Sunday, May 8, 2011

When is killing justified in Buddhism?

I refer to the above report by LA Times and I am horrified that the Dalai Lama's words have been twisted to justify the killing of Osama bin Laden. From the words reportedly spoken by His Holiness, no where was there an indication that the latter had said that the killing was justified. That's the problem with media reporting, i.e. when it comes to reporting religious or spiritual matters, they lack the knowledge necessary to correctly understand and report what was spoken or done by the religious or spiritual person or groups. Here I attempt to explain a little bit of the karma of killing and whether there is any justification of killing anyone at all.  

Are the words "counter-measure" or "forgiveness does not mean forgetting what happened" so obviously referring to mean "killing Osama bin Laden is justified"? I don't think so. When listening to the words of the Dalai Lama, you need to put your frame of mind within the contexts of Buddhist philosophy of non-killing and compassion, which is not necessarily a straight forward path at all times. To the uninitiated, forgiving someone means forgetting what the wrong had done. To someone like His Holiness, it means more than forgetting. It means taking positive actions to improve relationships between the two parties and instituting preventive measures so that the said wrong action will not repeat. That's the only true way to forgive someone. For example, the security in American cities can be beefed up to prevent planes from being hijacked and used as a suicide weapon of mass destruction like it happened on 9-11 fateful day. Other actions to curb terrorism, which could possibly include capturing Osama, are also what the Dalai Lama probably meant by "counter measures". But people don't get what the Dalai Lama was saying and easily fell into their own opinion trap. Sometimes it is said that you hear what you want others to say, and not listen to what they are actually saying. They thought he meant killing Osama. In Buddhism, we do not kill unless it is done as a calculated action of killing one person in exchange of saving many others. And that also is to be done only if we have concrete evidence that the person we need to kill is in the midst of plotting to kill many others. And that we must consider that after killing off this person, it does not mean there will not be any karma of killing. Are we ready to bear this heavy karma of killing? There will be a karma of killing incurred, not only by the person(s) who did the action of killing but also everyone else who authorized or rejoices in the killing. That is why it is extremely important not to rejoice in the killing of Osama, especially when he was said to be killed deliberately in a raid and was reported to be unarmed at that time. Refer to my writing on "national karma" to get an idea of group karma. Hence this killing might have just created a national karma for all America. However, if the killing was done with concrete evidence that the death have saved thousands of potential lives, then there will be also positive karma generated. But karmas do not cancell each other off, or nett-off like we do in arithmetics or commercial transactions. We suffer each karma distinctly, but not necessarily at separate times, good ones and bad ones. So, we must know what are the consequences of our actions if we are thinking of killing one person to save many others. Killing is still killing no matter what justification, and will result in much unbearable negative karma. As for the lives we have saved, there will be good results, no doubt about that. I believe that even in regards to eating the 4 aspects of pure meat, there may not be killing karma but there will still be the karma of indirectly causing another being to death for its meat. There is some difference in these 2 karma.

Hence HH the Dalai Lama could not have simply said that Osama's death was justified without explaining also the consequences of committing the karma of killing. Subsequently his office was said to have clarified that such counter measures must be those done with compassion. This is a carefully worded statement because being compassionate may also (but rarely) mean that we need to kill one person to save many others. In such circumstances, it means we must have concrete evidence of such evil deed and must be man enough to face whatever negative consequences as a result of the karma of killing. If you do not have any evidence or act on mere hearsay, then the karma of killing is even more serious. Another wrong deed committed does not make right a previous wrong deed. It will only make things worse. And it won't help to bring back those who have died as a result of the first wrong deed. It only soothes you somewhat that the person said to be responsible for their deaths is now dead. Revenge only soothes you somewhat but the cycle of killing actually continues. When can killing stop?

So reporters must be careful when writing their news. It's the same when they were reporting about the death of Sathya Sai Baba. Many of these reporters have never even heard of him nor bothered to understand Sai Baba better first before writing their reports. Without having an understanding of Sai Baba, these reporters can only sensationalised news where there was none. For example, many reports headlined on his "million-dollar empire". Why do they have to use the word "empire"? As far as I know the properties that house the centres in Malaysia are not owned by even the Sathya Sai trust of India, not to mention owned personally by Sai Baba himself. It's so sad to read all those inaccurate reports written on Sai Baba to the point of being ridiculous. It's not possible for me to correct each and every of these false news but I can put up my own writing on Sai Baba on my own blog.  

Back to the topic, I remember when Saddam Hussein was dead several years ago, at that time I was at a retreat with Kyabje Lama Zopa. When someone informed him about it, he immediately stopped his teaching and led us in a prayer session for Saddam Hussein's good rebirth. That's the attitude we, as Buddhists, should have for Osama. We should dedicate merits to him for a good rebirth as a good person in the next life. So, have I answered the question on when is killing justified in Buddhism? I hope so.

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