Spiritual lessons of horrific violence

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.




12 thoughts on “Spiritual lessons of horrific violence

  1. Where can I find source info about the Age of Weapons. I’m not expressing doubt, just asking for more info. Thank you.

    • Geshe-la partly explained it when he gave Medicine Buddha empowerment. But if you check out the 5 Impurities outlined in Universal Compassion, this is close to some of what he said it just doesn’t mention the Age of Weapons directly. 🙂

  2. Thank you Kadampa Ryan, for this beautiful teaching on how to respond with wisdom and compassion
    in these painful violent times.

  3. Being only 3 years into Buddhism, I haven’t heard about the “next Buddha, Maitreya”, where can I read about that please?

  4. Thank you so much! This is lovely. I am wondering, how do we observe political unrest and massive suffering while trying to improve our understanding of emptiness? I find I observe these things, grasp at them as being separate from my mind, become convinced of their realness and then suffer. I know I can use compassion, understanding of actions and effects, and renunciation – all Lamrim minds move us to emptiness ultimately – but I find I get stuck in this area. In fact, the only answers I have heard of late is that we should not focus on these things and just practice because the things we normally see do not exist. But is this extreme view?? Also, I have this feeling that if I do that I am somehow compounding the problem of lack of compassion and indifference in the world/my mind and thereby creating more suffering for myself and others. Any ideas you have Ryan would be so appreciated!

    • I try remember that all of this is taking place in my dream. My mind is the creator of all of this suffering. For example, if I dreamt of a war in which lots of people were being killed, who is responsible for the war? Conventionally, it might appear to be those fighting, but ultimately it is my own mind that is responsible for the carnage. The same is true for the violence we see in this world. Conventionally, it appears those doing the fighting are responsible; but ultimately it is all being created by my mind. Imagine you have a bowl of still water and you start to tap your finger repeatedly in the water. What will happen? Little ripples and waves will radiate out in all directions, start bouncing off the walls of the bowl and coming back intersecting with other waves. Conventionally it will appear as if two waves seem to be crashing into one another and that it has nothing to do with you, but when we think deeper about it we realize all this chaos and violence is coming from our own tapping. Every time we engage in a contaminated action (one motivated by ignorance) we are tapping the waters of our mind, sending out karmic ripples in all directions. We have been doing this for a very, very long time. The world we see appears to be various waves crashing into one another, sometimes violently, but when we think more deeply about it, we realize all of this chaos and violence is coming from our own ignorance. For example, let’s say I get angry at somebody. They then get angry at their kids and coworkers, who then get angry at their family, etc. It spreads out. Every being we see is a being of our dream. They are appearing to be samsaric beings because that is how we have mentally constructed them to be. If we practice pure view, we can mentally reconstruct the beings of our dream into pure beings engaging in pure actions. Sure, it will take awhile before the previously created contaminated karma exhausts itself (the ripples gradually die down because I cease tapping), but if I stop doing the wrong thing and I start doing the right thing, eventually the dream will change. Burying your head in the sand is not wisdom. These things are appearing to us. Our job is to transform them. If we don’t know how to, we need to keep asking questions until we can do so. That being said, we should be careful of generating inappropriate attention, focusing only on these things and failing to see the virtue and goodness around us.

  5. Kind, wise words as always, thank you. It’s so easy to feel desperate and helpless when things like this happen. Transforming them into the path, into lessons for us, at least makes some use of them, reminds us that we need to get out of Samsara as fast as we can.

  6. Thank you. We are so fortunate to be in a position to prepare ourselves now to be bodhisattva’s for the beings of this world and and all worlds, what meaningful work, and the work has begun and we are in the midst of it all together as a Kadampa family, and the best is yet to come for all beings, how awesome!

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