Several people have contacted me recently asking for my thoughts on the recent turmoil in the world since I work for the State Department. Before I provide my thoughts, I want to be very clear that I am providing my personal thoughts as a Kadampa not as official U.S. position on the crisis. In no way should anything I say be misconstrued as U.S. policy, rather these are my own personal spiritual lessons I draw from recent events. Our goal as Kadampas is to use all world events to realize how the Dharma is the truth.
First, we need to make a very clear distinction between legitimate freedom of expression and illegitimate expression. In a free society, one can fully defend the legal right of the person who made the video to do so; yet at the same time as a human being we can condemn unequivocally the content of his message with our own free speech. He has the right to say what he thinks, and I have to respect that right, but we also have the right to robustly disagree with his message and intentions with our speech. In fact, the best response to bad free speech is not to restrict his speech, but rather for the rest of us to drown out his bad speech with our virtuous speech disagreeing with his insulting message.
Likewise, the people in the Muslim world who were offended by this video have every right to protest the content of this video, but they have no right whatsoever to express themselves through violence. If we are to be consistent, we need to equally defend the right of the people in these newly freed societies to protest whatever they want, but at the same time say that we unequivocally condemn their expressing themselves though violence. As Kadampas, the bottom line is the same: divisive and hurtful speech is morally wrong and should be condemned. Individually, we should refrain from it always seeing how destructive it is.
One of the main problems here is false generalizations. In the Muslim world, some are falsely coming to the conclusion that all Americans or Westerners have insulting attitudes towards Islam and Muslims. And some in the West falsely generalize that all Muslims are fanatics who take to rioting when their religion is insulted. Both attitudes are wrong. It is a very small minority in the West who hold such intolerant and insulting attitudes towards other religions, and it is a very small minority of Muslims who take to violence when their religion is insulted. The majority in the West are ashamed to have such bigots in our midst who insult other religions, and the majority in the Muslim world are ashamed to have people who resort to violence when insulted. It is like Terry Jones, the lunatic who wanted to burn the Korans, yes, he has the right to do it, but we can all vocally say we disagree fundamentally with his actions. If one person does something stupid and thousands, in fact millions, express their disagreement with what the person said or did, then it is more difficult for others to falsely generalize that all Americans think like he does. Likewise, if a few fanatics resort to violence and thousands, in fact millions, peacefully protest, then it is more difficult for people in the West to falsely generalize that all Muslims are terrorist fanatics.
As Kadampas, we can appreciate how an understanding of emptiness is the antidote to all of these problems. When we grasp at inherent existence, we grasp at there being only one valid point of view – there is one inherently true perspective on things. Therefore, we become threatened when people think differently than us because either they are right or I am right, but we both can’t be right. Most religious wars have been fought due to this ignorance, with zealots violently defending that they have a monopoly on the truth and any who disagree must be destroyed. Ridiculous! When we realize emptiness, we can very comfortably respect other religions as being valid for those who follow that religion. Islam doesn’t teach violence, ignorant people misunderstand Islam to commit violence. Likewise, Christianity doesn’t teach hate, ignorant people misunderstand it and become hateful. Islam and Christianity alike are religions of peace and love. Islam works for some people to become more virtuous and Christianity works for others to become more virtuous. As Kadampas, we can celebrate and respect any system of thought that encourages people to become more virtuous and condemn any system of thought that encourages people to become hateful and violent. We don’t need everybody to follow the same point of view because our understanding of emptiness opens our mind to multiple points of view existing harmoniously and simultaneously.
I think we need to make a distinction between understanding delusion and agreeing with it. We can understand why delusion is arising without condoning it or agreeing with it. I think we need to view the situation from a broader perspective. This video is not the cause of the recent violence, it is merely the match that lit the fire. There are large swaths of the world that have been living under oppression for decades (and in some cases centuries). These people are now freeing themselves from such oppression. It is a historical fact that the West has a long history of crusades and support for oppressive dictators. It is very understandable why those who have been the victims of such oppression will be angry at those who have oppressed them and at those who have backed their oppressors. Our historical fear of Muslims and their radicalization are two halves of the same dynamic – namely that extremists on both sides feed off of one another and use the existence of the other to justify their own positions. We have been wrong to support oppressors (even George Bush realized this) and they have been wrong to resort to violence in opposition to that oppression.
Ghandi showed the way. He appealed to the virtuous values of his oppressor while exhorting his followers to renounce giving those oppressors further cause to oppress them by resorting to violence. Such an approach brings out the best of both sides. So I can simultaneously understand why some people in the Muslim world are angry with the West while at the same time unequivocally condemn any violent expression. I can appeal to the virtuous qualities embedded within the views of both sides as the answer to the wrong actions of both sides. It is our mutual fear of the other which has driven both sides to wrong actions, and it is only through both sides applying effort to mutually understand and respect one another that peace can be found. Ignorance and hatred bring conflict. Love, wisdom and respect for others bring inner peace, and inner peace brings outer peace. As Kadampas, recent events can teach us clearly that ignorance and hatred are the sources of all problems and wisdom and love are the sources of all good.
Finally, as Kadampas we should never underestimate the power of prayer. From our own side, we need to oppose our own deluded reactions or views on recent events, but for others we should pray that they find wisdom and love in their hearts. Holy beings have the power to bless the minds of others to move in virtuous directions. Our prayers will be as effective as our faith is strong, as our realization of the emptiness of ourselves, others and the Buddhas is complete, and as our motivation is pure. Sometimes we think we pray only as a last resort when nothing else will work. The reality is we should pray as our first resort because it is, in the end, the power of our prayers that enable the other things we might do to actually work. In particular, we should pray to Dorje Shugden that he bless the minds of everyone on the planet that recent events become powerful causes of enlightenment for all those observing or participating in them. Finally, we can pray that all those who have died as a result of recent events take rebirth in the pure land of their choice.
Once again, all of the above are my personal views and should be interpreted as such.