We should all listen more to what the Dalai Lama has to say, and consider his recommendations carefully. Even more so than most of our religious leaders, and certainly much more than any politician, this man often has practical advice and deep insights into the problems that face humankind.
In the wake of any tragedy, our common response is to give our thoughts to those affected, to pray for the victims, and even the perpetrators, of some heinous crime against humanity. So, the Dalai Lama’s recent admonition to NOT “Pray for Paris” may seem a bit strange, as many are encouraging everyone to do otherwise. While most other religious leaders have little advice to offer, other than encouraging people to pray and condemn terrorism, the Dalai Lama invites us to take action.
The point that the Dalai Lama is trying to make here is that prayer is not enough, especially when it comes to the problem of terrorism, division, and hatred among human beings. As he recently shared,
“‘People want to lead peaceful lives. The terrorists are short-sighted, and this is one of the causes of rampant suicide bombings. We cannot solve this problem only through prayers,’ the Dalai Lama said as part of a response to a question about how he viewed the attacks.”
It’s not to say that prayer is pointless, or even unimportant, but there is so much more we can do and offer to others. And as the Dalai Lama also points out, the problems we face are ones that we created so we should stop expecting God to fix them, because we are the ones responsible for them.
“It would also be unwise to expect politicians to devise solutions too, the Dalai Lama said.
‘So let us work for peace within our families and society, and not expect help from God, Buddha or the governments,’ he said.”
When it comes to acts of terrorism, typically the very first responses from world leaders and politicians are words of admonition, and even threats of warfare against the perpetrators. Many simply state the obvious, calling such attacks “barbaric” and “cowardly,” as if this isn’t already clearly discernible by the average person. There really is no need for such criticisms, as everyone knows that brutality and violence against other humans is unacceptable. But retaliation and violence returned for violence received is also objectionable.
In an interview with The Asahi Shimbun in Gifu city earlier this year, the Dalai Lama encouraged nonviolence and conversation in dealing with terrorist threats and “has urged religious leaders around the world to invite religious extremists, and even members of terrorist groups, to interfaith meetings to promote dialogue as part of a long-term strategy and effort to persuade them to turn away from violence.”
Our action must be purposeful and compassionate. If we are reactionary and respond to hatred with more of the same, we risk alienating potential allies and drive deeper wedges between the various religious, political, and social groups we are each a part of, causing more animosity and contempt. Although it can be difficult to make space for dialogue to take place, especially when others start fanning the flames of prejudice and hate.
When a would be political leader such as Donald Trump, proposes preposterous measures, such as tracking Muslims in a national database in order to address terrorism, we must think carefully about how we can address threats to our safety and security without persecuting others for their faith traditions, which would inevitably exacerbate the problem exponentially.
As many have already pointed out, Trump’s notion is reminiscent of the registration of Jews in Nazi Germany that preceded the holocaust. Certainly, this is not the way most Americans want the problem to be addressed. If our nationalism were to become so extreme that this sort of discriminatory practice is put in place, surely our country would move one step closer toward becoming a tyrannical autocracy. The very idea is absolutely fascist, and we must resist this sort of thinking at all costs.
When it comes down to it, what this world really needs is more compassion, charity, kindness, and creativity. Those who are willing to terrorize and kill others expect a reactionary, ruthlessly violent retaliation. Their goal is to incite anger and fear among their perceived enemies, and we continue to make ourselves their adversaries, and the targets of their hatred, when we react with bigotry, hatred, and violence.
Most of those who live in developed “First World” countries are fortunate to have the freedom to live relatively free from religious, personal, and political oppression. When conversations turn toward religious differences and the causes of terrorism, we must remember that we really are complicit in the oppression of many people around the globe, due to our own government’s imperialistic pursuits that allow for our privileged way of living. The existence of America and Western society in general has essentially lead to, and perpetuated, the enslavement and oppression of many other peoples both abroad and at home, historically and presently.
We must remember that we are greatly advantaged in comparison to those who live in the Third World. If we are to gain any sort of understanding or have any real desire to extend compassion to the suffering, we must gain a better perspective on the whole worldwide situation. And even when it seems appropriate to respond with animosity and enmity, we must remember the guiding words of all our greatest enlightened spiritual teachers above all else, and respond instead with love.