It is said that as the Dharma of Buddha Shakyamuni exhausts itself in this world the Age of Weapons will gradually begin to replace it. This Age is characterized by the minds of living beings degenerating to the point where they view all objects through the lens of how they can be used to kill other people. When I saw that a delivery truck plowed through hundreds of people celebrating on the beautiful streets of Nice, I realized the initial stirrings of the Age of Weapons has already begun. My wife, who is from that part of France (and who is there now and could have easily been on that street), knows people who were killed. My family this summer is travelling through Istanbul airport which was just bombed. I have a close friend in Brussels who lost her sister (a mother of three young children) to the metro bombing. Violence from terrorist attacks, mass shootings, the civil war in Syria, and the violent racial tensions between poor black and poor white in the United States are merely the leading edge of what will eventually become the new normal. Geshe-la has said our job is to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life. Such violence is part of modern life, therefore we must learn how to transform incidents of violence in this world into something spiritually meaningful.
First, we should realize that we each have on our mind the karma to be the victim of such violence. The only difference between ourselves and the victims we hear about is when that karma ripens. We have all spent countless lifetimes in the lower realms where we engaged in violence like this on a daily basis. Even if it is unlikely we would ever do such a thing in this life, we have done all of these things in the past many times, and the karma remains on our mind to suffer the consequences. Attacks like these are a powerful reminder we need to purify our negative karma before it is too late. Despite having been around the Dharma for many, many years, I still have not begun to take purification practice seriously. Because my life is relatively free from severe suffering, I am lulled into a false sense of complacency and never begin cleaning up my mind. When we see the violence in the world we should feel like we are looking into a magic mirror showing us our own future if we do not purify our negative karma.
The second thing we must do is identify within ourselves the same delusions which lead people to commit such acts – anger, pride in our views, attachment to our own happiness, jealousy and so forth. Delusions are like weeds. If they are not rooted out early, they grow and grow until eventually they take over everything. If we can remove from our own mind the delusions which could cause us to engage in such violence, we protect ourselves from accumulating the karma which would make us its victim. In particular, we need to be very careful to not rejoice in the violence we see. Shortly after 9/11, I saw a video taken from a C-130 strike on a village in Afghanistan. The C-130 is a gunship which flies slowly over its target area destroying anything underneath it. The video showed the guns locking on fleeing villagers, shooting them down, and the gunner in a crazed tone hissing “Yes! Yes! Yes!” as he ended people’s lives. More gut wrenching was my brother, who was watching the video with me, was likewise celebrating the murder of these people who had nothing to do with attacking America. Venerable Tharchin said, “when a Palestinian celebrates the blowing up of a café in Israel, he creates the same karma as if he was the one who did the killing himself.” In other words, the teachings on rejoicing cut both ways, rejoicing in virtue creates merit, rejoicing in harm creates negativity. More profoundly, since the world we perceive is created by our own mind, a deluded mind creates a violent world; and a wise mind creates a pure world. By removing the delusions within our mind, we begin to project a new world.
Third, we must generate compassion. It is easy to generate compassion for the victims of violence, especially when they are people whom we consider part of “our tribe.” Gays gunned down in a discotheque, innocent tourists blown up in airports on their way to summer vacation, black lives ended by those entrusted to “protect and serve,” white cops killed by a black war veteran, fellow Frenchmen crushed by a rampaging truck. Such violence is as inexcusable as it is random. Compassion comes easy. But what about compassion for the perpetrators of the violence? How much thought have we put into generating compassion for them? They have been seized by their own delusions, manipulated by those with evil intent, and have just created the karmic causes to again and again suffer the same fate they have inflicted on their victims. Terrorists are living beings too. They have mothers who love them and raised them. The purveyor of violence in this life is the victim of violence in the next. The victim of violence has exhausted their negative karma; the perpetrator’s day of reckoning is still to come. Both are equally victims, separated only by time.
Fourth, we must recall Geshe-la’s reminder that “love is the nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies.” Geshe-la taught long ago that without inner peace, outer peace is impossible. He encouraged us to imagine a world free from anger. As the famous adage goes, “peace begins with me.” We must generate love for everyone, in particular those who are propelled to commit violence. We must free our own mind from delusions and cultivate inner peace. We need to remove every last trace of anger from our own mind. Then, through interacting with others, we gradually expand the sphere of peace around us until it eventually encompasses the whole world. Love destroys our enemies because when we love them they cease to view us as their enemy. When they no longer identify with themselves as such, they cease acting as enemies. More profoundly, love destroys all our enemies because we cease to see anyone as our enemy, including those who harm us. Because we know how to transform harm we receive into the path, even when they harm us we receive benefit, therefore for us they are our kind benefactors. This does not mean we should not protect ourselves, nor does it mean we shouldn’t try stop somebody from committing violence if we can, rather it means we cease to view anyone as an enemy. They are all our kind mothers, lost and confused.
People die of violence every day. Whether their death has any meaning depends on us and how we respond to it. Venerable Tharchin said it only takes a handful of true holy beings in the world to hold it back from falling into the abyss. If every time such violence occurs, the global Kadampa community responds with wisdom and love, we can offer real protection for the people of this world.
Geshe-la says after the Age of Weapons comes a time in which bodhisattva’s from Tushita heaven come down into this world and teach love to those exhausted from war. These bodhisattva’s gradually prepare the world for the coming of the next Buddha, Buddha Maitreya. Who will these Bodhisattva’s be? All of us. Let our work begin.