A Tale of Two Hashtags











The night of the Paris attacks a cartoonist affiliated with the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which itself was attacked back in January and lost 11 of its staff to terrorists’ gunfire, shared some drawings on Instagram. The captions to the drawings read:

“Friends from the whole world thank you for #prayforParis, but we don’t need more religion! Our faith goes to music! Kissing! Life! Champagne and joy! #Parisisaboutlife.”

The first hashtag — #prayforParis – was gaining incredible traction on social media.

The day after the Paris attacks, a Deutsche Welle reporter got access to the Dalai Lama in Dharmsala, India and asked him for his reaction to the shootings. He tells DW that people should not expect God to resolve humanity’s problems, and that a systematic approach is needed to foster humanistic values.

The #prayforParis hashtag just met its match.

The Dalai Lama seemed to be saying something quite similar to what the Charlie Hebdo cartoonist drew: we don’t need more religion!

The Dalai Lama went on to say in the DW interview:


We cannot solve this problem only through prayers. I am a Buddhist and I believe in praying. But humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it. It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place. We need a systematic approach to foster humanistic values, of oneness and harmony. If we start doing it now, there is hope that this century will be different from the previous one. It is in everybody’s interest. So let us work for peace within our families and society, and not expect help from God, Buddha or the governments.


One of the first reactions of many people, in many horrific instances such as this one, is to turn immediately to prayer.
But, you may say, those are the reactions of “religious” folks.

For those who marginally identify as Buddhist, or as a secular or skeptical Buddhist meditator, or as simply being into mindfulness as a lifestyle choice, the question of turning to prayer in times of outrage does not compute.

Curiously, scientific studies have shown that in those deeply changed by simple, secular mindfulness practice, the insula of their brain hemispheres have grown in density to the point they automatically feel empathy for both the victims and the perpetrators.

What need is there here to quote chapter and verse from the Buddhist Pali Canon, the Bible, or for that matter, the Quran?
Of course we all know that not every Muslim is a radical, just like not every Christian is a fundamentalist. There are even Buddhists committing unspeakable atrocities in Burma as we speak, for crying out loud.

“You will not have my hatred.” That’s the message a Parisian man, Antoine Leiris, whose wife was killed in Friday’s terror attacks sent this week to ISIS, and the world, via Facebook.

I suggest that our simple mindfulness practice, bare as it is, is indeed that “systematic approach to foster humanistic values, of oneness and harmony” that the Dalai Lama said that if we start doing now there will be “hope that this century will be different from the previous one.”

Let me leave you with this:

How can we bring our mindfulness practice front and center right now, today, to clear through the cacophony of sound bites, competing media narratives and xenophobia to touch the heart of matter?

Which begs the even bigger question for us all: what is the Heart of the matter?

Would love to hear from you in the comments section below.


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  1. Enjoy reading your blog posts and comments. Thoughtful and provocative. Seems these really are crazy times we’re living through. I couldn’t agree more with the notion (what the Dali Lama referred to in your post) that these are our problems and they’re our responsibility to resolve– collectively. Problem is we have a hard time seeing ourselves as one people. That’s a huge impediment. I remember the artist Flavia Weedn saying in one of her paintings that, “we are each a part of everything that surrounds us.” The good and the not-so-good, too. In my own meditation practice I’ve found this to be undeniable. It’s a super-important-hidden-truth. I am grateful for meditation and mindfulness and for people like yourself for nurturing this practice and helping all of us get at it and uncover it.

  2. Prayer is not always asking God to solve our problems. Prayer can also be an expression of compassion that develops and reinforces our connectedness with those who are suffering, in fact, with everyone, including the perpetrators. For me, the term doesn’t reek of religiosity; rather it connotes an opening of the heart and the willingness to move beyond our personal boundaries—to look into our own hearts and act (or not) only when we see clearly what is there.

    1. Hi Annie. I do so much agree with you on this. I was just taking a particular angle to get people to reflect on what is in their heart, on what is truly the central matter here. Love hearing form you and sending you lots of metta from the Islands!

  3. There are times in history, ww2 and the civil war being examples, that ordinary people have to find ways to eliminate evil from the world. Hoping for some change of heart from Isis is immature and includes denial of reality. Like eliminating hitler it will take force and acceptance of many tragedies. Praying for the strength to see this through is an act we can take.

    1. Hi Robert. I can see your point. This I such a difficult issue and I think that may be why many respected Buddhist teachers shy away from the point you made. I am reminded of the passage from the Pali Canon in which the historical Buddha in a past life as a ship’s captain named Super Compassionate, discovered a criminal on board who intended to kill the 500 passengers. If he told the passengers, they would panic and become killers themselves, as happened on a Southwest Airlines flight in 2000. With no other way out, he compassionately stabbed the criminal to death. Captain Compassionate saved the passengers not only from murder, but from becoming murderers themselves. Unlike him, they would have killed in rage and suffered from this karma. He saved the criminal from becoming a mass murderer and even worse suffering. He himself generated vast karmic merit by acting with compassion.The story is double-edged. Killing protects others from the horrific karma of killing. At Harvard in April 2009, the Dalai Lama explained that “wrathful forceful action” motivated by compassion, may be “violence on a physical level” but is “essentially nonviolence”. So we must be careful to understand what “nonviolence” means. Under the right conditions, it could include killing a terrorist. So I am glad you made this point Robert.

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