Last night over 100 people were killed in a terrorist attack.
There are a number of ways of understanding this event and deciding what we should do.
The conventional understanding of this event is that terrorists in the external world killed other people in the external world. It seems that ‘we’ are ‘in here’ and those events are ‘out there’. If we accept this view then it is obvious that the causes of this event are also ‘out there’ and we should seek to tackle those causes with external actions. In many places on the internet now I see people calling for ISIS to be bombed.
These attacks in Paris are dreadful and I deplore them.
Even if we look at the world as an external object we can see that responding to violence with more violence will not resolve the situation. If dropping bombs in the Middle East actually made us (in Europe and the USA) safer, then we would be safer now than at the start of the first Gulf War. Each bomb dropped, each bullet fired and each drone strike made should have made us safer. But here we are now with the ‘terrorist threat’ higher than ever and getting worse. Violence cannot be used to prevent more violence. Somehow the cycle has to stop.
So even with a conventional analysis of the situation, it is obvious that the solution to this ‘external’ problem is not more bombs, guns and killing.
What about the analysis from a Buddhist perspective?
Last weekend I wrote about how all the ‘external’ objects we perceive are actually parts of our own mind. Our mind is like the water in a fish tank, and we are like a fish swimming around. The water we swim into is like the ‘external’ things and situations we encounter in our normal life. When we swim into clean water we experience happiness, and when we swim into dirty water we experience suffering.
When events occur like what has happened in Paris, what does this mean? It is like we are swimming into some particularly dirty water in our tank. It means that the events in Paris are actually appearances which are part of our own mind, and have been in our mind all along. These events are karmic potentialities which have been ‘waiting’ for the conditions to arise in order to manifest for us (or patches of dirty water, waiting for us to swim into them).
This is a radically different way of viewing these events. Instead of these events being ‘out there’ and beyond our control, they are actually part of our mind. They are actually within our control.
How can we control these events?
Once the karma for an event to occur has begun to ripen, it cannot be stopped. But we can purify these karmic seeds before they arise. In my fish tank analogy, this would be like some particularly dirty water being purified before we had to encounter it.
There are special practices in which we can engage to purify our negative karma before it arises.
Therefore the conventional view of these events leads us to the conclusion that we are relatively powerless to do anything about terrorism and ISIS.
The Buddhist view puts us firmly at the controls and says ‘if you don’t want this kind of event in the future, put effort into purifying your own mind’.
May we all purify our minds, and abide in a world free from suffering.