>David R. Loy
>Faculty of International Studies
>In all the recent discussions, there has been very little from a Buddhist
>perspective, so I take the liberty of sending you the following. It is
>also available online at http://www.bpf.org/loy-war.html
>(and I have received French and German translations too). Apologies for
>cross-posting, and if this is not of interest; if it is, you are welcome to
>share it with anyone.
>A NEW HOLY WAR AGAINST EVIL?
>A Buddhist Response
>Like most other Americans, I have been struggling to digest the events of
>the last week. It has taken a while to realize how psychically numbed many
>of us are. In the space of a few hours, our world changed. We do not yet
>know what those changes will mean, but the most important long-term ones
>may well be psychological.
>Americans have always understood the United States to be a special and
>uniquely privileged place. The Puritans viewed New England as the Promised
>Land. According to Melville, "We Americans are the peculiar, chosen
>people." In many parts of the globe the twentieth century has been
>particularly horrible, but the continental United States has been so
>insulated from these tragedies that we have come to think of ourselves as
>immune to them - although we have often contributed to them.
>That confidence has been abruptly shattered. We have discovered that the
>borderless world of globalization allows us no refuge from the hatred and
>violence that predominate in many parts of the world.
>Every death reminds us of our own, and sudden, unexpected death on such a
>large scale makes it harder to repress awareness of our own mortality. Our
>obsessions with such things as money, consumerism, and professional sports
>have been revealed for what they are: unworthy of all the attention we
>devote to them. There is something valuable to learn here, but this
>reality nonetheless makes us quite uncomfortable. We do not like to think
>about death. We usually prefer to be distracted.
>Talk of vengeance and "bomb them back to the stone age" makes many of us
>uneasy, but naturally we want to strike back. On Friday September 14
>President Bush declared that the United States has been called to a new
>worldwide mission "to rid the world of evil," and on the following Sunday
>he said that the government is determined to "rid the world of evil-doers."
>Our land of freedom now has a responsibility to extirpate the world of its
>evil. We may no longer have an "evil empire" to defeat, but we have found
>a more sinister evil that will require a long-term, all-out war to destroy.
>If anything is evil, those terrorist attacks were evil. I share that
>sentiment. It must be emphasized. At the same time, however, I think we
>need to take a close look at the rhetoric. When Bush says he wants to rid
>the world of evil, alarm bells go off in my mind, because that is what
>Hitler and Stalin also wanted to do.
>I'm not defending either of those evil-doers, just explaining what they
>were trying to do. What was the problem with Jews that required a "final
>solution"? The earth could be made pure for the Aryan race only by
>exterminating the Jews, the impure vermin who contaminate it. Stalin
>needed to exterminate well-to-do Russian peasants to establish his ideal
>society of collective farmers. Both were trying to perfect this world by
>eliminating its impurities. The world can be made good only by destroying
>its evil elements.
>Paradoxically, then, one of the main causes of evil in this world has been
>human attempts to eradicate evil.
>Friday's Washington Post quoted Joshua Teitelbaum, a scholar who has
>studied a more contemporary evil-doer: "Osama bin Laden looks at the world
>in very stark, black-and-white terms. For him, the U.S. represents the
>forces of evil that are bringing corruption and domination into the Islamic
>What is the difference between bin Laden's view and Bush's? They are
>mirror opposites. What bin Laden sees as good - an Islamic jihad against
>an impious and materialistic imperialism - Bush sees as evil. What Bush
>sees as good - America the defender of freedom - bin Laden sees as evil.
>They are two different versions of the same holy-war-between-good-and-evil.
>Do not misunderstand me here. I am not equating them morally, nor in any
>way trying to excuse the horrific events of last Tuesday. From a Buddhist
>perspective, however, there is something dangerously delusive about the
>mirror-image views of both sides. We must understand how this
>black-and-white way of thinking deludes not only Islamic terrorists but
>also us, and therefore brings more suffering into the world.
>This dualism of good-versus-evil is attractive because it is a simple way
>of looking at the world. And most of us are quite familiar with it.
>Although it is not unique to the Abrahamic religions - Judaism,
>Christianity, and Islam - it is especially important for them. It is one
>of the reasons why the conflicts among them have been so difficult to
>resolve peacefully: adherents tend to identify their own religion as good
>and demonize the other as evil.
>It is difficult to turn the other cheek when we view the world through
>these spectacles, because this rationalizes the opposite principle: an eye
>for an eye. If the world is a battleground of good and evil forces, the
>evil that is in the world must be fought by any means necessary.
>The secularization of the modern West did not eliminate this tendency. In
>some ways it has intensified it, because we can no longer rely on a
>supernatural resolution. We have to depend upon ourselves to bring about
>the final victory of good over evil - as Hitler and Stalin tried to do. It
>is unclear how much help bin Laden and Bush expect from God.
>Why do I emphasize this dualism? The basic problem with this way of
>understanding conflict is that it tends to preclude thought, because it is
>so simplistic. It keeps us from looking deeper, from trying to discover
>causes. Once something has been identified as evil, there is no more need
>to explain it; it is time to focus on fighting against it. This is where
>Buddhism has something important to contribute.
>Buddhism emphasizes the three roots of evil, also known as the three
>poisons: greed, ill will and delusion. The Abrahamic religions emphasize
>the struggle between good and evil because for them the basic issue depends
>on our will: which side are we on? In contrast, Buddhism emphasizes
>ignorance and enlightenment because the basic issue depends on our
>self-knowledge: do we really understand what motivates us?
>According to Buddhism, every effect has its web of causes and conditions.
>This is the law of karma. One way to summarize the essential Buddhist
>teaching is that we suffer, and cause others to suffer, because of greed,
>ill will and delusion. Karma implies that when our actions are motivated
>by these roots of evil, their negative consequences tend to rebound back
>upon us. The Buddhist solution to suffering involves transforming our
>greed into generosity, our ill will into loving-kindness, and our delusions
>What do these Buddhist teachings imply about the situation we now find
>We cannot focus only on the second root of evil, the hatred and violence
>that have just been directed against the United States. The three roots
>are intertwined. Ill will cannot be separated from greed and delusion.
>This requires us to ask: why do so many people in the Middle East, in
>particular, hate us so much? What have we done to encourage that hatred?
>Americans think of America as defending freedom and justice, but obviously
>that is not the way they perceive us. Are they just misinformed, then, or
>is it we who are misinformed?
>"Does anybody think that we can send the USS New Jersey to lob
>Volkswagen-sized shells into Lebanese villages -- Reagan, 1983 -- or loose
>'smart bombs' on civilians seeking shelter in a Baghdad bunker -- Bush,
>1991 -- or fire cruise missiles on a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory --
>Clinton, 1999 -- and not receive, someday, our share in kind?" (Micah
>In particular, how much of our foreign policy in the Middle East has been
>motivated by our love of freedom and democracy, and how much has been
>motivated by our need - our greed - for its oil? If our main priority has
>been securing oil supplies, does it mean that our petroleum-based economy
>is one of the causes of last week's attack?
>Finally, Buddhist teachings suggest that we look at the role of delusion in
>creating this situation. Delusion has a special meaning in Buddhism. The
>fundamental delusion is our sense of separation from the world we are "in,"
>including other people. Insofar as we feel separate from others, we are
>more inclined to manipulate them to get what we want. This naturally
>breeds resentment - both from others, who do not like to be used, and
>within ourselves, when we do not get what we want. . . . Is this also true
>Delusion becomes wisdom when we realize that "no one is an island." We are
>interdependent because we are all part of each other, different facets of
>the same jewel we call the earth. This world is a not a collection of
>objects but a community of subjects. That interdependence means we cannot
>avoid responsibility for each other. This is true not only for the
>residents of lower Manhattan, as I write uniting together in response to
>this catastrophe, but for all the people in the world, however deluded they
>may be. Yes, including the terrorists who did these heinous acts and those
>who support them.
>Do not misunderstand me here. Those responsible for the attacks must be
>caught and brought to justice. That is our responsibility to all those who
>have suffered, and that is also our responsibility to the deluded and
>hate-full terrorists, who must be stopped. Those who intend other
>terrorist actions must also be stopped. If, however, we want to stop this
>cycle of hatred and violence, we must realize that our responsibility is
>much broader than that.
>Realizing our interdependence and mutual responsibility for each other
>implies something more. When we try to live this interdependence, it is
>called love. Love is more than a feeling, it is a mode of being in the
>world. In Buddhism we talk mostly about compassion, generosity, and
>loving-kindness, but they all reflect this mode of being. Such love is
>sometimes mocked as weak and ineffectual, yet it can be very powerful, as
>Gandhi showed. And it embodies a deep wisdom about how the cycle of
>hatred and violence works and about how that cycle can be ended. An eye
>for an eye makes the whole world blind, but there is an alternative.
>Twenty-five hundred years ago, the Buddha said:
>"He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me" -- for those who
>harbour such thoughts hatred will never cease.
>"He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me" -- for those who
>do not harbour such thoughts hatred will cease.
>In this world hatred is never appeased by hatred; hatred is always appeased
>by love. This is an ancient law. (Dhammapada, 3-5)
>Of course, this transformative insight is not unique to Buddhism. After
>all, it was not the Buddha who gave us the image of turning the other
>cheek. In all the Abrahamic religions the tradition of a holy war between
>good and evil coexists with this "ancient law" about the power of love.
>That does not mean all the world's religions have emphasized this law to
>the same extent. In fact, I wonder if this is one way to measure the
>maturity of a religion, or at least its continuing relevance for us today:
>how much the liberative truth of this law is acknowledged and encouraged.
>I do not know enough about Islam to compare, but in the cases of Buddhism
>and Christianity, for example, it is the times when this truth has not been
>emphasized that these two religions have been most subverted by secular
>rulers and nationalistic fervor.
>So where does that leave us today? We find ourselves at a turning point.
>A lust for vengeance and violent retaliation is rising, fanned by a leader
>caught up in his own rhetoric of a holy war to purify the world of evil.
>Please consider: does the previous sentence describe bin Laden, or
>Many people now want retaliation and vengeance - well, that is what the
>terrorists wanted. If we pursue the path of large-scale violence, bin
>Laden's holy war and Bush's holy war will become two sides of the same war.
>No one can foresee all the consequences of such a war. They are likely to
>spin out of control and take on a life of their own. However, one sobering
>effect is clearly implied by the "ancient law": massive retaliation by the
>United States in the Middle East will spawn a new generation of suicidal
>terrorists, eager to do their part in this holy war.
>But widespread violence is not the only possibility. If this time of
>crisis encourages us to see through the rhetoric of a war to exterminate
>evil, and if we begin to understand the intertwined roots of this evil,
>including our own responsibility, then perhaps something good may yet come
>out of this catastrophic tragedy.
>David R. Loy
>18 September 2001
>David R. Loy
>Faculty of International Studies
>tel. (81) 467-53-2111
>fax. (81) 467-54-3722
>The problem with every war is that the victor learns that violence
>succeeds. (A. J. Muste)
>(tom) Now you see why systemics is really rooted in deep philosophy,
>roots that go back thousands of years..
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