A Response to the Tragedy of September 11, 2001
It is with heartfelt concern that the Chairs of the Centers of the Friends of
the Western Buddhist Order in the United States offer thoughts and reflections
from a Buddhist perspective on the tremendous loss of life and suffering resulting
from terrorist actions in New York and Washington DC and from a hijacked plane
that crashed in Pennsylvania. All this took place the morning of September 11,
1. Let us find moments of silence.
Buddhism teaches that pushing away suffering and pain will only disturb our minds
and hearts further. Sitting face to face with suffering allows us to grieve and
encourages compassion to arise.
In the midst of the media spin take a few moments each day to be silent and gather
yourself. Become aware of your body, and your breath coming and going. Be aware
of your heart area and just let sensations and emotions come and go with kindness
and without judgement. Sadness, appreciation of those we love, anxiety, compassion,
calm, fear, anger, peacefulness - all may flow through you. Simply let yourself
be as you are moment by moment and stop running from all inner and outer commotion.
Many words around us move us from shock and pain directly to anger with out giving
pause to absorb what has happened, reflect on it and experience our reactions.
Despite this we also see the other side of the story. Human solidarity, connection,
generosity and kindness have also manifested. We can choose what response we cultivate.
2. Let us wake up to suffering.
The suffering on Tuesday, September 11 which resulted from the violent events
has extended to include friends and families of those who perished. It extends
to those who now fear the impacts of war and further loss of life in this country
and around the world.
At this time we can be aware of those around us who are suffering from these events.
It is difficult to fully acknowledge and experience the enormity of the suffering
especially as so many Americans are accustomed to relatively peaceful and comfortable
lives. Acts of violence and senseless loss of civilian life is happening all around
the world all the time. The shattering violence of September 11 can wake us up
to the tremendous suffering in our world. It can encourage us to reach out in
solidarity to others with whom we share this single planet and with whom we share
the desire to live meaningful lives, free from suffering and fear.
3. Let us cultivate compassion.
Any action coming out of anger is clouded by anger and will tend to encourage
or create more anger both in us individually and collectively and in those whom
we fear. The Buddha said that, "Animosity does not eradicate animosity. Only
by loving kindness is animosity dissolved. The law is ancient and eternal."
Much of Buddhism is aimed at teaching us to recognize and break the chain reaction
of hatred. Rather than fuel hatred we learn to fuel clarity and love. To help
us there is the practice of exchanging self for other. If we feel numb we can
practice exchanging ourselves for those who have died, those who have lost parents,
those who hijacked planes and killed themselves along with thousands of others.
In doing so we try to find a human connection and understanding and appreciate
the suffering that all humans experience. Our Centers teach a meditation called
the Cultivation of Loving Kindness (or Metta Bhavana) to make this sort of peacemaking
a regular practice and available to us at times of divisiveness and hatred such
It is a time to be especially mindful of the Arab Americans and Muslim Americans
who are now fearful of acts of hatred against them. Such acts have already occurred.
Please help to build friendliness and an atmosphere of tolerance towards these
brothers and sisters.
4. Let us find a healing way forward.
Although we may feel helpless at this time, the truth is that we can and do have
an effect in this world. While we may not be able to single-handedly direct our
nation's military response we can move ourselves and our communities to healing
through compassionate activity.
First we can strengthen our resolve to practice the central precept of Buddhism,
non-violence or non-harm. Looking honestly within our own hearts and minds we
can recognize traces of hatred and intolerance and let these go with firm kindness.
Non-violence, non-harm, non-manipulation and loving kindness can be brought into
all our interactions. Vaclav Havel, founder of the Czech human right movement
said that, "Without a global revolution in human consciousness, a more human
society will not be possible." Through Buddhist practice we can take responsibility
for a revolution in human consciousness towards wisdom and compassion.
We can also increase our compassionate activity expressing our caring and creating
a momentum of positive action. It is not just what we think and feel but what
we do that creates our world. Some who are working in altruistic vocations will
find renewed energy and commitment for their efforts to make a better world. Some
may join with others in engaged Buddhist peacemaking (for example writing letters
to elected officials and joining in gatherings and marches for peace). The teaching
of non-violence asks us to consider life-taking action as extremely grave and
to encourage our country to pursue creative non-violent actions to their fullest
Here is a simple and direct way you can help:
* Learn about local community peacemaking activities (The Buddhist Peace Fellowship
has a listing of local Buddhist social action groups at http://www.bpf.org)
5. Let us remember to cultivate peace and extend well wishing into the world every
In summary, let us pause for meditation and reflection. Let us develop awareness
of others and endeavor to create more peace and harmony. This can be done with
a simple, heartfelt prayer that we now offer to you and all beings:
May all beings live in peace,
May all beings be filled with loving kindness
May all beings be free from suffering.
Dharmachari Avichala (Chairman, Seattle Buddhist Center)
Dharmacharini Dayalocana (Chairwoman, Aryaloka Buddhist Center, New Hampshire)
Dharmachari Saramati (Chairman, Rocky Mountain Buddhist Center, Missoula)
Dharmacharini Viveka (Chairwoman, San Francisco Buddhist Center)