In a week like this past one -- 20 people dead after terrorists attacked a satirical newspaper and a kosher market around Paris; "innumerable" people killed by Boko Haram in Nigeria; an NAACP office bombed in Colorado -- it's easy to fall into dualistic thinking, to see "us" threatened by "them." To feel that safety requires retaliation or revenge. To make those who created such suffering suffer themselves.
That only increases the general level of suffering in the world -- and in your mind.
Wishing misfortune on someone does not cause that misfortune to happen. Instead, because the yearning for another person's suffering is itself an unwholesome mental action, it immediately places unwholesome imprints upon our own mind and guarantees our own future suffering if those imprints are not purified.In the wake of the horrific massacre at Charlie Hebdo -- imagine sitting in your office and having people with automatic weapons come in and start shooting -- people starting using the phrase #jesuischarlie (I am Charlie) in a show of support and identification with the victims, an expression of sympathy and outrage, an acknowledgement of shared humanity. But some people didn't want to align with the newspaper, which published satire bordering on hate speech.
-B. Alan Wallace
Even a social media expression of solidarity quickly became divisive.
Now there are hashtags supporting a Muslim police officer who was killed at the office and a Muslim grocery store employee who saved hostages there. It's a reminder, probably wise, not to condemn all Muslims because some are extremists. We tend to need reminders that the lines we draw should be dotted ones, not walls, to allow us to see the humanity among those we fear.
The best thing I read had nothing to do with this situation but with last month's crisis: Ebola.Ashokha Mukpo, an American contracted Ebola in Liberia and recovered in the US, talked at length about his experience -- including the fact that Ebola has largely dropped off the Western radar as it's now largely an African problem. Go read the whole thing at the link.
Sometimes, Buddhists have a tendency to fall into this trap where they think that personal development is the number one priority. Then they tend to sometimes forget about the need to be aware socially and aware of the impact of their lives, and to see what they can do to help, financially or professionally, to alleviate suffering.
For me, the central guiding principle of Buddhism is compassion and concern for the world in which we live. It's the idea of interdependence—that our actions dictate the experience of others. I don't think everybody needs to run out and join an aid organization and everyone should feel bad that they're not doing more for people in need. But I would like to see Buddhists have a braver relationship to engaging with the world—and also, potentially, a smarter one. We're trained to develop our intellect and develop our wisdom, and it's not worth very much unless you put it into practice.Don't let the confusion cause you to check out or grab from some solid intellectual ground that you can defend against all others. Be kind, be aware, be open.
It's sometimes very easy to feel disempowered, but what we can do is educate ourselves as much as possible about what's happening in faraway places so that we get a sense of our own position and our own role in the world, and our own privilege. Beyond that, it's important to really think hard about which charities you support and why.
Outside of that, maybe the best we can all do is try to live good, decent lives and be kind to people around us, be aware of the gifts that we have and the blessings that we have, and understand that not everybody has those. And listen for solutions. Don't get caught up in apathy and resentment about how difficult the situation is for our country and for our world right now.