A Buddhist’s View of Paris

NOTE: I call this “A Buddhist’s View of Paris” because I’m just speaking for myself, not for all Nichiren Buddhists necessarily.

In November Paris, the City of Light, became the City of Darkness at the hands of terrorists. At least 130 were murdered and over were 350 wounded. ISIS has proudly claimed responsibility. My Buddhist organization, the SGI-USA, posted this statement on its website: “Words cannot express the shock and pain we feel from the attacks in Paris… In the face of this tragedy, we deepen our resolve to create a world where peace prevails and violence has no place.”

When I think of the violence in Paris, I think of a movie called “Koyaaniqatsi.” The film shows images of modern life, distorted, people crossing an intersection in slow motion, or moving in reverse, people shopping in shopping malls speeded up to a blur, etc. all without narration…so that the viewer is allowed to bear witness and draw their own conclusions. The title is a Hopi Indian word that means: “1. crazy life. 2. life disintegrating. 3. life out of balance. 4. life that calls for another way of living.” This definition from Hopi culture has always moved me because it describes so well what is broken about the world. What needs mending.

The terrorists came from many countries. They had names. They had parents. They had Buddha natures too, but they didn’t know it, or refused to believe it. They had mentors that taught them that hate and love were interchangeable. That destruction was a kind of creation. That their lives in the hereafter mattered more than their lives on earth. Their minds were flooded with delusions of the truth, and so they made choices that were deluded. Choices which could only come out of the crazy lives they were living, disintegrating lives, lives which called for another way of living. Victory Over Violence is a program of our organization that defines the root cause of violence as a lack of self-identity… a lack of hope for the future…a sense of worthlessness. All these things can lead to violence. Each human makes a million choices in a lifetime. We all have the potential to be monsters or to be Buddhas, to be terrorists or peacemakers. Each day we walk out our front door and ask, “Who am I this time? Who do I choose to be today?”

A Buddhist passages says: “A mind now clouded by the illusions of the innate darkness of life is like a tarnished mirror, but when polished, it is sure to become like a clear mirror, reflecting the essential nature of phenomena and the true aspect of reality. How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.”

I don’t pretend to understand ISIS, or whatever the next terrorist group du jour will be. At some mystic level, I think it is my karma to encounter terrorism, my karma as part of this great country, as part of this modern world. We have the chance to learn what we can learn about ourselves from this tragedy, how to change in ourselves whatever it is… that allows terrorism to thrive. Or we can doom ourselves to more darkness. I think all countries, including our own, must take responsibility for the nightmare we find ourselves in. We have helped countries but we have hurt countries too. Terrorism did not arise out of a vacuum. Everything that happens to us, happens for a reason.

The victims of the terrorism in Paris also had names and parents. They were teachers and artists and surgeons and caretakers. I saw a videotape of a woman who had crawled out a window to escape the shooters. She was hanging by her fingertips from a window ledge. “Help me please. I’m pregnant,” she shouted to the dead bodies in the alley, to the living who were running for their lives. She was losing her grip. At the last moment, someone pulled her to safety, and pulled her back to life. At the last moment, someone made the choice to create value… instead of destroying it.

The short answer to the hard question of what can I do as a Buddhist to address violence is this: I’m chanting for the happiness and enlightenment of the terrorists, as well as for all of us. Because as we humans begin to find meaning in our own lives, we will be less interested in taking away the meaning others have found in theirs. It’s easy to be a terrorist, easier to hurt someone — than to help them. Members of ISIS are cowards, bullies, monsters. But what I love about them is their potential to transform themselves into something better. I love the people they could become.

The average Joe and Jill Terrorist will also need to learn a new skill set. Instead of making bombs from soda cans, they will need to learn to turn their hatred back into love. Instead of scouting out “soft targets” and designing simultaneous attacks — they will need to learn empathy and compassion for those with different belief systems.

In short, they will need to stop terrorizing people, and find a new hobby altogether.

And the view of Paris from where I’m standing makes me very sad. Angry too. But I’m more committed than ever to my mission as a Nichiren Buddhist to pave the way for world peace in this lifetime.

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