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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Death of Osama bin Laden and the Middle-Path of Buddhism.

(World War II Holocaust memorial in San Francisco, California, USA.Photo by Victor Zhang).

James: I believe that we should avoid killing 99.9% of the time but sometimes it's unavoidable. However, I believe we must walk the middle-path between killing out of vengeance and killing to protect and save countless other lives. Osama bin Laden was a threat to innocent lives the world over and sometimes killing one person is the right action to protect millions. I think it comes down to what action causes the most suffering; letting a dangerous mass murdering terrorist to roam freely, killing at will, or killing that terrorist to protect the rest of the world?

In other words, avoiding the extremes of indulgence in everything from eating too much food to being cavalier about violence and death. Then there is the opposite extreme of avoidance of all pleasures in life. As well as, living in denial that we live in a violent world that sometimes requires a rigorous but measured defense against those who would enslave and murder thousands of innocent lives. Imagine if everyone in the world said during World War II that violence is never justified and Hitler was allowed to continue his brutal invasions of country after country. And, that, he would continue and expand his operations to murder millions of innocent Jews in gas chambers and by execution squads. In that instance, it seems crystal clear that to just sit in meditation and avoid an exploding world while hellish forces seek to enslave the globe, kill anyone not like them in mass numbers and cause untold amounts of suffering to men, women, children and old people is an extreme position to hold.

We can not sit in far-removed cloisters and monasteries and look down upon that kind of suffering with a detached view to avoid violence at all costs. How is it compassionate to allow the entire world to be plunged into a hellish realm of global warfare and extreme suffering out of an absolutist attitude against violence? Is that the approach we should take if we come along an adult raping a child or attempting to violently hurt them? Is it really compassionate to just look the other way and ignore that kind of suffering? That seems completely nihilistic to me. There is a famous poem about avoidance in the face of unrelenting violence and absolute suffering. It was written by Pastor Martin Niemöller who sought to describe the dangers of inactivity by German intellectuals during the rise and reign of terror by the Nazis:

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

James: I believe that being interconnected means being responsible for the suffering of others. This isn't simply about not hurting others but includes helping those in need when they are suffering at the hand of others. And, ending the suffering of those being murdered in their beds at night by terrorism or mass murdered in gas chambers by Nazis falls within that field of being responsible for their suffering. If we are called upon to help end suffering of others than we can't absolutely, categorically avoid violence.

We are to respect life but not cling to it at all costs. The same for death, thus, the importance of the middle-path. I believe it is one of the most important, helpful and practical teachings the Buddha taught to assist us in living in a complicated world. Still, as I said, violence should only be used when all other means of solving violence are extinguished. And, it should never be done with hatred in your heart. It should only be used to protect the greater populations of innocent beings. And, I believe that one's intention behind the violence is vital. If it is out of protection of innocents then I believe that it causes less heavy karma than doing so out of glee or hatred. Also, when violence is necessary, it should be done with as much compassion as possible. That may sound strange but let me explain; when having to kill, one shouldn't maim or torture in the process.

It's not something to rejoice in, or celebrate though I must admit I felt a twinge of joy when I heard Osama was dead. I'm not perfect and I have since tried to temper my emotions in regards to his death. It's a horrible thing to have to kill another being but this world isn't as clear cut as "good or evil." The teaching of the middle path shows that life requires a more nuanced approach to events that often requires actions we may dislike.

Perhaps some might see this as odd considering I'm a vegetarian but animals do nothing to harm us or cause us suffering. Whereas, mass murderers, terrorists and armies bent on world domination threaten all of us. If we truly believe in interconnection then a threat to one person is a threat to us all. I know some purists will disagree with me but I do think rare violence is justified if it avoids the suffering of masses of innocent lives. Something else to consider, even the most Buddhist countries on Earth like Thailand and Korea have a military. Unfortunately, we can't pretend to live in a world that is rainbows and unicorns. There are violent people out to destroy millions of lives and to allow them to do so would be extremely nihilistic.

Still, violence should be avoided in 99.9% of circumstances. I don't support war just to go to war such as the Iraq war but there are times, I believe, that we must act in order to avoid the greatest amount of suffering (World War II). I know some of you might think this doesn't make me a very good Buddhist but I think it's being realistic. I feel it's walking the middle path of balance and reason to deal with a very complicated world that requires avoiding absolutism. I know this is a sensitive topic and I don't mind if you disagree with me. However, I would hope that my readers are mature enough to discuss this matter without resorting to insults. Please, be as respectful as you would want people to be toward you.

~Peace to all beings~

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queer heaven said...

Beautifully said.

BD said...

My first reaction was like yours, I have to admit, finally he's taken care of ,but the more I saw people chanting USA ! in the streets it left a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. It made me think of a quote from Gandhi, "An eye for an eye, makes everyone blind." Was there any other choice for him, not sure but celebrating just doesn't seem right. It doesn't bring back the 3000 that perished in the WTC . My two cents for what their worth.

They call him James Ure said...

Interestingly, BD, I heard in the press briefing today at the White House that they would have taken Osama alive, into custody, had he surrendered. However, he did not.

One said...

I find it interesting that you are able to call dropping in with automatic weapons, kill multiple people including women and children, the middle path.If this is the middle I would hate to see your other side. Be honest with who you are. Seems to me you are lying to yourself.

Anonymous said...

It's difficult to judge whether killing a particular individual is in the interests of all beings without great wisdom.

Kate said...

Such a wonderful quote BD, I thought the same exact thing! I was actually surprised to hear that so many of my friends and family felt disgusted at our country for celebrating the death of another human, even one so evil (for lack of a better word).

James, I really enjoyed reading this blog post, it was beautifully written.

~May I live simply, that others may simply live. Gandhi

BM said...

I don't feel any joy because eliminate one Osama doesn't solve the root issues of spreading hatred, revenge, and anger in people's mind. Many more "Osama" clones will appear if those roots aren't solved, and war on terrorism will be never ending.

A Zen Buddhit Monk, Taka Kawakami, quoted Dalai Lama's Widom here:

They call him James Ure said...

@One...I didn't read any reports of a child being killed. The adults killed were threatening the soldiers. As for Osama, he was given a chance to surrender but was said to be reaching for a weapon.

I understand why you might disagree with me but I don't understand why you have to call me a liar. I don't understand why you use your harsh language. It's damaging to one's spirit and I won't deny that it hurts to hear. If I'm terrible for suggesting we kill mass murderers threatening the globe then, so be it.

But, you're harsh language hurled toward me isn't exactly "Buddha" like either!! Personally, I believe we're all imperfect, so for you to point the finger at me also means you have your own anger issues to deal with.

I may not be perfect but neither are you and I feel that you could have addressed this matter with less vitriol. By saying you'd hate to see my other side, you are basically calling me a twisted person. That also hurts and I can assure you that I'm not a monster. Please, remember, words hurt too--not just guns.

You can disagree with me but please don't speak harsh words about me. I was trying to assess this situation from a realistic stand point in that we live in a imperfect world full of people out to hurt millions of innocents. Would you say that violence is ever justified? Even if a child was in danger of being killed? I do though I would not take joy in doing so.

I feel that Osama's death will help prevent the loss of innocent lives, so I feel it creates less suffering, in the end. As I said, the death of one is better than the death of millions.

@BM...I have moved well beyond that tinge of joy I felt at first. I totally agree that joy isn't appropriate. I also agree that killing Osama won't end the causes of terrorism, revenge and hatred. And, while I agree that Osama clones will appear, I don't think we should just avoid defending the innocents from mass murderers intent on killing millions of innocents around the globe.

Would you have intervened to get rid of Hitler and end the death camps that were eradicating Jews? By the way, thanks for the quote from the DL--I'll be reading it after posting this comment.

Embracing Freshness said...

James, your post is very thoughtful, and measured. There is no easy answer to the dilemma of just action against the unjust. I agree with you that Buddhism does not counsel inaction in all cases. Intent does matter. When one decides to act, action should be undertaken with the humility of knowing we cannot foresee the unintended consequences.

Confessions of a Wanna Be Yogini. said...

As always, this is an amazing thought provoking post, that I drank in while reading it. I also read through the comments. The best part about a blog, is that they're your opinions, and your opinions will vary from others. You know this.
What others don't know, is that they should hold the highest thought, as opposed to telling someone their opinion is wrong. If we all thought the same, we'd all be monkeys on a conveyor belt.

Be who you are James, you have much insight and walk a great path.

Love and light be with you.

They call him James Ure said...

@Embracing Freshness...Thank-you for sharing your thoughts. I agree that there is no easy answer in this complicated world. We do our best and hope for the best. Humility is a good reminder as we all bumble around with each step we take on Earth. I always know that I can improve--as we all can.

None of us have any leg to stand on when it comes to samsara. We're all trying to do our best for the greatest number of people. It's true our opinions will bump up against each other, but we should be able to discuss these matters without creating more suffering.

Let's hope we can all live up to that standard set by Buddha's example. I know I fall short daily but I won't give up trying to walk the middle path as best I understand it. Will I be perfect? Of course not but I deserve the same patience as anyone else.

@Yogini...Thank-you for your kind words. I will try to continue being the best I can be. You're very right in that we can disagree without being disagreeable. It seems that when you have a blog though that some people think they can say anything they want to you without consideration to the fact that it's real person behind the blog.

Confessions of a Wanna Be Yogini. said...

You don't need to be the "best you can be" you just need to be you and remain true to you and your beliefs. Don't allow anyone else to tell you otherwise. :)

MY blog you'll find is very up and down on the things I discuss, I get told that I am pretentious by friends who read it, but really, I am just passing along different types of information that may help people succeed in their own personal happiness.

I really like your writing, and what you have to say and will continue to read it as often as I can :)

~A truly devoted blogfan!

JimWilton said...

It seems to me that in this world there is no shortage of people willing to step in to kill someone like Osama Bin Laden.

So, I don't think we need Buddhists who are willing to do this work.

Kyle Lovett said...

Hey commenter "One", I read some of your blog, and man, you have some ugly stuff to say about minorities. Such racism and bigotry, and you come here and say this??

Yes, see, I can make up complete shit too, you ignorant ass.

Go troll someone else....hell, come troll me, I fucking dare you.

I might be un-Buddhist right now, but at least I'm not a lying sack of shit "One".

Excellent post James!

BM said...

Thanks for your response.
I don't judge others if they feel a tinge of joy from Osama's death. His death can mean different things to others, such as closure, caugth the criminal, etc.
No doubt we may need to end up resorting to war or killing someone crazy like Hitler to save many lives, not limited to death camps. However, Yes, the war has ended and everyone is happy. But knowing that I force to choose this path, I will feel sad because looking at how much damage have been done, how much resources have been wasted, and how many innocent people becomes the causalty of this war. Why death has to come upon before people appreciate what Peace mean?
IMO, the war on terrorism isn't like WWI or WWII, because it's the war of "minds." Killing as many Osamas or his clones, don't solve the revenge, feeling unjust, unhappiness, and hatred in them.
There is a saying goes: "Revenge begets revenge, violents begets violents, when will it end ?"

I recommend you to watch this bollywood film called "Black Friday." If possible, share your opinon after you watch this film.

They call him James Ure said...

@Jim...I'm certainly not volunteering for the job to kill people. I just believe that we need to have a military defense to some degree to maintain a relatively stable world.

It's not a favorite tool of mine, the military, but unfortunately it's a necessity in this complicated world. I believe, however, that it should be used very, VERY rarely.

@BM...I feel very sad too. Overall, war is always a waste--of lives, money and peace. As much as I think Osama had to be brought to justice, I don't support endless wars. In fact, I think since Osama has been taken out that America should now come home.

I also think we need to work at the root of terrorism and what fuels that poison. Things like being more tolerant of Muslims, investing in poor communities because poverty often breeds violence, etc.

I agree that this fight isn't like WWI or WWII but I do see Osama himself as akin to Hitler. So, it is my hope, that now Osama is gone, that we can heal the wounds of war on all sides. I have taken a lot of hope from the "Arab Spring" movements toward democracy. The Egyptian movement was relatively non-violent and should be the model for change in those regions.

I believe it's infinitely better to influence regions with kindness and understanding to give the people hope of change through non-violent means first.

Anonymous said...

"Go troll someone else....hell, come troll me, I fucking dare you."

What are you 12?
Better start working on that Ego boy.

Shobi said...

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Kyle Lovett said...

@Anon - You called me Boy? Did you call me that because you are racist?

Natural.Origin said...


fattony said...

No I called you boy because your obviously not a grown up.

Kris Vockler said...

Well said! I believe part of the middle way is just being aware. You don't even have to call your stance realistic, it's not separate from being Buddhist.

MossMan said...

...just to understand that you depend on enemies and outsiders to define yourself, and that without some opposition you would be lost...

Thus when when the two poles, good and bad, forget their interdependence and try to obliterate each other, man becomes subhuman - the implacable crusader or the cold, sadistic thug. It is not for man to be either an angel or a devil, and the would-be angels should realize that, as their ambition succeeds, they evoke hordes of devils to keep the balance.

A Thai Buddhist said...

While I like your post, and it is quite on point since the death of bin Laden has opened anew some many wounds which we thought were healed, there is one thing I think we should remember.

The Buddhist path is not easy. While it would have been easier to "kill" Hitler, it would have been far preferable if Hitler had not been elected (I believe he was elected, right? Forgive me if I am wrong) then if he were killed.

It would have been far preferable for the people who allowed him to do what he did to have not gone along with it.

It is sad, but when you think about it, there were MILLIONS of Hitlers, for he could not have come to power on his own without the compliance of those who live in ignorance, fear, and hatred. He could not have killed so many had so many Germans not already given into fear.

When we take short cuts, we loose. When we are brave enough to not take the easy way out, we win.

Vagabonde said...

I was away in France when I heard his capture and did not read much on the particulars. I think your post is the best argument I have read. I do read your blog but rarely post a comment, but I enjoy it very much. I shall copy many of your sentences, like “If we truly believe in interconnection then a threat to one person is a threat to us all” and “We are to respect life but not cling to it at all costs.” Thank you.

Auð said...

When I heard of Osama's death, I can't say that I felt joy. Perhaps relief would be more accurate.
I think I really, truly expressed my feelings when I said this:
"I am happy that he can no longer hurt others, but sad because he had to be killed to achieve this end."
I also wonder how painful and narrow his world was - always hating, always killing, or planning to kill. I know it sounds strange, but he must have suffered, too - hate is tiring; it is a heavy cross to bear, and to maintain. His passing must have been a mercy. It is truly saddening that the only peace that a terrorist such as Osama can know is in death.
If I had a friend or relative that was killed in the WTC, I might be angrier and less understanding - but this is my reality, for better or worse.

Auð said...

When I heard of Osama's death, I can't say that I felt joy. Perhaps relief would be more accurate.
I think I really, truly expressed my feelings when I said this:
"I am happy that he can no longer hurt others, but sad because he had to be killed to achieve this end."
I also wonder how painful and narrow his world was - always hating, always killing, or planning to kill. I know it sounds strange, but he must have suffered, too - hate is tiring; it is a heavy cross to bear, and to maintain. His passing must have been a mercy. It is truly saddening that the only peace that a terrorist such as Osama can know is in death.
If I had a friend or relative that was killed in the WTC, I might be angrier and less understanding - but this is my reality, for better or worse.

MKew said...

"If we truly believe in interconnection then a threat to one person is a threat to us all."

Well said, and this is the reality that we are living in. We are ONE. No one can be isolated in this complicated world. Action(s) of one individual will affect others, one by one, there is a chain reaction.

About killing, yes, we don't need a gun to kill. A word, a thought can kill.

Thanks for the post.

Hanzze said...

Coming across you post, I guess this short essay will definitely delete your doubt and show you that those who really follow the Buddhas advices will find never an excuse or acceptable reason for any harm:

Getting the message


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