A response to Terrorism
by Robert Hironaka
Question: What is the official Buddhist view of the course of action that should be taken following the terrorist actions of September 11, 2001.
Reply: I don't know if there is an 'official' Jodo Shin Shu Buddhist view or Buddhist view on a recommended course of action. We read in the Dhammapada 'Hate is not overcome by hate, hate is overcome by love'. Maybe this is idealistic and impractical, especially in the short term. We may have to find a way of protecting ourselves in the short run. However, military retaliation should be avoided. How do we turn the hate that is so prevalent in the world into love?
My response as a follower of Jodo Shin Shu Buddhist traditions is influenced by my Buddhist upbringing and my study of Buddhism. The action by terrorists on Sept 11, 2001 defies logic. It requires measures beyond logical thinking to find a solution. An unusual approach or process that will give insights is required. The process of meditation/lateral thinking is needed to understand terrorism and terrorists. From this understanding we should develop a course of action. I use Buddhist examples that I am familiar with to illustrate the process.
Buddhism is pragmatic. It speaks to the problems of the day. In studying and understanding of Buddhism, one sees problems that seemed insurmountable yet solutions were found. We should study methods that were successful in the past to guide our actions today and solve our present problems of terrorism and terrorists.
I start with a brief introduction to Buddhism to illustrate the process that was used by Prince Siddhartha, who became a Buddha, to permit him to enunciate a path for others to follow. Buddhism evolved as a result of a process to find an answer to the question 'why do people suffer?' Prince Siddhartha studied for many years with the best scholars that he could find. He learned much from these scholars, but in the end he found that their solutions were incomplete. However, he did learn much about life. When he studied and practised with hermits his practice was so intense that it lead him to the brink of death. While he did not find an answer to his question of 'why do people suffer?' he learned much about life from hermits and his practice of asceticism with them. He must have felt a great frustration and sense of a wasted life when he practised to the brink of death without finding an answer to his question, "why do people suffer?" He sat under the Bodhi tree vowing not to move until he understood 'why people suffered'. Part of his training and experience was in meditation, but it was a meditation with an objective of finding enlightenment. His meditation under the Bodhi tree was different. He let all the information that he had gained from his teachers, his hermit comrades and his life experiences, have free roaming access in his brain. There was no authority, no preconceived concepts and no objective. It was ultimate in meditation, it was ultimate lateral thinking. The Prince did not receive divine answers from the outside. He relied upon himself and the power of his brain, used in a non-conventional manner of meditation, to find an answer to his problem. He experienced freedom of thought and movement in the ecstasy of truth that transcends time. He gained insights into the true reality of what he had learned. He did not seek enlightenment, but he became enlightened, a Buddha.
Prince Siddhartha used the process of meditation/lateral thinking in his path to enlightenment. In my opinion, a similar process is required to solve the problems of terrorism and terrorists. We all have a latent ability to use the process to gain insights beyond logical thinking. This insight is limited to the information that we have gathered in the field. We have been taught to think with an objective in mind. We need to study broadly on terrorism and terrorists to use the process to gain insight into their actions. Initial insights may lead to further insights by others that lead to other improved actions to solve the problem of terrorism.
In Buddhism, the insights of life did not stop or stagnate with the insights of Prince Siddhartha. Nagarajuna, the first of the seven patriarchs identified by Shinran, studied what the Buddha said. He then coupled the Buddha's insights with his own life experiences, to gain further insights. These insights were studied by others that lead to further insights. Shinran built on the insights of the seven patriarchs and applied them to point to a practical way for common people to live a meaningful life. Insights do not necessarily cover every possible aspect of human life. Insights focus on problems encountered by people living in an era and environment. Today, we need to study human behaviour that gives an insight into terrorism and terrorist thought and action. This insight may give at least partial answers of how to respond to terrorism. The important thing is the universal process of lateral thinking/meditation that is not limited to any religion, group or practice. Meditation, like lateral thinking, is seeing 'what is' then going beyond it; the flowering of understanding; a movement into the unknown. The power of meditation comes from within.
In meditation the brain is given free access to allow garnered information to interact without limitations or preconceived concepts of what is true. There is a judgement and screening of the incoming information for its validity ie fact rather than opinion, but there is not judgement in its true reality outcome. Meditation is putting gathered information on a subject in its right place in the field of reality and consciousness, realising its own limitation and therefore bringing about order within that limitation. Meditation with limited information may provide an incomplete picture of the natural law. Therefore, the more information that one puts into the brain, the fuller will be the insight and understanding of the law. Expressing this insight may lead others to build on the insights that may be a major step forward, a step beyond that, which one may reach using just logical thinking. The first step in using meditation/lateral thinking process in solving the problem of terrorism, of terrorists is to gather information on their behaviour. There is not a demand that the new understanding or idea from meditation/lateral thinking agree with 'established' knowledge. Meditation, like lateral thinking, is not just logical-illogical thinking. In logical thinking there is judgement in the conclusion that transpires. In meditation/lateral thinking there is no judgement in what transpires. The insights go beyond judgement. Like gravity that makes no judgement of an object, insight makes no judgement in the natural laws that are revealed. We may use the insights that we gain from meditation/lateral thinking to direct our efforts to solve the problem of terrorism.
We need to use both lateral and vertical thinking in solving the terrorism problem. Vertical thinking is primarily to gather information and ideas. Meditation/Lateral thinking is to process the information without constraints. One probably needs a period of quiet and relaxation without interferences or distractions for meditation. It is a time when the mind that has collected information allows its free roaming in the brain. One does not meditate with preconceived ideas of an answer. True meditation does not have any objective or limits except to reveal the Truth.
Meditation/lateral thinking does not have to be in formal sessions or settings. The answer may come when it is least expected. When one is relaxed and not even actively thinking about the problem there may be a sudden insight into the problem that you have been wrestling with during conscious thinking hours. This insight or new found understanding is given its rightful place in the field of reality and consciousness, realising its own limitation and therefore bringing about order in that limitation.
Following the insights into the reality of terrorism and terrorists, you will be able to use logic to respond to terrorism and terrorists. Through the insights, you will find ways to comfort those who have been harmed by the terrorist actions. The comforts will be in a form that the person who needs comforting understands.
We need to be non-judgmental and remove fixed preconceived solutions in our meditation/lateral thinking to achieve insights into the field of reality of human nature and in particular the nature of the terrorists. We need to utilize modern techniques and facilities that give us access to more information to use in meditation/lateral thinking. We need to use these facilities to spread the insights that are derived by those who have new insights on terrorism. We need to bring people together in 'learn tanks', to have many people pool their knowledge and partial insights for all to benefit. We then need to have time at the learn tank sessions for individual meditation/lateral thinking. A time to gain insights into the nature of terrorism and terrorists. The learn tank should then return to a group session to share new found insights. Using these insights, we need to use rational and logical thinking to develop practical solutions of how to deal with the problems of terrorism.
Some environments are conducive to meditative insights. A quiet relaxing atmosphere... a warm shower or bath, a tranquil and peaceful garden, a quiet place of relaxation in nature, in the comfort of home or office, in the company of a friend with whom you can relax and have a 'quiet conversation'... a conversation without talking... just the enjoyment of company and a feeling of support and inner peace.
Meditation/lateral thinking is not an exclusive Buddhist way. It is a universal way. It is a way that Buddhists in the past, including Prince Siddhartha, used to gain insight into problems that confronted people. We can learn from the experience of others. It is a way, a process, that Buddhists have found to be constructive. We as Buddhists should share our legacy with the world to help solve a world problem.
September 16 - November 2, 2001.