that I know the answer. It is this: Buddhism prescribes that killing any sentient being is wrong; however, there are exceptions. Buddhism isn't totally pacifist. In fact, one could argue that Buddhism is quite the opposite. Buddhists are activists of the highest order. Action, fueled by right intention, is part of the Buddhist path to enlightenment. We don't get many points for sitting around just thinking good thoughts; and we never get points for reacting to a situation. Action rather than reaction is always the goal. And this brings me back to the point: If one kills with the intention of saving lives, or ending further suffering by curtailing the evil actions of someone (ie: killing in self-defense), the action is justifiable. And yet, killing is never a laudable act in Buddhism, and the operative term is with the right intention.
Jack was in utero when the 9-11 attacks occurred. He doesn't understand what it meant to live through that terrifying moment in history, but we talk about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how they are wrong, yet somehow necessary. It's confusing for both of us. Bin Laden's death is easier to bring down to a third grade level because there are so many tropes in contemporary epic literature (and cinema) I can point to for example. Star Wars and Harry Potter, to name two. In both of these epics, the hero/boy must face unspeakable evil with the realization that he too has the DNA for that same evil within him. Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter both carry the scars of the evil that is pervasive in their (mythical) worlds. Luke's father, Darth Vadar, is the embodiment of evil; and Harry discovers that he has had Lord Voldemort's powers coursing through his wizardy-veins since his babydom. Both boys have been chosen and, in turn, must choose to either follow the path of enlightenment or the path of evil. And for both of these heroes the challenge comes down to this: Will they allow hate and fear to overcome their love and compassion? Will they kill out of hate and revenge, or to protect all that is good? It is what is in their hearts at the moment they strike down their foe that matters. That's Buddhist practice. So as odd as this may sound, I hope the Navy SEALS who shot and killed Bin Laden did so with love in their hearts. I hope they went into that mission, not feeling hatred and vengeance towards a man, or a culture or a cult, or religion, but with the sense that they were protecting others from future harm.
In his final days, my father's thoughts turned to another Evil Empire: Imperial Japan. His ability to speak had been diminished by a stroke, but his mind was quite clear. He told me he now thought dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was wrong. "So many people suffered," he said. "And why?"
"We had no choice," I countered, trying to sooth him. "If we hadn't dropped those bombs, how many more lives would have been lost in war? Japan would not give up. The United States knew that. You knew that Dad, you were there."
|Members of the 165th Infantry after "takin' Makin" island in the Pacific. |
My Dad is standing in the back row. He's fifth from the right, wearing a cap, of course.
As his life neared its close, my Dad found a different perspective. In effect, he wished that he had gone on to the island of Japan to fight and possible die, rather than have innocent civilians killed and hideously maimed in the nuclear blasts. At the end of his life, Dad thought this military act—long justified for ending a most-bloody war—was brought about by the United States' desire to flex it's superior muscle rather than for the noble intention of ending pain and suffering.
As my Dad would say, "What is done, is done." Yet, we should consider what these recent events mean to us as we move forward in the world. Within one week, hundreds of people lost their lives in the storms that ravaged the South, and a notorious war criminal was killed, justice served. Today, do we sit with fear and hatred towards future tornados or towards the threat of future acts of terrorism? Both are inevitable. We cannot control terrorist acts any more than we can control the weather, but we can control our reactions to the events that occur to us and around us. Rejoicing the in the death of another, no matter how evil the person, hardly seems the appropriate response. I can understand this reaction, but it does no good in the world, and in fact, may encourage more harm. No, I did not have a loved one in the World Trade Center, nor on Flight 93 or at the Pentagon that day, but I do have a sense of what it means to forgive one's enemies. And I thank my father for that beautiful example and for sharing the perspective he gained in those blessed days at the end of his life.