Learning from Paris

How to react to the Terrorist attacks in Paris?

There are different ways to deal with the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. It is of course important to support and care for the victims and their families, to improve the security strategy, and to consider any measure to prevent similar tragedies to occur in the future. With respect to how our societies can react to such a threat, a lot has been discussed in the public discourse, and I do not think that I could add something valuable to the debate. This posting instead tries to focus on the more personal level.

Are we at war?

lotus pond
Recently, much has been written about war. The french president Hollande declared that "France is at war", and even Pope Francis seems to consider the attacks as a part of a "piecemeal third world war". I believe, this is a very dangerous image. The idea of war creates fear and hatred in people's minds, and right now, more than ever, decisions need to be taken calmly and without being driven by emotions or public opinion. No-one denies that one needs to be cautious, and should do everything to prevent further threats. Still, we need to be very attentive that we do not allow our minds to be poisoned.

Via his twitter account, the Gyalwang Drukpa requested that "we must wage war against acts of terrorism with courageous acts of love". This may sound naive and esoteric in the light of the danger at hand. Still, if one thinks about it thoroughly, there is some truth to it.

Who is our enemy?

As explained very clearly in the sixth chapter of Śāntideva’s Bodhicāryāvatāra, the greatest enemy one can have is one's own anger. This is the real enemy that needs to be fought. It is anger or hatred that causes so much suffering in the world. I do not believe that the problem in Paris was that "nobody had guns but the bad guys" as Donald Trump seems to do. The problem is rather to be found within the terrorist's minds, which seem to have been filled with ignorance and hatred. If their minds would not have been filled with such destructive thoughts and emotions, this type of cruelty would not have been possible. To the contrary, if their minds would have been full of unconditional love for all beings, something like this could never have happened.

This tells us that there can be hardly anything more important than overcoming negative emotions and wrong-views present in our minds, particularly anger and hatred. Otherwise, we may also be able to engage in such cruel deeds. We could become equally destructive. Hence, instead of indulging ourselves in thoughts of fear and revenge, we should focus on the qualities present within us. As we all know, "fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate" (not the Buddha, but Lord Yoda). This does not mean that we do not need to react, but we should do so calmly and thoughtful, considering also the causes that lead to these events.

The recent statement made by the Gyalwa Karmapa Thaye Dorje clearly goes into this direction as well:
We need to find a way to use this moment to develop awareness and understanding, so that we may live our lives without fear. We need to find a way to use this moment to stand up to fear and panic, and not to succumb to it. We need to find a way to use this moment to develop compassion, and to show others that it is the lack of awareness, wisdom and compassion, manifesting as emotions, that is the real thing that we need to stand up to. 


Something to be learned

On a personal level, the terrorist attack in Paris could serve as a powerful reminder, how important it is to tame one's own mind. The way our mind functions is not essentially different from the way the minds of these terrorists work. We all have the potential to do good, but if we don't pay attention to what goes on in our minds, things can go awfully wrong. Hence, instead of becoming infected by the horror and the hatred that we encounter, we should focus on love and compassion. This is of utmost importance for ourselves and for others. 

To abstain from all negativity, to cultivate virtue, and to purify one’s mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas. (Dhammapada, 183)

In times like these, it becomes even more important that we make an effort to tame our minds and constantly try to, as  Gyalwa Karmapa Thaye Dorje noted, "remember that human beings are also capable of great courage and compassion". Love and compassion is not something that is given, it is a quality that can be developed through mind training, i.e. Lojong (blo sbyong), or similar practices. These are times of war, and it is time that we put on the armor of patience and proceed to attack our real enemy, hatred

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