You may have heard about the Dalai Lama’s recent remarks on the death of bin Laden – here’s how it was described by Mitchell Landsberg in the May 4th edition of the LA Times :
As the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the 14th Dalai Lama says he practices compassion to such an extent that he tries to avoid swatting mosquitoes “when my mood is good and there is no danger of malaria,” sometimes watching with interest as they swell with his blood.
Yet, in an appearance Tuesday at USC, he appeared to suggest that the United States was justified in killing Osama bin Laden.
As a human being, Bin Laden may have deserved compassion and even forgiveness, the Dalai Lama said in answer to a question about the assassination of the Al Qaeda leader. But, he said, “Forgiveness doesn’t mean forget what happened. … If something is serious and it is necessary to take counter-measures, you have to take counter-measures.”
Here is a more detailed description from website of The Office of Tibet (my emphasis):
His Holiness . . . [gave] a public talk on “Secular Ethics, Human Values and Society“ organized by the University’s Student Interfaith Council and co-hosted by the Dalai Lama Foundation and the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values . . .
His Holiness then answered questions, some of which were submitted through the Internet. The first question was on His Holiness’ emphasis on compassion as a basis of ethics. It asked whether in some situation ensuring justice is more important than being compassionate to the perpetrator of a crime. It referred to the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden and the celebrations of it by some, and asked where compassion fit in with this and ethics. In his response, His Holiness emphasized the need to find a distinction between the action and the actor. He said in the case of Bin Laden, his action was of course destructive and the September 11 events killed thousands of people. So his action must be brought to justice, His Holiness said. But with the actor we must have compassion and a sense of concern, he added. His Holiness said therefore the counter measure, no matter what form it takes, has to be compassionate action. His Holiness referred to the basis of the practice of forgiveness saying that it, however, did not mean that one should forget what has been done.
This event of bin Laden’s killing is not easily resolved in our mind. We have questions, concerns. If we look at it strictly from the precept of not-killing as the great moral truth, as an ultimate or absolute truth, then we betray the ultimate truth. Mahayana teaches that the highest truth is no truth at all. Nagarjuna states, “Silence is the ultimate truth for the wise.”
Furthermore, he says:
All deeds are sunya (relative and contingent); and the deeds that are done with this understanding are called right deeds. The farer on the Great Way, the bodhisattva, comprehends the ultimate sameness of all deeds; and he does not take the good deed as meritorious and the evil deed as devoid of merit. For in the ultimate truth there is not this distinction of good and bad. In the ultimate sense, there are no deeds, good or evil. This is the true prajna (wisdom).
Nagarjuna’s not promoting a free-for-all attitude, a way to rationalize unwholesome behavior, rather he’s telling us good and evil are non-dual. If there wasn’t evil, how could there be good? Ultimately, though, they are just concepts. What’s more, when holding a moral truth to be absolute, we box ourselves in a corner. David J. Kalupahana, in his study of Nagarjuna, The Philosophy of the Middle Way, says, “A moral law that is incapable of accommodating any exceptions can be utterly useless and even harmful.”
The alternative is not very attractive. In the relative and mundane world, there are deeds and doers of deeds, actions and actors. And there is good and evil. Once we begin to make exceptions, we veer dangerously close to the idea that the end justifies the means. By justifying immoral acts owing to a good intention, we betray not only our highest ideal, that of the bodhisattva, but also the very real vows of compassion the bodhisattva makes on behalf of others.
Shantideva in the Siksha-Samuccaya (“Compendium of Teachings”): “It is armed with that compassion which takes just this bodily form, that a Bodhisattva refuses to do an evil deed, even for dear life.”
In the same work, Shantideva says that if a Bodhisattva commits a “sin” but commits it with no desire, no attachment, no hatred, and for the benefit of others, then no “bad sin” has been committed. Maybe back to the end justifying the means? I don’t know . . .
Something else: Shantideva quotes the Viradatta-paripriccha, “He who has a mind for the Dharma must carry his body about like a cart for the supporting of burdens.” And the Vajradhvaja Sutra, “For I have taken it upon myself, by my own will, the whole of the pain of all things living. Thus I dare try every abode of pain . . .”
While reading those lines, I thought about the Navy Seals who carried out the raid, particularly of the man, or men, who killed bin Laden. I always hear about our troops putting themselves in harm’s way, and frankly, most of the time it goes in one ear and out the other. But to put oneself at risk like that for the sake of others is a compassionate act. To take the life of another is a huge burden to assume, whether one is cognizant of it or not. It’s not an abode of pain I would enter eagerly.
Those Navy Seals deserve our compassion and our forgiveness, too.
Anyway, like you probably, I have not resolved all this myself. Which brings us to another truth: some things are never resolved. Yet we will keep searching for resolution, because we will never be completely satisfied with the state of things or the answers we have at hand. In the moment, yes. That’s contentment, peace, it’s real. In the long run, no. We should never be satisfied.
A bodhisattva vows to save all living beings and knows that it is impossible to save all living beings, yet keeps trying anyway . . .