Reflections on a Tragedy

As I write this article it is Sunday, five days after the terrorist attacks. I grew up in New York City. My father, grandfather and uncles were NYC firefighters. Many of my friends still live there and I visit every year. During the unfolding of the day’s events memories and concerns filled my mind as I went about my daily work. Happily, Tuesday evening I received a call from New York reporting that all my immediate friends and their families appear to be safe. A sense of relief filled me and I was grateful.

As I have explained in past articles, Buddhists do not have a belief in a Supreme Being. Rather, we see a universe of infinite wisdom and compassion expressed through the teachings or Dharma. We believe in the law of Karma, the endless cycle of cause and effect. As a Buddhist I found myself conflicted between the human desire for revenge and the feeling that revenge only prolongs the suffering. What course of action should we take?

Last Friday was the day that the country stopped, remembered and turned to their respective God to seek guidance and comfort. I watched as people of all faiths asked how this could have happened. Had their God forsaken them to allow such a tragedy? The answer was that He had not forsaken them, that through this event we would grow stronger and more loving of our fellow man. The outpouring of compassion and support we had already shown for each other was evidence of this. As a Buddhist, I had already recognized the law of Karma in this event. Centuries of strife centered on religion had created a group of fanatics who took a religion of peace, Islam, and contorted it into a religion of hate. How many times throughout the centuries have atrocities been committed in the name of a God? How do we end this cycle? Perhaps the answer is found in the direction events seem to be taking as of today.

A quiet resolve seems to have enveloped the country. The cries for massive retaliation are less pronounced. Our people and our government realize that this problem has no quick fix. We must make a concerted and protracted effort to find and bring to justice those involved in this heinous act. However, it is our determination to end terrorism that will be the most difficult. We must recognize that the followers of these fanatics are usually people without hope. As the Dalai Lama said, “It is the desire of all living things to be happy.” When people feel no chance for happiness the human emotion of hate can surface more easily. As a Buddhist, I see the chance for a realization of the infinite wisdom and compassion of the universe, while also recognizing the teaching of the First Noble Truth that all life is suffering. To end this cycle of death and destruction we must not seek revenge, we must seek resolution. Now is the time for people of all faiths to stop focusing on their differences and celebrate the commonality of all humanity.

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