Photo by russellstreet. License: CC BY-SA 2.0

A prayer for the people of the Philippines

Update 12/7/2016: The New York Times has published a powerful photo essay bearing witness to the violence, which has continued unabated since this post was originally published.

There is something really ugly going on in the Philippines. Several news outlets have quoted Rodrigo Duterte, the recently elected president, as stating, “Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there are 3 million drug addicts [in the Philippines]… I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

This is a sick thing to say, but it’s not just talk. Since taking power in July, Mr. Duterte has authorized police and paramilitary groups to shoot anyone suspected of being a drug user or dealer. More than 3,300 people have been murdered.

I can usually tune out horrible news reports from another side of the world, but this really struck me. I’m in recovery from active addiction, and I can’t get over the fact that the people being killed in the Philippines have the same story I do, but for where they happened to be born.

People use drugs because they feel completely overwhelmed by life while sober, and because they can’t stop without help. They cause great harm, both to themselves and to the people around them, but their behavior comes from a sickness of the soul that can only be healed with love. Mr. Duterte’s proposed genocide will not do that.

There is an old story about a monk named Milarepa. I first read it in a book by the Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön. Milarepa lived in a cave, where he spent his days meditating.

One day, Milarepa awoke to find his cave full of demons. They were setting up shop, cooking and eating and laughing. They made such a racket that he couldn’t meditate. He tried and tried, but just couldn’t concentrate.

Milarepa was very wise. He decided that if he shared his spiritual teachings with the demons, they might see the light and leave. So he sat in a chair, looking down at them, and talked and talked about how all beings are really one, and how we all need to really love each other. The demons just turned their laughter on him.

Milarepa grew angry. He started shouting at the demons, and ran at them, waving a broom. He tried to strike them, but the demons just laughed louder and ducked out of the way. He kept swinging and swinging, to no avail.

Finally, exhausted, Milarepa sat down on the ground. “I give up,” he told the demons. “I guess we’re all just going to have to share the cave from now on.”

At once, all the demons but one flapped their wings and flew away. The last demon was the biggest and strongest of them all. He just looked at Milarepa, still amused.

But Milarepa knew what to do. He walked over to the demon, who towered above him, and stepped into the demon’s mouth. “Eat me if you want,” he said.

The demon vanished.

I have no doubt that the drug trade has caused great harm in the Philippines, as it has in America. But we can’t fix problems with force or violence. It just doesn’t work — not in the long run anyway. Anything we try to push away just comes back at us, unrelenting, until we learn to make peace with it.

I pray that the people of the Philippines find peace. I pray that Mr. Duterte learns to act with love and compassion and mercy towards his people. I pray that the international community doesn’t just stand by and let this killing go on.

I pray that all men and women trapped in addiction find a way out, as I have.

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