This letter was written in response to mainstream media coverage of the Taliban’s destruction of the giant stone Buddhas in the valley of Bamiyan, Afghanistan. For Tricycle’s coverage of this story, click here.
It is easy—even natural—to be outraged over what the Taliban has done to the Buddha statue at Bamiyan. The ongoing wanton destruction of the Buddhist religious and artistic heritage in Afghanistan is almost universally viewed as a flagrant and violent demonstration of profound delusion. But is outrage the appropriate Buddhist response to these events?
There is already enough hatred and blame present in the world; there is enough attachment to images and symbols; enough righteous indignation over great and small human acts, to keep the wheel of samsara turning for a long time. Buddhist practice calls for the relinquishing of greed, hatred, and delusion at every opportunity—and these events, too, provide an opportunity for such practice.
Shakyamuni enjoined his followers to forebear in the face of anger, to show kindness to those who present hostility, to understand it is the nature of compounded things (even 120-foot-tall, 1,500-year-old things) to meet destruction, and to attend carefully to the quality of one’s own responses in the midst of any provocation. The legacy of his teaching lies not in the stone at Bamiyan, but in the hearts and minds of living people the world over. If we succumb to the impulse to rage at the Taliban (in thought, word, or deed), then are we not blowing off the face of the Buddha carved within?
Please do not misconstrue such nonreactivity as acquiescence. Indeed, Buddhism requires engagement; but will it be engagement with the process of perpetuating suffering in the world by meeting outrage with outrage, or with the process of reducing such suffering by understanding its causes and depriving it of its fuel?
I prefer to follow the guidance of the Simile of the Saw, where the Buddha is said to address the appropriate response to someone who seeks to reduce the earth to rubble with a hoe and a basket: “Herein, bhikkhus, you should train thus: Our minds will remain unaffected, and we shall utter no evil words; we shall abide compassionate for their welfare, with a mind of lovingkindness, without inner hate... abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill will.”
Barre Center for Buddhist Studies
I have been reading Tricycle for over two years. I am just a lay person who was fortunate to discover that dharma is truth. It has been a tremendous help in my personal life. I have been enjoying many of the articles. I have learned so much about Buddhism and I try to apply the principles and practices as much as possible. Unfortunately, I live so far away from Buddhist centers that it’s impossible for me to have an intensive course with a teacher who will lead me to follow the path appropriately. I am in south Louisiana, and there is no Zen center or any Vipassana center that I can attend. This becomes very frustrating for me.
Anyway, I enjoyed very much the article “Superscience” with S.N. Goenka [Winter 2000]. It was very straightforward. It was very enlightening. He made me feel that I can still have a chance to practice the Buddha’s teachings, even though I don’t have anyone knowledgeable enough around this area to teach me.
We Are the World
Helena Norberg-Hodge’s article “Economics, Engagement, and the Exploitation in Ladakh” [Fall 2000] is typical of “white man’s burden” turned on its head. Its position is just as destructive.
It is true: the global economy is coming to a small village near you. That same global economy that brings new images to the men and women of Ladakh also enables the spread of Buddhism throughout the West. The media have beamed the face of the Dalai Lama throughout the world, while web pages have allowed an unprecedented amount of information to change hands—and minds. The messenger is not the evil.
Those giant corporations allow me to have access to hundreds of Buddhist works and critiques. I can pick up Tricycle at a newsstand here in rural Vermont. It is the printers who, because of their size, can upgrade their machinery to lower costs; the publishers who can find markets to subsidize the publishing of less-than-best-selling works; and the Barnes & Noble megastores that can offer a selection no local bookstore can provide. I can read Ms. Norberg-Hodge’s article because of them.
She can probably thank the airline that flew her to Ladakh, the cars that get her from place to place, Microsoft for her word-processing program enabling her to write grants and this article, and Kodak for manufacturing the film. I am not sure, but the funds for her International Society for Ecology and Culture come from somewhere, and I suspect they, too, are connected to the global economy.
In addition, that same global economy allows me to spend more time in study and meditation. Thanks to the Maytag Corporation, I am not spending my days washing my clothes or working in the fields. Church is not a once-a-week experience, or a monthly retreat, but a daily, living experience. Instead of making ends meet, I can relax and read Ms. Norberg-Hodge’s piece and write this reaction.
It is easy to treat untouched lands like memories of our own cultural past, and the people in them like animals in a zoo. Buddha left his family’s compound because he needed to experience life. Can she describe women as “strong, outgoing” if access to media influences them so easily? Being strong in a vacuum is easy, and in the long run, useless.
I also control my place in this brave new economy. I buy my produce locally, avoid products produced in sweatshops, order books through a local bookstore, and have asked them to carry Tricycle. I buy few pieces of clothing so I save energy, pollute less, and slow consumerism. I also do not fly to Ladakh, but teach reading in my own backyard.
We all make choices. The first is to respect those made by others that we might not agree with. When we feel the need to “protect” others without respecting their opinions, we cross a dangerous line.
Bristol, Vermont ▼
Images © Frank Olinsky, Neil Crosbie, and Mike Taylor.