Turning the Wheel of the Dharma

A Sunday Meditation Teaching on Terrorist Acts by Venerable Thupten Rinpoche

Translated orally by Losang Dawa.
© Copyright Dhargyey Buddhist Centre.

It's Sunday morning and I will talk about a topic I have been thinking about.

Incidentally the topic I am going to talk about and the recent events in America have a very close parallel. What has happened recently is unthinkable and beyond any conception, therefore anyone who has a decent frame of mind will not in their wildest dream be able to say what a wonderful, magical thing has happened in America. What has happened is pure madness and not at all a human action. Therefore the civilised world finds it repugnant. As for the reason, we find in the teachings of the Buddha reasons for such and other similar events. What happened there in New York, what motivated the event, and the reasons for such events explained in the scriptures are parallel and they match.

Not one ordinary, simple cause motivated such an event. Many causes underlay such an event. The first cause is misguided philosophy and not having wise mentors who would take people away from misguided philosophy and thinking. So this really reinforces one of the Buddhist teachings that we need to have a qualified spiritual mentor.

As we know Buddhist teachings talk a lot about the value, worth and sanctity of human life, as do other religions. From a Buddhist point of view we talk about this human life being a very rare and wonderful vehicle for spiritual development and enhancement. Therefore a lot of sanctity and importance is attached to it. What has happened in America is exactly the opposite. People who inflicted such pain, such misery, have no understanding of the sanctity of human life. For them human life is some kind of machine which they can destroy easily.

We all understand that weapons of mass destruction, like atom bombs and nuclear bombs are evil and bad. Why? Because they bring about mass destruction of something that everybody in the world cherishes most, our lives and our property. Such weapons are lethal. The minds of the people who perpetrated such mass destruction in America are as lethal and destructive as atom bombs.

Someone who doesn't have a sense of human decency, which brings an awareness that the time offered by this life is to be used for a meaningful purpose, for one's own development and in service to others, will obviously not have any respect for other's lives.

The next reason why that happened was that such people have no understanding of the misery in their own lives and how misery really hurts themselves and how the same misery and greater misery will hurt other people more. When they lack self awareness about their own life, generally fraught with the suffering of body and mind, then they will have no understanding that others will have great suffering when pain is inflicted on them. It is for this reason that the first teaching Buddha gave was the four truths and Buddha's opening statement was, "This is the truth of suffering." That was to let disciples know that life is suffering by nature, there are problems. Just as one suffers, others do also. This teaching was also to help them develop empathy for others when they are in suffering.

Again in Buddhist practice there are the three principal paths. The first path is a sense of renunciation, which means one has understanding of the suffering of body and mind that occurs life after life, therefore one has the urge to get out of suffering and to achieve liberation, therefore renunciation. If one has genuine sense of renunciation that translates into genuine compassion when one thinks of others' suffering and one cannot help wishing them freedom from suffering and the causes of suffering.

When a person doesn't have desire for himself to be free from suffering because he doesn't know that life is suffering, then that person will not have the desire and the wish that others be free from suffering. When he or she doesn't have compassion then there is no respect for other lives.

The second principal path is the path of jang chub gyi sem, or universal altruism and responsibility, or the mind of enlightenment. Universal altruism really is born from all inclusive compassion and love for others.

The real underlying cause of the recent event in America is the force of misguided thinking or philosophy. The Buddha has said that all forms of misguided philosophy which, when practised, lead to suffering for one and others, really come from lack of understanding about how things actually are. In other words, ignorance is at the root. Out of that ignorance is born prejudice, bigotry and hatred for other people in order to defend a misguided philosophy. That is the real underlying cause. Therefore the third principal path is the wisdom understanding the reality of things.

Recent events and other such events really bring home our understanding and reinforce our little understanding of the teaching of the Buddha. This has happened because the person didn't have this awareness, this value and because of this we are able to see the relationship between cause and effect.

I would like to recap the reasons I think this terrible event has taken place. The first one is following a wrong path. The second one is, no respect for human life, their own or others, nor for the dignity of human existence. The third reason is, no understanding that pain and suffering hurts physically and mentally for a long time. The fourth one is, lack of sense of empathy or compassion and selfless concern for others. The last one is, misguided philosophy and thinking.

As you would already have guessed I would like you to spend time thinking about whether all of these, or some of these are the reasons why people have been forced to commit such a terrible crime against humanity. What I've just spoken about is from the spiritual context and the same can be explained from a mundane context, in that what has happened is that people have really gone off the track of decency and their mind is dictated, ruled by prejudice and self interest. Then, they have no awareness of pain and suffering. They have become somewhat robotic in their behaviour. Not only are they themselves entrenched in such a mentality, they also brainwash other people to become machine-like in carrying out destructive crimes.

The great misery was brought about by the use of technology and where has technology come from? It is born from the human, rational mind. Therefore the rational mind itself can be on the right or the wrong track. It can be born of hatred and ignorance.

There were external causes why so many people died. That is quite obvious. There are also karmic causes. Although it is painful to say, it doesn't seem reasonable to say, but from a Buddhist point of view there is no other explanation why those people would die. The karmic reason would be that those people who died terrible deaths could have been people who in their previous life times also lacked awareness or respect of others' lives, committed crimes that caused a lot of destruction and who were influenced, in their own turn, by misguided thinking, philosophy, and therefore succumbed to committing such terrible crimes. That is the only explanation that one can come up with.

Now people are going to take action to root out terrorists. Therefore they are obviously going to take to violence. They are going to use military force in a big way. When that happens people who are responsible for master-minding the recent events will have already known that that is going to happen and will have found their escape route and it is the ordinary, innocent people who will get caught in between and who will die a terrible death. Mass destruction of human life again will thus perpetuate a scene for future terrible suffering.

By doing that a wheel of destruction will have been set in motion. What has happened a few days ago is a karmic wheel bouncing back to where it had started. It will again be put in motion, so that some time in the future the same thing will happen. It is as if, if somebody does not make a brave decision people will keep on perpetuating the wheel.

Now I will go back to the text, the Wheel of Sharp Weapons. Nothing could be more appropriate, in that like a wheel of sharp weapons, somebody does something out of delusion, out of anger and so on, in the past, creating a force which is projected, sent out, only to rebound back to one in the form of a painful experience in the future, in the next life time. One shoots the arrow of pain and that arrow comes back to cause the same pain.

Now the 35th stanza says:

Verse 35.

At a time when we give teachings and receive teachings, they do not hit the target. Rather teachings become a fuel to flare up prejudices for and against. When teachings do not heal delusion, heal human mind, rather they aggravate causes of delusion, hatred, jealousy and so on, realise that as the wheel of sharp weapon of taking a human activity that by nature wasn't beneficial, helpful, but was considered, out of ignorance, to be worthy of pursuit and was madly pursued.

Although the stanza 35 talks with reference to dharma context of giving and receiving teaching, and how that, instead of helping us, with the force of a misguided mind, becomes a way of flaring up delusion, we can relate it to what has happened. The twin towers for instance were born of human ingenuity and therefore they have helped, they have served tremendous human purpose, promoting tremendous well-being. But the very thing which was built to serve human life ended up being the force of human destruction. A lot of lives were lost because they collapsed. Airplanes, for instance, again we all know they were built by human ingenuity to bring about speedy and comfortable travel. Yet that very thing that was made to serve the human cause was used as a force of destruction. When the very thing that is made to work for humans, is made to work against humanity is nothing less than a demonic act. That act comes out of regarding something evil as appropriate and worthy. The next lines of the verse say;

From now on before I embark on anything, I will hold back, checking on the consequences. I will not rush into things.

This word, du gi lae means demonic acts. The Prajnaparamita Sutra lists as many as 46 demonic acts. They are any actions that inflict pain and misery on self or other. The king of demonic acts is self-cherishing feeling or attitude, self-centredness. What has happened in America is nothing other than self-centredness of the greatest magnitude.

This morning's meditation is tonglen, giving and taking. Taking starts first. We will visualise the people who died in the aeroplane and in the collapse of the twin towers and other buildings. We all know that none of them died a peaceful death. They died with terror in their hearts, fright in their hearts. Visualise as many of these people as you can. See them before oneself, then try to help them in some ways by taking on their pain, piling their suffering onto our self-cherishing attitude so that our self-cherishing is weakened. Compared to those people and their relations who survive and who are filled with tremendous anguish(our suffering is small?) We will send out whatever physical, mental and spiritual well-being and force we have to them. We will genuinely visualise that we have helped them in some ways to find some comfort.

Venerable Thubten Rinpoche

[Back]Back to Teachings page.
This page is designed and maintained by Sönam Tenzin.
Enquiries, suggestions for improvements, and any comments are welcome: E-mail me!