We hear so often in the media about people becoming radicalized and killing and maiming in the name of God. In order to commit these atrocious acts, they were essentially radicalized by hate. In searching for a Buddhist way of seeing and responding to these horrors, I feel we are also called upon to be radicalized- by love.
In re-reading passages from Jeffery Hopkin’s excellent Cultivating Compassion: A Buddhist Perspective (Broadway, 2002), I was struck by his rendering of how to view and respond to an enemy. Paraphrasing an oral teaching given by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher in the early 20th century, Hopkins says that if a dear friend were to suddenly become crazed and attack us with knife, you would absolutely attempt to take the knife away and try to get his mind back to a sane state.
But, he adds, after taking the knife away, you wouldn’t then kick him in the head.
Of course we wouldn’t kick our dear friend in the head, because we have the intelligence and the emotional maturity to realize he was temporarily crazed.
When we signed up for this journey of deep transformation, nobody said it was going to be easy. Sure, it’s hard to sit still on your meditation cushion. But it’s far harder to have the intelligence and the emotional maturity to view our so-called enemies as dear friends, albeit temporarily crazed.
Now this business of being “temporarily” crazed is a relative thing in this analogy, as “temporary” could refer here to days, months, weeks, years, lifetimes, even unimaginably vast stretches of time, billions upon billions of lifetimes, manipulating the famous phrase by Carl Sagan.
Stay with me here: if we allow that samsara, the relentless rounds of birth and death, indeed has no beginning, then one could say you have been a dear friend (and enemy) with every other human being currently alive on this planet.
The misguided young couple, who left their 6 month old baby girl with one of their parents, saying they had an appointment, then mercilessly killed 14 and wounded 20 in San Bernardino last week –each one of them has been, at one time or another, a dear friend, not only to each of us reading this now, but also to their innocent victims, and who, for at least a part of this lifetime, have become temporarily deranged.
They have been silenced, but we still continue to kick them in the head. We also see no problem in kicking those we see as like them in the head as well.
Not very nice to kick our dear friends in the head, is it?
Yesterday NPR did an interview done by a level-headed Steve Innskeep with Ted Cruz, calmly calling him out on a remark he made recently that he wanted to carpet bomb ISIS and “make the sand glow.”
Listen. I know most of you reading this now may be bristling at what may be perceived as a convoluted, outlandish, mathematically twisted, science-fiction-esque analogy.
But hold up. Don’t press the delete key yet.
As the Spanish mystic poet and novelist Miguel de Unamuno wrote back in the late 19th century when wrestling with what he felt were bizarre Catholic teachings, at one point he had an epiphany. He called it “creer creer.”
Believe you believe (when you actually can’t say ether way) is the best translation I can come up with, but this is terribly lacking. What I feel he may have been getting is simply this:
Set aside the rational mind. Let’s not even say suspend disbelief, because even that is saying too much.
Feel in your heart for a moment the aorta of Buddhism, the core bloodline of bodhicitta, which nourishes a vision where not only are well all merely interconnected, but in which we are all intimately related.
The ISIS fighter who methodically beheads a journalist, his mother long ago.
Ted Cruz who wants the sand to glow from relentless bombing, Syed Rizwan Farook father long ago.
But feel the irony here. Feel it so much your heart breaks.
I am not asking you to believe. I am asking you to feel what that would be like to feel like were it to be true.
Now that you have the feeling, stop trying to wrestle with your mind.
Let it be radicalized by love.
Now we can form, what Thich Nhat Hahn called, a tiny drop of compassion.
This tiny drop drips on a heart closed by fear and before long a trickle of love flows.
This warmth allows the heart to soften.
It allows interest to form in how you dear friend became so crazed.
It comes to see he and his friend suffered from warped perceptions of themselves and of us.
But, hold up, you may say, this is just a drop in the bucket.
Yes, but such a marvelous drop!
Perhaps this is the best we can do.
Maybe, just maybe, your drop will be drawn to another, and another, and just maybe we might have a little stream going.
When we have this drop of compassion, we suffer less.
As we suffer less, our heart relaxes, and it can let in the pain of others.
Li ‘dat it grows.
Let it grow my brothers and sisters.
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